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pemmican were received in the Indian Hall by Row-
and, the trading was accomplished through a grating
between the Indian Hall and the trading-shop. On
the shelves but little goods were displayed on the
principle that the Indian would not want what he
could not see. All the gates of the Fort were closed,
except one to the Indian Hall. At times even
this was closed and the trading done through a grat-
ing in the gate.

First the Indians demanded rum, and it was given
to them rum of the first quality carefully diluted
with water. The Blackfeet being fiercer than the
Crees received a weaker cup or keg, for the standard
of mixing in those days defined seven parts of water
to one of rum for Blackfeet and only three parts
water to one of rum for the Crees.


After a goodly exchange of peltry for liquor the
orgies began, as described in earlier days by Father
Thibault. In 1852 they had in no way altered, and
Father Lacombe was the witness of frightful scenes
"which I deplored but could in no way prevent."
Meanwhile there were men stationed with loaded
muskets in the sentinel's gallery that surrounded the
palisade, and the cannon in the bastions stood ready
for action. These precautions were rigidly preserved
when the Blackf eet came to trade, for they had burned
down the Old Bow Fort in John Rowand's time and
killed white men on several occasions.

When the snow had quite disappeared and the
renewed delights of spring tempted him afield, Father
Lacombe took many long walks through the valley.
On one of these excursions he came upon the cross
that had been planted there with so much solemnity
by Father Demers and Father Blanchet in 1838. 1
The cross lay on the top of the hill close to the Fort.
Father Lacombe lifted it up from the ground and
replanted it firmly, so that for some years it again
lifted its arms of appeal.

He decided now to make his headquarters at Lac
Ste. Anne, as his predecessors had done; meanwhile
arranging for frequent visits to Edmonton.

Lac Ste. Anne, fifty miles northwest of Edmon-
ton, was the first permanent mission for Crees and

* The new Parliament Buildings at Edmonton are built directly over
the site of the old Cross erected here by Father Demers and his com-
panion on their way to the Pacific in 1838.


Cree-Metis established by Father Thibault on the
Upper Saskatchewan. He had selected this place
in 1842 because the soil and fishing were good and
there was an abundance of fuel. Being remote from
the Blackfoot trail to the Fort, there was a further
advantage in security from these traditional enemies
of the Crees.

Early in the autumn word came that another
Oblate, Pere Remas, had been assigned to the mis-
sion at Lac la Biche. Father Lacombe set out on
horseback with Alexis to visit the newcomer. The
lake was almost 200 miles away across country, but
the riding- trails were good, and this journey through
the woods was only a delight for him.

At Lac la Biche he found the Indians were absent
hunting while Father Remas was altogether miser-
able. He had arrived too late to make a garden, and
was consequently in an impoverished state. Father
Lacombe, distressed at his condition, insisted that he
should return home with him and await the promised
pastoral visit of Bishop Tache.

The latter set out from his episcopal hut at He a
la Crosse in February, 1854. The ceremonial recep-
tion Rowand planned for him at Edmonton was pre-
vented by his arrival very late at night on March 22,
but the next morning he was aroused by the cannons'
thunder of welcome.

This was the first visit of a Bishop to Edmonton
House, and during the week of the visitor's stay the
Fort was in as nearly holiday mood as a strong-


hearted disciplinarian like Rowand would permit.
Personally the Chief Factor and his daughters show-
ered kind attentions upon the young prelate.

Then he was escorted in his dog-cariole to Ste.
Anne, where for three weeks Father Lacombe played
the part of host a role that always came happily to
his generous nature. At Ste. Anne the three Oblates,
dwelling upon the Bishop's recent experiences at
Fort Pitt, where he was desolated at the debauchery
of the Indians and Metis with drink, found a great
deal of consolation in the conduct of the excellent
colony at Ste. Anne.

Yet fifteen years earlier these Metis had been like
those of Pitt. The contrast made the Bishop resolve
firmly not only to find more missionaries for perma-
nent missions, but to use with the various Chief
Factors and the Governor at Fort Garry every effort
possible to prevent the trading of liquor to the
Indians. This soon became the cry of every mission-
ary in Rupert's Land, but it was only six years later
that their campaign had effect.

During the Bishop's visit to Ste. Anne he con-
firmed 98 Indians and baptized 22 adults, already
instructed by Father Lacombe, and who gave every
evidence of a sincere desire to live in accordance with
the missionary's teachings. On Easter Monday the
Bishop took his leave accompanied by the two mis-

Father Lacombe, loth to part with his brethren,
rode on beside them far past the Fort. When he said


adieu it was with heavy hearts they saw the boyish
figure turn his cayuse on the woodland path, and
take his solitary way back to Ste. Anne,

While Father Laeombe returned to his own post
Bishop Tache journeyed on to Father Remas' log-
shack. It was a miserable abode, twelve feet square
and six high, where he had spent several miserable
weeks alone in 1853 before Father Laeombe had
come riding like a Fairy Benevolent and carried him
off to Ste. Anne.

The seats of the mission were made of stumps of
trees; its other meagre fittings were in accordance.
Its cupboard was painfully slim. But here, with one
year's experience of the west and with a plentiful
supply of seed for a garden, Father Remas was
re-installed, and the Bishop rode on.


In the summer of 1855 a stir was made in the
Saskatchewan mission-field by the arrival of new
workers with consequent changes of position. One
of the newcomers was Vital Grandin, a handsome
young Breton priest, a delicate, fair-haired youth who
was to become an intimate friend of Father Laeombe
in later years as well as one of the most striking
figures among the pioneer missionaries of the west.

In the late summer of 1855, Father Laeombe made
his first visit to the Peace River, as Father Bourassa
had done in 1845 and Father Thibault still earlier.
He went on horseback to the Athabasca near the old
Fort Assinaboine and then proceeded in a small row-










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boat down that river to the Little Slave and up this
to Lesser Slave Lake.

Along the south shore of the lake he came upon
a large encampment of Crees, drawn there at that
season doubtless by the hosts of ducks and wavies
that haunt the lake. Father Lacombe spent several
days among them before pushing on to the post, where
he was warmly welcomed by his former teacher, Colin
Fraser, now in charge of the Company's post here.

The post was built on the hillside that slopes gently
up from the lake, with the Indian Hall outside the
stockade and some distance east of it.

Colin Fraser supplied his friend with ponies and
guide to ride to Fort Dunvegan, the Company's
headquarters on the Peace. It was over 160 miles
away, along the trappers' trail through the pleasant
autumn woods. Bourassa, the officer in charge,
received Father Lacombe very kindly and every
opportunity was given him to minister to the em-
ployes, who, as at Edmonton, were largely French-
Canadian and Catholic.

On his return to Ste. Anne he at once entered upon
his deferred novitiate.

When the prescribed year of religious seclusion and
prayer was concluded, he pronounced his vows of pov-
erty, chastity and obedience, as a member of the
Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

In September he visited the Indians of Jasper
House, 1 the most interesting of these being a band

i Jasper House, which was named after Jasper Hawes, an English


of Iriquois, descendants of old canoemen from

Father Lacombe set out with two pack-horses car-
rying his portable chapel and provisions, and saddle-
ponies for himself and his Metis guide, Michel
Nipissing. Fallen timber, creeks and swamps tried
the horses' strength and the travellers' patience.

The second afternoon on the trail, as they made
their way through a haze of smoke, the wind rose and
there came a crackling like thunder. The guide
knew what it meant: a forest fire was racing to meet
them, licking up and snapping the dry spruce and
fallen timber like so much tinder.

While they groped their way painfully in search
of a river the smoke settled down on them like a pall.

"It is only to die!" Michel cried. Michel was not
brave as was the redoubtable Alexis. But Father
Lacombe cried back to him:

" Akail Courage! The river is near. Akame-

They reached its banks, made the horses jump in
and leaped after them. They threw water over the
trembling animals and themselves as the flames
approached and rushed past them. For almost two
days men and horses stayed in a dugout in the bank,
while the bush glowed with hot embers of the fire.

officer in the Hudson's Bay Company who established it early in the
nineteenth century, was situated on the Athabasca Rirer where it emerges
from the Rockies. It was visited by Pere de Smet on his heroic trip aa
Peacemaker in 1845-46, and a summit, six miles west of the Fort, was
named for him.


After two days more of painful travelling, the
young priest, overcome by fatigue and fever, declared
he could go no further. They camped on the bank
of a small stream that evening, and when Father
Lacombe refused to eat, Michel became greatly dis-
tressed. His fears were varied and he came to the
broken man with a quaint plea:

"My father," he said, "I am afraid you will die
here then what will become of me? People will say
I have ill-treated you perhaps killed you. Give
me a piece of paper that I can show Pere Remas
to let him know that I have been good to you."

Father Lacombe gave him the note he wanted, and
then in turn, frightened by the man's fear, he asked
Michel in case of his death to bury him under a butte
of sand near by and go at once to Father Remas with
the news. Perhaps because in all his healthy young
life before Father Lacombe had known no illness,
he was unnecessarily afraid of this. However, it was
to his own intense surprise that he was able in a
couple of days to mount his pony and continue the
journey. After two weeks of ministry with the
Indians he returned home, the Indians following him
as he rode out of their camp, firing their guns in
salute and crying out their farewells.

That winter an urgent call came to him from the
Blackfoot nation. These men were absolute pagans,
whose country was considered wild and unsafe but the
proud race was now terribly afflicted, their children
dying off like flies with a mysterious sickness. Some


few of them had met Father Lacombe at Fort
Edmonton and in their extremity they begged him
to come to them.

This was well into February, 1857.

Across the river 1 from Edmonton, Father
Lacombe came upon a sickening spectacle three
mangled bodies of Blackfeet, whose feet and hands
were cut off and hung on trees.

He sent Alexis back to the Fort for men to bury
the bodies; then the two resumed their journey,
sturdily trudging over the snowy plain toward the
Buffalo Lake.

i On the site of Strathcona's business-centre to-day.


AT dusk the teepees of a Cree encampment rose
before them near the southern extremity of a small
lake, and the travellers were taken in and fed. Many
of the Indians in this camp were catechumens of
Father Lacombe and warmly attached to him. When
they heard he was bound for the Blackfoot camp,
they urged him in every possible way not to go. They
said the Blackfeet would blame their disease on the
whites and would either refuse to receive him or might
kill him.

Father Lacombe reminded them that he had
received a prayer for help, and he was not going to
turn back when fellow-creatures in trouble needed
him. He and Alexis pushed on, losing their way for
a while in a snowstorm, but at the end of a couple
of days they came upon the encampment of the
Blackfeet. Mindful of the character of these
Indians, he signalled to them from a short distance.

"Soon a crowd came around me," he writes of this
in his Memoirs. "What a scene! Imagine these
men, women and children half -naked, although it
was quite cold weather and their bodies reddened with
the fever which devoured them. For some minutes
I did not know what was going to happen. They
swarmed about me, disputing for my person. Some



caught my hands; others my soutane. One tried to
lift me up toward the sky crying out some prayer
to the Master of Life for pity."

The unfortunate savages were crazed with fever
and fear, and they looked to him, the friend of Ninna-
stakow, as some great medicine-man to relieve them.
He released himself from the crowd and entering a
near-by lodge found a stoically silent man, who held
out to him the dead body of his child. It was the
last of his family to die. Three other bodies lay
inside the lodge, and the despairing father weakened
with disease would not for the moment separate him-
self from this last child.

There were about sixty tents in all, and from every
side the priest's ears were stricken with low moans
or lamentations. The epidemic he found to be scarlet
fever of a severe type. It was carrying off scores of
their people and the Indians were terrified out of
their habitual bravery by the unseen foe which stalked
so ruthlessly through the camp.

The poor young Blackrobe with his small box of
remedies did everything he could to stem the disease.
Night and day he passed through their tents, con-
soling and tending them, but at the thought of how
little he could do, his warm young nature was in a
torment of rebellion only second to their own.

There were several camps to visit, all a few miles
apart on the snowy plains, and he had spent twenty
tireless days among them, when he was himself
stricken with the disease.


His remedies were gone and he felt himself con-
sumed with the fever. He reconciled himself to this
inglorious end of the years of work planned for him-
self, but in a few days, to his own and Alexis' great
joy, he began to recover.

The epidemic had now about spent itself, and on
his recovery he arranged for the burial of all the dead
Indians. Because of the frozen ground, the Indians
could not dig graves, as he would have preferred
them to do, nor did the exhausted warriors build their
usual burial platforms and expose the bodies to the
pure elements. They simply gathered the dead bodies
together in skin lodges ten or fifteen in each lodge
and then covered the remains with stones and snow.

The work of Father Lacombe's mission in 1858
and 1859 has been concisely pictured in this sentence
from Bishop Tache's "Twenty Years of Missions".
. . . "At Lac Ste. Anne Father Remas and
Father Lacombe multiplied themselves to advance
the reign of Christ."

Their days were divided between work in the fields
and their ministry to the Metis and Indians in and
about the mission. It was a peaceful, uneventful
period, in which from day to day the simple-hearted,
affectionate children of the forest gathered about the
priests for instruction, or less willingly exerted them-
selves with shovel and hoe to work under direction
in the barley and turnip or potato fields about their

One evening early in January, 1858, when the


little woodland settlement of about forty-five houses
was intent upon its evening meal and the ruddy fire-
glow just tinted the opaqueness of its parchment win-
dows a Metis came on foot to the mission from the
Fort. In answer to the inevitable greeting "What
news?" he replied that a strange white man, a
Doctor, had arrived at the Fort a couple of days
before the New Year.

The Doctor, he said, was one of a large party sent
by the great Queen Mother across the sea to report
on the west and her children there.

The half-breed had other gossip of the Fort, but
the first news overshadowed all the rest. For the
poor young Father Frain, who had arrived from
France a few months before, had been ailing contin-
ually since his arrival, and the opportunity of con-
sulting a physician seemed providential. Next
morning Father Lacombe got out his toboggan-
cariole and dogs to take him to the Fort.

Father Frain was well wrapped in buffalo robes
and then with a "Marche; Hourrah!" from their
robust, leather-clad master the dogs made off. It
was fifty miles to the Fort through the woods. That
evening after dusk had fallen and the big gates of
the Fort were closed the watchman heard a vigorous
pounding on the main gates Father Lacombe and
his invalid waited outside.

Dr. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition
for he was the newcomer was called to attend the
sick priest. Mr. Swanston hospitably assigned a


room to Father Frain. The Doctor did what he
could for him, but the improvement was slight. It
was the country and the diet that were killing the
young man. They decided to send him down to the
Red River and thence to Louisiana in sunnier

About the middle of February Dr. Hector went
out to Ste. Anne to secure half-breeds there for the
Expedition's journey in the coming summer. He
spent Sunday with Father Lacombe, whom he char-
acterizes in his official reports as most genial and
hospitable. During this winter and in the following
year Father Lacombe met the Doctor (later Sir
James Hector of New Zealand) several times, and
his relations with him and the botanist, M. Bourgeau,
were very pleasant.

The latter whiled away some time during the
tedious winter days in carving wooden candlesticks
for the altar in the Fort chapel.

Judging from a portion of his report to the Gov-
ernment, Dr. Hector and his companions were im-
pressed with the prowess of Father Lacombe's prized
dog-train and his man Alexis, for Hector wrote:

"M. Le Combe, the Roman Catholic priest, has
frequently been driven from Lac Ste. Anne to the
Fort in a dog-cariole 50 miles : after which his man
Alexis, one of the best runners in the country, loaded
the sled with 400 pounds of meat and returned to
the misison before next morning!"

Affairs, spiritual and temporal, prospered with


our pioneer in 1859. His regular ministry lay
largely with the freemen and Metis, but the Indians
came to him for direction in increasing numbers.
Their conduct was in general very good and in accord-
ance with their new belief. Sometimes he found his
little chapel at Ste. Anne too small for the devout
Christians who gathered there, and on the whole the
mission at the Christianized Devil's Lake was satis-

A pleasant picture of life at Ste. Anne this year
is given by Lord Southesk in his book of western
travel. When he reached Fort Edmonton in August
he found the Company's servants at work harvesting
wheat on the eastern meadows below the fort. On
August 19 he set out with a pack-train bound for the
mountains. The following morning Father Lacombe,
busy at some repairs in his chapel, was called out
to welcome a stranger.

"A fine looking man tall a gentleman" was
Southesk, as Father Lacombe recalls him; while in
his book the English traveller says he met with a
most cordial reception here and had the pleasure of
dining with "Peres Lacombe and Le Frain at the
Roman Catholic mission-house." "Agreeable men
and perfect gentlemen," he notes in his diary that
they are, and comments that Rome has an advantage
in the class of men she assigns to her missions, as she
always sends out "polished, highly-educated gentle-


"On the pressing invitation of my kind host,'


writes Lord Southesk, "I remained for the night at
the mission-house. Everything there is wonderfully
neat and flourishing: it is a true oasis in the desert
the cows fat and fine, the horses the same, the dogs,
the very cats the same. A well-arranged and well-
kept garden, gay with many flowers (some of them
the commonest flowers of the woods and plains
brought to perfection by care and labour).

"The house beautifully clean: meals served up as
in a gentleman's dining-room. Excellent preserves
of service-berries and wild raspberries everything
made use of and turned to account. Surrounded by
such comfort and refinement and in the society of
such agreeable entertainers I passed a most pleasant
evening, one that often recalled itself to my memory
amidst the experiences of later times."

He found the walls of the rooms decorated with
religious pictures, while the home-made book shelves
held a goodly library of books of a philosophical and
theological character. Southesk wanted to buy
horses for his journey in order to push on more
quickly and set his fancy on a black colt at the mis-
sion. Being a gift to Father Lacombe from some
Indians in return for special kindness shown them,
the priest would not part with it.

Still Pere Lacombe, he adds, was anxious to oblige
him, so he looked up two very good horses for which
Southesk paid 19 each. At the same time the mis-
sionary made his guest a present of a sack of pemmi-


can, a valuable gift ii. those days and particularly
that year.

"I felt quite sorry to leave Ste. Anne/' the courtly
Southesk writes; "all was so kindly and pleasant at
the mission. The good fathers loaded us with pro-
visions fish, potatoes, dried meat, etc. God bless
them and prosper their mission/'

From this it would seem that Pere Lacombe at
thirty-three was charming socially and as open-handed
and impulsively generous as at eighty-three.

Lord Southesk did not forget his agreeable host.
In New York, on the point of sailing for England,
he despatched to the missionary a long letter and
small brass lock for the home-made cabinet on which
the Earl found the young priest at work on his

In his book Southesk makes no mention of Father
Remas, for the latter was absent then at St. Boni-
face. He had gone with a brigade of carts to meet
three Grey Nuns from Montreal, who were to open
a home that would be at once a boarding-school,
orphanage, hospital and refuge for the aged.

Father Lacombe's active mind seized upon a hun-
dred details of work for the Indians which could be
better accomplished by the nuns than by himself. So
he was overjoyed to welcome them.

The pastoral visit of the Bishop shortly before
Christmas was the outstanding event of 1860. The
memory of these pastoral visits of Bishop Tache could


warm Father Lacombe's heart decades afterward:
it is readily understood that the pleasure at the mo-
ment was indescribable. For Bishop Tache young,
brilliant, and spiritually zealous was like Father
Lacombe himself a man of great heart and of strong
social charm. He was a brilliant raconteur, and a
warmly sympathetic friend.

An unexpected meeting with him one day on the
road from Lac la Biche made the forest-trail a porch
to Paradise for Father Lacombe. He promptly
turned his dogs about and the three arrived at Ste.
Anne at eight o'clock at night, as everyone was about
to retire.

"Our arrival, quite unexpectedly, especially at that
hour, turned everything upside down," writes Father
Lacombe in the Memoirs. "They rushed to the
chapel everyone rushed there the Fathers, the Sis-
ters and the Christians living about us. They were
so agitated and surprised that they sang everything
that came into their heads. And Father Remas
ah, that dear old Father! only found himself as the
Te Deum was being chanted, and so at the end joined
his voice in the grand fete. What harmony !" he
concludes with a touch of laughing sarcasm.

For days this little mission lost in the woods was
like a dovecote in a flutter of delight. The three
Grey Nuns were gladdened like children by the mes-
sages from their Sisters at St. Boniface and letters

Online LibraryKatherine HughesFather Lacombe : the black-robe voyageur → online text (page 5 of 28)