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threads of his work refreshed by the holiday.

Toward the close of this year Father Lacombe was
again compelled to take to the road. Like a soldier
he travelled with light knapsacks and never required
long marching-orders.

On this occasion he was asked by his bishop to ac-
company him on a tour of the Eastern States, where
in the French-Canadian parishes and elsewhere they
might beg alms for their missions. Even to Father
Lacombe's "holy audacity," as his ecclesiastical
friends in Quebec termed it, this mission was not a
pleasant one: to Bishop Grandin's exquisitely sensi-
tive spirit it was one long trial and humiliation.

In several parishes they were welcomed, in others
tolerated; in some the permission to preach and beg
was refused. For people even when they gave
alms occasionally grumbled at the incessant calls of
missionaries, and their pastors felt alike their own
parochial responsibilities and the disinclination of
their people.

Father Lacombe's letters written during this win-
ter's trip show plainly his difficulties among them
the disheartening fact that his oft-repeated story in
broken English has grown thread-bare and uninter-
esting to himself though the privations of his fellow-
missionaries back in the western shacks do not lessen.

Writing in French from Philadelphia on March 22,
1888, to his friend Father Legal, he says he has


just returned from the diocese of Baltimore with

". . . But what work. Mon tres cherl I am al-
ways at the plough with letters, newspaper announcements,
trips, and then those sermons !

"Imagine me in the pulpit of one of these grand churches
or cathedrals before an audience of priests or seminarists
and then saying to that multitude : 'My dear brethren, I am
only a poor Indian missionary. The poor must have the
gospel preached to them, therefore my bishop and myself, we
come to make an appeal to your liberality,' and so on. I as-
sure you, my body creaks, as I used to say out there. I would
be discouraged and fail to know how to continue my address
if my imagination did not picture to me, you, my brother-
missionary at your work. I take heart again and you seem to
say : 'Go on ; we are praying for you.' '

At the foot of this letter there is a little note for
all the priests in the delicate handwriting of Bishop
Grandin :

"I am truly desolate because of the illness of our dear Fa-
ther Van Tighen. We have already experienced so many
trials of all sorts that God might at least grant health to us
all. Take courage however, my dear Father. If you suffer :
if you have difficulties, remember that for my part I have
known them too and great ones. If it were not that our
cause is God's also I would despair of it.

"I embrace you, and bless you all,

"Your affectionate brother,

"VITAL, O. M. I."

This characteristic note illustrates one source of the
inspiration of the wonderful work done by the Oblate


missionaries in the west the exhortations and sym-
pathy of their chiefs who appreciated just how heavy
their burdens were, because they had first borne them
all themselves.

Woonsocket, Pawtucket, and Providence are can-
vassed successfully, but Father Lacombe is beginning
to feel the infirmities of age. He complains of the
heat and of weakness in his limbs. . . . "These
are terrible journeys for my strength, physical and

One pleasant feature of the old missionary's tour
was his meeting with Mother Katherine Drexel, of the
Philadelphia Drexels, who had consecrated her life
and fortune to the uplift of the Indian and negro.
When they parted Father Lacombe was richer by sev-
eral hundred dollars given by the nun to be devoted
to hospital work among the Indians.

It was also while at Providence, R. I., this year that
he was shown a beautiful private home and estate
which had been donated by its owner as a Home for
aged and orphans. As he looked, a vision sprang
up before Father Lacombe, and remained with him
for years till he saw its realization in the Lacombe


WHEN Father Lacombe at last returned with
$6,000 to the western missions he found plenty of
cares awaiting him. Affairs at the Bow were bien
tristes for lack of money, he chronicled. But he had
the happiness of playing his old role of Lord Bounti-

He had no jurisdiction over the money collected.
He had, however, many presents for his friends a
bell bought in Philadelphia for the mission at Banff
an ostentorium for Father Van Tighen a Way of
the Cross for Father Blais a magic lantern with
New Testament pictures for Father Leduc and his
Indians; while for Father Legal his beggar friend
had secured a new saddle, a washing machine, four
volumes of the History of the Church, and an alarm
clock! which luxuries are forwarded to the young
priest amid mutual expressions of delight.

Dividing his time and efforts this winter between
white and Indian missions in the south, Father La-
combe finds but one abiding source of humour in the
little brick Chateau and embryo orchard evolved from
next to nothing at Lethbridge by his ingenious
brother, Father Van Tighen. The orchard, which
first demonstrated the possibilities of horticulture in
Southern Alberta, and the Chateau were in time to



win a place in Southern Alberta records: this year
they only afforded material for Father Lacombe to
tease "that dear Father Van Tighen."

A visit to Edmonton in April, 1889, found him so
worn-out that he collapsed physically and was or-
dered to bed for weeks, where he lay planning new
movements in the interests of the southern tribes and
writing long letters to his bishop begging him not to
abandon this unsatisfactory field, as pressing needs
elsewhere urged the bishop to do.

From Edmonton he went with Bishop Grandin to
St. Boniface to attend the first Provincial Council
of western Catholic clergy. This met in Winnipeg
on July, 1889, and included a celebration of the sev-
enty-first anniversary of the arrival of Bishop Pro-
vencher and Father Dumonlin. Where in 1818 there
had been only two priests there were now one Arch-
bishop, five Bishops, and one hundred and twenty-six
priests together with numerous consecrated workers.

The Lieutenant-Governors of Manitoba and of the
Northwest attended the first public session of the
Council. Father Lacombe was named promoter of
the convention, and it continued from July 14th to
July 24th, with sessions public and private and sol-
emn religious services.

That autumn, as Superintendent of the district his
confreres assembled about him in Macleod for their
annual retreat. He writes that they not only have
a lay-brother to cook for them this year and attend
to their wants, but this factotum is Brother Jean, a


most capable man. The veteran chronicles with de-
light that at last they are going to make a retreat
en messieurs like gentlemen.

On October 12 Lord Stanley the Governor Gen-
eral visited Macleod and the carriage of Capt. Mc-
Donnell, N. W. M. P. was sent on His Excellency's
request to bring Father Lacombe to meet him.
The missionary writes Father Legal that they con-
versed for an hour in French, Father Lacombe
speaking to His Excellency very frankly about school
matters and the inadequacy of certain Indian officials.

Apart from this the picture his letter contains of a
western reception to Vice-royalty in the eighties is
not captivating:

"Yesterday the Governor arrived. I was there with a few
others. Little enthusiasm the good people of Macleod were
occupied with drinking. What a race of people ! what rude-
ness! . . ... But our mission-bell rang out, beside the pa-

"Last night at nine was His Excellency's levee in the City
Hall. Fiasco and failure ! We were about a score of people,
two priests and Reverend Mr. Hilton. . . . What a
triste affair. But there were four ladies deshdbilees among
them Mrs. , who as we passed out with tire Governor com-
menced to leap about like a danseuse. His Excellency will
have a grand idea of the people of Macleod."

In Christmas week Father Lacombe received a let-
ter which was a fresh evidence of the regard of a man
whose friendship has been marked by a series of grace-


ful acts. The letter enclosed a railway pass over the
whole system of the Canadian Pacific.

"MONTBEAL, December 22, 1889.
"Dear Father Lacombe:

"We are still following you wherever you go, with our rails
and locomotives, and it is possible that you will hear our
whistle at Macleod before the end of the coming year.

"I send you herewith a little charm against railway con-
ductors, which you may find useful since you cannot get
beyond their reach.

"With best wishes for your good health and long life,

"Believe me,

"Faithfully yours,


Twenty years after this Pass had been received
Father Lacombe still fingered affectionately the letter
that accompanied it, while he said with tender gravity
that trembled with tears at the end:

"He wrote it himself. . . . You see, why I
love that man different from the others he is him-
self different. He has not only his genius, his brain,
but he has a heart; that is more rare. See, he wrote
this letter himself; that man and so busy. But it
was always so he has been beautiful in the little
things of Life. . > Ah, Omimi, I love that man
he is the brother of my heart."

The old priest's heart was both responsive and ac-
tively affectionate, yet he could be stern, too, when
the occasion arose, and one record of it shows not


alone his sternness but his unsurpassed perception of
the Indian character and how to influence it for the
hest. This concerns five Indian Metis, three women
and two men, who in contact with low whites had sunk
as low as mankind can sink toward the animal state,
and who had flouted the old priest's appeals to lead
more decent lives.

On March 16 he concluded a mission at Calgary
for all the Indians and Metis of the neighbourhood.
He writes to Father Legal about the grand closing
demonstration the chanting of the Te Deum, the
solemn baptizing of nine adult Crees who had been
pagans, and the marriage of three couples. "It was
all touching," he says; then adds:

"On the eve of the closing I believed it my duty to make a
final striking coup d'eclat. I covered the altar with the
funeral pall and to the sound of funeral knells tolling I de-
nounced and excommunicated five public sinners three
women, two men after which we recited the Miserere, greatly
impressing and astounding the whole assembly."

It is doubtful if the indecent degraded lives of the
five were in any way altered by these thunders of the
Church, but the ceremonies certainly exercised a most
wholesome influence on some of their brethren who
were tempted to join them on the soiled primrose path
of frontier Calgary's underworld.

In April of this year, 1890, Crowfoot lay down his
sceptre of native power, named his brother Three


Bulls his successor, and met death with brave serenity
befitting an Ancient.

His funeral was a striking compromise between the
ways of the pagan and the Christian, for though
Crowfoot had lived an avowed pagan he had died a
professing Christian, and two days before his death
he asked Father Doucet to baptize him and receive
him into the fold of the Church.

Shortly before his death his people shot his favour-
ite pony before the tepee in accordance with pagan
rites, but at the last Father Doucet chanted the pray-
ers for the dead by the open grave.

With Crowfoot the last of the great Indians of the
plains passed into history.

In June as a deserved holiday Father Lacombe
took Father Legal and Father Doucet to visit Sechelt,
an Indian village north of Vancouver. The visit was
made during the annual religious Congress of the
Pacific Indians, where the tribes of Sechelt, Squam-
ish, Sycannis, Lilloet, Chilcotin, Stickeen, Cariboo,
Douglas, Stuart's Lake, and Fraser River met to-
gether accompanied by their missionaries.

Many of the Indians who had come out from the
interior now looked upon steamboats and railways for
the first time. Others of a newer generation came
from Indian schools and brought brass bands with

The ninth or closing day of the Congress fell as
planned on Corpus Christi and was marked by a pro-
cession. Its start was prefaced by the booming of


cannons and it was accompanied along a flower-strewn
way by alternate music of bands and chanting of
Indian choirs. The procession came to a close
with a Calvary-tableau on the hill overlooking the

At night a torchlight procession moved through the
village streets like the current of a river in flames;
and the intermingling of music and chanting of
prayers in the quiet evening beside the Pacific was
beyond words beautiful.

The missionaries of the plains returned home over
the mountains with a fresh impulse to work for their
less promising Blackfeet. Father Lacombe immedi-
ately directed his activities toward promoting French-
Canadian colonies in the Saskatchewan valley.

Up and down the old province of Quebec, across
the border into the Eastern States the stalwart vet-
eran travelled preaching his doctrine of the new land,
free farms and openings for young men. "On the
road all the time/' he reports early in September to
his friend among the Bloods. "Yesterday I came up
from below Quebec stopping only at the bishop's. I
shall soon go again to Rimouski Ca c'est un com-

A week later he and Bishop Grandin are at Ottawa
pressing their claims concerning Indian schools.
Among the requests he urges upon the Minister of the
Interior is the establishment of a hospital for In-
dians on the Blood Reserve. It is not a new request:
he is merely renewing his petitions, as men sooner or


later learned this amiable, iron-willed old man would
do until he obtained what he sought.

"Vous savez que je suis un homme a plans!" . . .
A man of plans, indeed ; he might have said, a man of

In October he wrote a brief rapturous note an-
nouncing to Father Legal that at last he has been able
though the charity of friends to buy two small organs
which he says stand as an evidence of his own au-
dacity. "Of course, there is one for Your Reverence,
and one for Father Foisy; mats, mon tres cher, how I
have wanted for a long time to get one of these organs
for you!"

On each of his trips to Montreal in the eighties
Father Lacombe used to renew his pleasant friend-
ship with Sir William Van Home, Sir George Ste-
phen and Sir Donald Smith, and dining one day at
the home of the last-named, with other magnates of
the C. P. R., he first met "Lord and Lady Aberdeen
arriving from Scotland."

This I note, because it marked the beginning of
another very pleasant acquaintance which was to
ripen into a warm friendship. For the Scotch peer
and his wife were immediately taken with a person-
ality that combined intellectual and human interest
in the most picturesque fashion; while with Father
Lacombe their ready kindness and outspoken regard
won his responsive liking as readily as the sun drew
up dew from the heart of his own prairie-roses.

These visits to old friends in the east formed some


of the many bright hours of his work-a-day trips, but
on the whole he was wearied "overwhelmed with
occupations," he says and he confides to Father Le-
gal his growing hope that on his return the bishop
will let him build a house in the quiet foothills at
Pincher Creek, to retire there as to a hermitage.

His memory and notebooks were as usual crowded
with commissions for his fellow-priests and other
friends calls to be made on relatives; favours to be
secured; lonely Metis children in Eastern schools to
be called upon; pathetic petitions for necessities in the
shabby missions. And like a big brother who goes
out into the world he was only happy when he could
return laden with gifts and affectionate messages for
his brethren. . . . It is noteworthy that he never
kept anything of all the gifts for himself 1

On his return to the west he spent some time vis-
iting the reserves. Writing to his bishop in Decem-
ber he ascribes the Blackfeet's tenacious paganism to
their pride:

"Of an inveterate I could say an innate pride,
they have no conception of the virtue of humility, nor
any words in their tongue to express it. The Black-
foot will never say he is a sinner nor humble himself.
On the contrary, from the chief and warriors proud
and superb in manner down to the child beginning
to shape a bow, the continuous refrain upon their per-
sonal goodness is the same. . . . But God with-
draws Himself from the proud of heart and draws
near the humble. ."


A further reason for their stand against Christi-
anity, he finds, is their determined practice of polyg-
amy. Even at this period the warriors maintained
the right to their old-time prairie harems, and a girl's
parents would sell her at the age of ten years to a
grown man selecting her as a future wife. Crowfoot
was an exception to the Blackfoot rule of polygamy:
like the Head-Chief Sweet-Grass and unlike his lesser
followers he was satisfied with one wife. And these
two chiefs were noted for wisdom in their tribes.

For the past seven years Father Lacombe's letters
have reflected his anxieties about various Indian school
boys. Now in February of 1891 he has the most
serious case of all to speak about a young brave,
Peter, who was accused of helping to steal horses at
Medicine Hat. The boy cried so pitifully before he
was taken off to gaol that Father Lacombe decided
"I must go and do my possible with Judge Macleod"
- and with everyone else in authority to secure clem-
ency for the poor boy. . . .

For how was Peter to quite grasp the doctrine that
what was glory in the days of the youth of Crowfoot
and Sweet-Grass was crime in his?

Father Lacombe set out on his mission of mercy
with such pleasure in the act of benevolence that the
onlooker is set to wonder which is dearer to Father
Lacombe the wrong-doer who throws himself upon
his mercy, or the charitable friend who opens sym-
pathies and purse to meet the needs of his beloved
missions? Either class has a strong hold upon his


affections but the balance of favour lies perhaps with
the friendless sinner no matter what his crime.

And for this reason the man of despair, divining
the old priest's sympathy, always made a sanctuary
of him.

In April Father Lacombe together with Father
Legal drove from the Blood reserve into Montana to
visit the southern Piegans near Two Medicine River.
They ministered to these allies of the Blackfeet, vis-
ited the Agency and dined at the cafe of Joe Kipp
of border-fame. On the return trip, losing the trail
in a storm, they found shelter at night in the home of
one of the numerous Mormon settlers then coming
in to Southern Alberta.

In November, when he was again planning his
retirement to the Hermitage, Father Lacombe went
instead to Montreal on the bishop's request to repre-
sent St. Albert diocese at the fiftieth anniversary of
the Oblates' arrival in Canada.

Father Lacombe's stay in the east, although a
busy one, was not without social pleasure. Among
clergy and laity his unusual personality and powers
as a raconteur exercised their charm, and his com-
pany was still sought after by leading men in Mon-
treal and Ottawa, who had seen the rich nature
behind the humble exterior of the old plainsman.

At Ottawa he dined with Sir Adolphe Caron, ,with
Sir John Thompson, and others of his friends among
the "gros bonnets." l At Montreal he was enter-

i Big Hats an Indian term for Chiefs.


tained by Sir William Van Home, James Ross, and
others prominent in Canadian finance and public life.
He was always sensitive to genuine social charm
and of one evening and host he writes this charming
tribute :

"Last Saturday I dined with my good friend Van Home in
company with several 'gros bonnets.' The evening was a
veritable triumph of refinement and amiability."

Whilst in Montreal he was presented with a very
fine Italian painting l by the directors of the Cana-
dian Pacific Railway. In the pleasing presentation
which took place in the President's office, Father La-
combe recognised again the charming thought and
temperament of his old friend.

On January 3rd, 1892, he writes from Montreal
to Father Legal that he is "encumbered with business
and commissions. Ah, I have need of a frame of
iron," is the note of complaint with which he concludes
the letter. He is evidently tired and his years are
telling on him.

Some portion of his weariness may be due to the
fact that he was greatly discouraged in his efforts to
procure the hospital for southern Indians which had
been practically promised to him a year earlier at
Calgary by the Hon. Mr. Dewdney.

The prospects at Ottawa now were not promising
and Father Lacombe appealed again and again to
the Hon. Mr. Dewdney and the Hon. Mayne Daly

i This painting still hangs over the high altar of St. Mary's, Calgary.


the latter one of the few politicians whom Father La-
combe credited with a serious sense of responsibility
toward the child-races of the plains, and a practical
sympathy with their needs.

He urged upon the two the truth that privations
and lack of food had weakened the Indians and that
new diseases were coming among them from the
whites. He begged them to build a hospital on
the Blood Reserve as an experiment.

A letter written by him on February 8th to Father
Legal shows him utterly disheartened, for the Hon.
Mr. Dewdney had brought him to Premier Abbott
and he was told by the latter that the hospital would
have to wait another year or two . . . there sim-
ply were no funds for it.

At the announcement Father Lacombe saw his air-
castles on the Blood Reserve shattered at his feet;
dazed with disappointment he looked from one to an-
other of the ff gros bonnets" . . . then broke out
with the eloquence of his despair.

The eloquence and disappointment combined so
moved the politicians that on March 9th Father La-
combe could write jubilantly to his western corre-

"Dear Father:

"Thank God with me ! Yesterday I had an interview with
Dewdney, who was very amiable. His first words to me were :
'Father, your Hospital is granted ; I have got the money for
you.' My heart beat hard: I was so surprised and so
glad. . . ."


He then goes into details about the grant, urging
Father Legal to hasten to make a plan for the build-
ing: for the young Breton had added the architect's
craft to his other accomplishments since he arrived in
Alberta. .. *-,*i $> He continues:

"Now, my dear Father and friend of many days, we must
move heaven and earth to make a success of our famous en-
terprise. 'If you are successful,' said Mr. Dewdney to me,
*I assure you we will make similar establishments on other Re-
serves.' It is also intended that the hospital shall be con-
structed beside your house. I am weeping for joy of it; I
am so happy. 'Quid retribuam Domino? 9 Quick, make me
a nice plan."

This was all for which he had waited; a few days
later he set off for the west with twenty-six cases of
baggage and supplies he had purchased or received
as gifts for the missions of the diocese.


THE east being still unaware of the resources of
western Canada, it was the policy of the C. P. R. to
invite leading men to visit the west as their guests.
The directors realized that every visitor seeing would
believe and return an apostle of the New West.

Consequently on May 16 a party of ecclesiastics
left Montreal in two special cars, placed by the presi-
dent at Father Lacombe's disposal. At St. Boniface
Archbishop Tache joined the party, which then in-
cluded the Archbishop of Ottawa, Father Lacombe,
Bishop Lafleche who had been Tache's companion in
the forties at Isle a la Crosse, Bishop Grouard of the
Athabasca-Mackenzie district, Bishop Macdonald of
Alexandria, Bishop B rondel of Helena, Montana,
Bishop Lorrain of Pembroke, the Rector of Ottawa
University, fourteen priests, Judge Routher of Que-
bec and M. des Cases.

At St. Boniface, Regina, Prince Albert, where
Archbishop Tache blessed the corner-stone of a new
Cathedral, and at Calgary their reception was "a suc-
cession of fetes." Calgary extended a civic reception

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Online LibraryKatherine HughesFather Lacombe : the black-robe voyageur → online text (page 19 of 28)