Museum Moment: St. Albert Founder’s Day

Why are We Here?

The Catholic mission at Lac Ste. Anne was founded in 1844, but by 1860 things were not going too well. For nearly a year, the priests at Lac Ste. Anne had been searching for a location to establish a new mission. Father Rémas had written to Bishop Alexandre Taché that it was “…an absolutely necessary plan; our six hundred and some Métis will die of starvation…”. In the fall of 1860 Taché left St. Boniface (Winnipeg) to visit his western missions.

The story goes that in January 1861, Father Albert Lacombe and Bishop Taché happened to stop on the lovely hill overlooking the Sturgeon River and decided to build a new mission there. The reality is that during Taché’s visit to Lac Ste. Anne, he discussed plans for a new mission with the priests. They considered different locations, but Father Lacombe already favoured the St. Albert Location and took the Bishop there to show him. It was closer to Fort Edmonton and had better resources and opportunities for farming. The Bishop liked the location and told Lacombe where to build a chapel. He even gave him instructions on how to lay out river lots for the Métis families that already lived in the area and those that would join them from Lac Ste Anne. In April they began to build.

Was the Mission actually founded on January 14th?

Founders’ Day has been celebrated off and on for roughly 80 years. The St. Albert Gazette mentions a banquet and dance held in May of 1962 and, in 1976, council discussed creating an official annual celebration, but it seems that didn’t happen. When St. Albert marked the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Mission in 1986, they revived the annual celebration. It was organized by the Friends of the Museum Society and later the St. Albert Historical Society. Somewhere along the way the 14th of January was chosen as the official date. In 2012, Mayor Nolan Crouse proclaimed that “January 14 of each year shall be recognized as “Founders’Day” in the City of St. Albert.”

The actual date of Lacombe and Taché s visit to the hill may in fact have been a few days earlier. The Fort Edmonton Journals document the return of the Bishop from Lac Ste. Anne to Fort Edmonton on the 11th. He likely would have overseen Sunday services on the 13th and his departure from the Fort to return to St.Boniface was on the 14th. Most probably, Lacombe and Taché would have stopped at the location of the St. Albert site either late in the day on the 10th, or on the morning of the 11th. The trip from Lac Ste. Anne would have taken at least twelve hours. Dogsleds frequently travelled overnight in the winter because the ground was harder, although the weather was very cold that week so they may have been able to make the trip during the day.

The winter of 1860-61 was very cold but people still travelled extensively to take care of their everyday needs.

Click here to check out the records from the Fort Edmonton Journals*.

*Lac Ste. Anne = LSA (Lac Ste Anne was a major source of fish which supplied the Fort throughout the winter, loads of frozen fish were regularly brought from the lake, sometimes using horse sleds)
*Big Lake = BL (the Fort kept horses at Big Lake to use for trips north and west and to protect them from raids)
*Fort Edmonton = Fort
*Freemen = men who used to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company
*Cariole = a covered dogsled for passengers. Lacombe had one specially made for the Bishop’s visit

If you have any other questions or comments about Founder’s Day, please feel free to contact our the Musée Héritage Museum at 780-459-1528 or museum@artsandheritage.ca.