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and a public dinner to the visitors, the music being
provided by an Indian band from the school where
eight years earlier Father Lacombe had brought his
group of young savages to be trained.



From Calgary the route led to Edmonton, and St.
Albert, and thence to British Columbia where at St.
Mary's, the Canadian Oberammergau, they saw the
Passion Play religiously enacted by Indians.

This was the most picturesque incident of their trip.
On their arrival they found seven tribes of Indians
encamped in a beautiful plain beside the Fraser.
Greeted with a cannon's booming and the roar of
musketry from hundreds of Indians lined up to wel-
come them, the entrance of the ecclesiastics in the
valley was one of semi-royal splendour.

The Passion was protrayed in eight tableaux by
Indians garbed as Jews and Romans. Throughout
the tableaux the Indian multitude kept up a mournful
chanting, but at the last scene a solemn hush fell on
the valley , . . then one by one the chiefs of the
tribes rose and called out in a loud voice:

"The Christ is dead the Christ is dead!"

That evening the seven tribes again assembled on
the hill in an immense tent, where the Bishop of New
Westminster officiated at a solemn benediction and
the evening air was melodious with the chanting of
hundreds of Indians; while on the plain beneath as
darkness fell, the camp-fire before each ghostly white
skin lodge made human spots of warmth and colour
in the moonlit valley, which was itself a divine etching
in black and silver.

By the middle of June the "Car of Israel," as the
private coach had been named, returned to St. Boni-


face, and Father Lacombe's famous personally -con-
ducted tour was at an end.

In July our Hermit went to his hermitage, ex-
pressing a firm intention to remain there. On Sep-
tember 16th he writes :

"To avoid being tempted to make voyages I have sent my
horses to Mr. Gravel. That is what they call 'burning one's

And so having banished Badger the successor of
his good ponies, Buckskin and Buckshot he felt him-
self bound to stay at home and rest, to compose
his mind and meditate on Eternity as he desired to
do in preparation for the end.

The first interruption to his days of contemplation
came in December. He writes to Father Legal that
Bishop Grandin had to go east on business and needs
him: and he feels he must go. He does not add
what was probably true that the solitude of his her-
mitage had begun to pall upon him.

In the east he began a search for volunteer-nurses
for the Indian Hospital now nearing completion.
He found that the Superiors of convents were un-
willing to let their nuns go for hospital work among
Indians with such a reputation for bloodthirstiness
and dislike for the tenets of Christianity.

Telling the story of his efforts decades after he
said of the Superior-General of the Grey Nuns:

"Perhaps that good Mother could not spare her
nuns, or as people said she was afraid to send her


young Sisters among the wild Bloods ; for a Hospital
you know, was not the same as a school for young
children. But anyway, me I was vexed, and I say
'Tres bien, for fifty years we Oblates and you Grey
Nuns have work side by side in the west to see which
can do the most good. Now you would stop here
Then Good-bye,' I said, and I went away not pleased

"At St. Hyacinthe, at Ottawa, at Quebec I went
to the convents, and it was always the same : the Supe-
riors refused. I was losing all my courage.

"Then at Nicolet, where I went to see the Bishop
on some other affairs, I told him of my disappoint-
ment it was at last becoming my despair.

"Next day the Superior of that Nicolet Convent
sent word to me that if any of her Sisters would vol-
unteer themselves for the Hospital, she was willing to
let them go. ... Ah, that was joy for me I
cannot tell you how great. . . . Four Sisters
came ; more would have come if I had need of more
ah, ces cheres Princesses!"

"I have told these nuns I am going to ennoble them
and call them Princesses of Charity," he wrote in his
enthusiasm to Father Legal, and east and west the
old man sang the praises of his dear Princesses, as the
Nicolet nuns were for several years known in church-
circles of the west.

While in the east he also secured from his friends
at the Canadian Pacific offices a tri-weekly mail-serv-
ice for Macleod instead of the weekly arrangement


planned by the road, and he tells as a choice bit of
news to his friend that the C. P. R. will shortly build
a line up into the Crow's Nest Pass.

He dines with his old friend, Edouard Fabre now
Archbishop of Montreal on February 28, the anni-
versary of the birth of each; and he chronicles the
delight they felt in recalling the good old days. But
his mind is more heartily in touch with the needs of
the present, and the same letter that notes the re-
union with Edouard Fabre announces happily that
the Superiors of eight more colleges and four convents
have each agreed to take a bright pupil from the west-
ern reserves and educate them free of charge.

Before returning to the west Father Lacombe par-
ticipated in an interesting occasion, which was at the
time recorded in The Empire of Toronto in the fol-
lowing despatch of January 22nd from Ottawa:

"It was an historic scene which was enacted yesterday in
the Privy Council Chamber here historic because for the
first time in the history of the Dominion an appeal was be-
ing heard by the Governor-in-Council under the provisions
of Section 93 of the Confederation Act. Following the pre-
cedent set by the sub-committee of the Privy Council which
heard the preliminary argument, the proceedings yesterday
were open to the public. Every leading newspaper in the
Dominion had its representative present, while about a dozen
gentlemen represented the great Canadian public. Among
the more notable outsiders present were Rev. Father Lacombe,
the famous N. W. missionary. . . ."


This morsel of parliamentary correspondence is in-
dicative of the new phase of public life that had opened
before Father Lacombe. The Canadian Government
was confronting a grave constitutional question which
for years was to engage the keenest wits of Canada's
publicists, and through the long-drawn-out battle it
entailed the two commanding figures always were the
statesman-prelate of St. Boniface and his indomitable
lieutenant, our old veteran of the plains.

The question had been precipitated into the polit-
ical arena by the ambitions of certain politicians in
Manitoba, assisted by Dalton McCarthy who was still
burning with resentment at the passage of the Jesuit
Estates' Bill and the failure of Sir John Macdonald
to appoint him Minister of Justice. The case was
kept open no less by the working of political intrigue
than by the resolute convictions and principles
roused in the opposing masses. Canada divided on
the question ; political reputations were made and un-
made in the "grand lutte" as Father Lacombe was
wont to term it; one government was thrown out of
power and another elevated by reason of it and in
more ways than one the Manitoba School question im-
pressed itself deeply upon the political history of Can-

The agitation had begun in 1889, when the new
Greenway administration resolved to abolish Sepa-
rate Schools in Manitoba, and carried legislation to
this effect. This was not only a subversion of a sys-
tem that had existed for seventy years or since the


stately Provencher at St. Boniface opened the first
schools of the Canadian West: it was also in direct
contravention of the rights in educational matters as-
sured to the Catholic minority by the Manitoba Act
of 1870.

The Manitoba minority held the universal claim
cif their co-religionists to direct the schools maintained
by their own taxes, to select text -books for use therein,
nnd to provide moral training based upon religious
instruction. These claims are not ordinarily objec-
tionable to politicians of any creed, if the majority of
voters in a community hold these views. When, how-
ever, separate-school rate-payers are in the minority
by the laws of opportunism that control the average
politicians the claims of the separate-school advo-
cate are most reprehensible.

Manitoba politicians seized upon defects in the
training and qualifications of separate-school teachers
to condemn the whole system. Archbishop Tache
and his school-boards growing aware of the defects,
had resolved to improve conditions, but their oppor-
tunity was now gone.

Leading his people in an agitation for their rights
the Archbishop cited not only the Manitoba Act, but
the British North America Act the Constitution of
the Dominion as providing protection for the minor-
ity and guaranteeing separate-school rights. His
party instanced the generous treatment of the Prot-
estant minority in Quebec: they appealed to a sense
of common justice for the inalienable right of the re-


spectable parent to educate his child wheresoever he
would if he were himself willing to pay for it.

But as nothing they said made any impression upon
the provincial authorities Tache's party carried their
grievance to Ottawa. They brought test-cases in the
courts and these were finally carried to the Privy
Council where the aggrieved party lost.

The Haultain administration of the Northwest
Territories, taking a leaf out of Manitoba's book, in
turn deprived the minority of their old school rights.
The work was done with a finer hand than in Mani-
toba, the leader being a man of much political finesse
and accomplishment; the results were similar.

Petitions for relief now poured in from the west
to the Ottawa Government, but with Sir John Mac-
donald dead and his party groping for such another
tactician and leader, the time was unpropitious for
decision: particularly as the Manitoba Government
was now shielding itself behind a new cry Provin-
cial Rights.

Echoes of the discussion rose on all sides and the
question, regarded by Ottawa's politicians as their
sorest affliction, gradually assumed national propor-
tions. On one side were the Catholics of the west
led by the Archbishop of St. Boniface and his minis-
ter plenipotentiary, supported by all the Catholics of
Eastern Canada. On the other hand were the Mani-
toba Government and a majority of western Prot-
estants backed by the entire element in Canada which
aproximates to the non-Conformists in England.


It was with small hope of any immediate settlement
that Father Lacombe returned home in 1893, confi-
dent he would soon have to come east again and take
further steps in the campaign.

On his return he received a charmingly playful let-
ter from his old friend at St. Boniface, whose redoubt-
able spirit could still be gay, although he describes
himself as an "infirm old man," and the sufferings
from his disease have become so grave that he knows
himself to be in the Valley of Shadows.

The letter was in reply to one Father Lacombe had
written announcing his resumption of the life of a
Hermit, with his unanswerable argument of f On est
Ermite ou on ne Vest pas' (One is a Hermit or
one is not) the inference being that he was a Hermit
because he desired to be and said he was, tout simple-
ment. Whether or not the exigencies of his work
drove him to unceasing travels, that fact was not to
be permitted to upset his claim.

The aged Archbishop meets his friend's views play-
fully, but with an undercurrent of seriousness that
suggests his own next cloister will be the tomb. The
letter, which is replete with a delicious humour, suf-
fers in the translation.

The Archbishop first professes his desire to be a
hermit, too; then says:

"In the depths of solitude and silence I salute you by the
watchword of your new Institution, 'Brother, one is a Hermit
or one is not.' So since we may no longer mix ourselves in
the things of this world I return Mr. Reed's letter to you.


I am even going to make my adieux to Monseigneur Durieu,
who will not forego his existence on the agitated sea of the
world. In the fear that his example might mislead me, the
Inspirer of our isolation yesterday enveloped all visible Na-
ture in a white shroud, an image of that which we will take
at the gateway of our cloister, to indicate that nothing pro-
fane or soiled should enter within that Sanctuary, or that at
least if one enters there with stains one must live without
spot (tache) to become a dove (colombe). This last word,
is it not merely an evolution from lacombe?

"Yes, brother, one is a Hermit or one is not, and as we
are hermits, let us separate to unite again in the Lord.

"I commit you to God, Brother, till we meet again,


On May 14th, Father Lacombe writes from his
new Hermitage. Now for the first time appears on
his letters the rubber stamp "Ermitage de St.
Michel"; he is determined to give his hermitage an
air of permanency. He writes to Father Legal:

"Me voila again a Hermit. I wish that those wags who
will not take my position seriously could see into my Hermit-
age for a little while to-day Sunday. Alone on the top of
my hill with my dog and my cat again, I say to myself, 'It
is so one is a Hermit!' I go into church to visit my one
neighbour, who is also my kind Saviour, and I repeat the
prayers and the office of hermits. Ah, wags, you who say
there are no hermits now! Erudemini . . . ftlii homi-

About the same time he writes that he is expecting


a visit from his friend Sir William Van Home, who
had lately written repeating his protests against the
proposed retirement of Father Lacombe:

"When it is given to one like you to kindle the love and
reverence of everybody you meet, is it right that you should
bury yourself in a Hermitage? Surely not."

Sir William need not have feared that the delight-
ful old plainsman would be lost to his friends. He
was a Hermit: assuredly had he not proclaimed the
fact throughout the Dominion? But his friends were
not to lose him ; for he was a Hermit who would not
stay at home.

He finds the modern Hermit cannot live in a grotto
on figs and water. Like many another missionary-
priest he learns again the cares of housekeeping, for
there is no lay-brother to spare for this mission, and
when a niece who was with him leaves to return east
he has the greatest difficulty in getting someone to
come in from time to time to keep his house orderly.
He grumbles: "This business of doing the cooking
does not agree with me."

Perhaps the cooking or the quiet or the loneliness
palled upon him, for when in June he received a tele-
gram from his old Alma Mater at L'Assomption
"Pere Lacombe required for our feast without fail"
he goes without demur, to the joys of the open
road and the jeers of his younger brethren.

After the College feast he went to Ottawa and
arranged with Mr. Daly to formally open the hos-


pital that summer, then on to Nicolet where he saw
"those dear Princesses" bid a tremulous farewell to
their quiet convent and sister nuns. A few days
later he followed them to the west.

The autumn finds him quietly settled at the Her-
mitage rested and content although very poor.
He has to meet some of his debts by selling his horse
and the heavy waggon at the mission.


EARLY in the New Year of 1894 he was called to
St. Boniface. The Archbishop, with sufficient
trouble for one human frame in the grave disease he
was battling, had set himself to meet a fresh crisis
in the School Question as determinedly as forty years
before he had reversed his Superior's order to aban-
don the western missions.

Physically unable to carry on any negotiations at
Ottawa now, he turned all active work over to Father
Lacombe, and in the fulfilment of this mission laid
on him by his ailing friend statesmen, prelates and
laity were to come equally under the influence of the
presuasive old man who knew but one cry, "Give us
back our rights in our Schools!"

Since the repeated efforts of the Archbishop and
his party to secure remedial measures had been un-
availing the Archbishop's next step was to secure
the formal co-operation of all his brother-prelates in
Canada, and it was for this delicate mission that he
had again called upon his old Hermit.

Father Lacombe brought the Archbishop's latest
and most notable Memorial on the School Question
to Montreal and had it published there. On April



1st he writes to Father Legal that the Bishops have
all agreed to unite with Tache in demanding the res-
toration of their school rights. He continues :

"Imagine, I leave to-morrow evening for St. Boniface with
the Bishop of Valleyfield and secretary. I have seen all the
Bishops of Quebec, and with Bishop Grandin have prevailed
upon Their Lordships to make our cause their own. Done,
they all desire, and will regard as their doyen the Archbishop
of St. Boniface. It has been decided that Bishop Emard
will be charged with this important mission to go in the name
of his colleagues and carry their kindest wishes to Archbishop
Tache and convey their sympathy with him, asking him what
should be done uno consensu; to decide too upon a plan of
campaign and some form of agitation to compel, by public
demand, the authorities to render justice to us. I have just
come from Ottawa with Bishop Grandin. We met there the
Bishop of Montreal and Bishop Emard. C'est serieux. The
Memoir, of which I have had thousands of copies printed in
French and English is making a sensation. It is a thunder-
bolt to the Government.

"Mclntosh and Haultain are at Ottawa. The frightened
Ministry would wish to make them give way, but they will
not, seeing that they have already been supported against us."

The petition now forwarded to Ottawa was signed
hy thirty-one prelates and was a wide and statesman-
like appeal for justice. The document was pre-
sented by Father Lacombe in person.

From the serious tone of the resultant Order in
Council it would seem to have impressed the Govern-
ment more than any previous effort of the Catholic


party: but whatever the plans and policy of the gov-
erning party this year they were upset by the tragi-
cally sudden death of the Prime Minister Sir John
Thompson in December at Windsor Castle.
Rumours of definite remedial action began to take
shape however.

Occasional pleasures marked Father Lacombe's
stay in the East, but it was for the most part fa-
tiguing, and he sighed for his hermitage. He writes
Father Legal on May 20th from St. Boniface:

"Dear Friend, How I have hastened my return. How
tired and worried I am with this commerce! Twenty-four
hours before leaving Montreal I received a telegraph from
Archbishop Tache and the Superior-General asking me not to
leave before I received their letters. Et puts, all the same I
came away."

He did not go directly to his Hermitage then how-

At St. Boniface he was asked to accompany the
Superior-General who had come from France on a
tour of the western missions, and he complied with
pleasure, for he was always finely susceptible to the
company of persons dowered in heart and intellect.
These he found united in the commanding person of
Father Soullier, their Superior-General.

While at Kamloops on June 21, Father Lacombe
received word of the serious form Archbishop Tache's
illness had taken, and of the operation performed
in the hope of saving his life. . . . The follow-
ing day he was informed of the Archbishop's death.


His sense of loss and grief was acute, for while
Archbishop Tache was widely accounted a great man
and a good one to his colleagues who knew him best
the Archbishop was their Well-Beloved, their little

Time has given him his rank as one of the noblest
figures in Canadian history: a man commanding re-
spect alike from the man of the world and the man
of the sanctuary.

"Here I am so lonesome ennuye bien gros.
What an undertaking to have come here! But let
us stop this is not to recite to you my Jeremiads,
but to talk about that man who was drowned with
his horses crossing the Kootenay a lay-brother here,
French-Canadian, fears it may be his brother who
was coming from Montana to select a farm in Al-
berta. . . ."

It is our delightfully human old missionary who
in August, 1894, writes this plaint from Edmonton
where he has been called as pastor of St. Joachim's
Church. His heart is not in the task or the place.
"What a post for my white hairs!" . . . "It is
the hotel of the diocese," he says of his new residence
with a continual stream of callers, lay and clerical,
going to and from St. Albert or the northern mis-
sions. There are no Indians under his care, and his
heart is crying out for the obdurate Blackfeet on
the wide southern plains and his Hermitage in the


Edmonton, notwithstanding Father Lacombe's
grumbling, was now a town of some life and aspira-
tion. The extension of the railway from Calgary
had put new energy into the frontier settlement.
By the construction of this line the old stage route
was thrown into disuse and the park-country of the
north opened to settlement. As in the past Father
Lacombe's information had largely assisted l the
engineers selecting the route for the road and on its
completion Van Home sent a request to him for ap-
propriate names for the new villages springing up
along the line. Wetaskiwin, Ponoka, Otaskawan
were among the names he gave, while others like
Lacombe, Leduc and Hobbema were chosen by Sir
William, who as a connoisseur in men and art at one
stroke placed on the map of the west the names of
two pioneers and an artist whose works he admired.

Despite his grumbling Father Lacombe soon grew
accustomed to modern Edmonton. By Christmas
he had put down some roots in his new abode. He
was having a good rectory built; a hospital to be
maintained by the Grey Nuns was under way, and

i ". . . The Company was indebted to him for very much useful
information concerning the western prairies and the various mountain
passes and his information was more exact and valuable than that of
anybody else. He not only knew the country intimately but he had
a wonderful faculty for describing it so that one could see it vividly.
I remember well his description later on of the country between Cal-
gary and Edmonton when the railway there was contemplated. This
description left no exploratory work for the engineers to do they knew
just where the line should be laid." Letter from Sir William Van Home
to the author, March 9, 1910.


he begins to be absorbed in new interests. There are
no complaints or longings for the south. He has
again made a place for himself in this Edmonton,
which he knew before it was an Edmonton, but which
with its strange faces he sorrowfully felt had small
welcome for the old pioneer when he first returned.

In Christmas week he writes to Father Legal that
he is now living in his new "palace." The Govern-
ment has given him a telephone; the City has placed
an electric light before his door. He surveys life
with equanimity. Another of the Old Guard, he
notes, has retired. After half a century of devoted
work and subsistence on dried meat and fish and a
meagre menu generally his old Superior of Lac Ste.
Anne is enjoying the rest and physical comforts of
St. Albert. Father Lacombe's nimble mind seizes on
the facts and thus sums them up deliciously for
Father Legal

"Pere Remas is in absolute retirement at St. Al-
bert's, like a rat in a cheese."

To Father Lacombe staying "for penance" at Ed-
monton "the great Question of the hour," as he now
calls it, is to redeem the poorer class of Metis before
it is too late. To this end he initiates a new work
in which he will go and seek them in the highways
and byways of the west. His voice must reach the
dilapidated shacks on the outskirts of towns and vil-
lages and call thence those becoming morally, phys-
ically and financially, the lame, the halt and the
weaklings of the west.


Then, he plans to turn to the discouraged and un-
skilled half-breeds on poor farms, where they are
endeavouring to stifle the blood's call for the gun and
trap in order that they may accustom their hands

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Online LibraryKatherine HughesFather Lacombe : the black-robe voyageur → online text (page 20 of 28)