Alberta's Provincial Historic Sites, Interpretive Centres and Museums
Father Lacombe Chapel

The Church

"Once in the midst of these deep-rooted spruce giants, I spoke to my companions: 'My children, we are about to fell these beautiful trees which will serve as lumber to build the Fathers’ residence and the House of God. Let us kneel and say a prayer and ask the Master to help us, and bless us."

Quote- James G. MacGregor, Father Lacombe

The first building erected in St. Albert was Father Lacombe Chapel. Upon Father Lacombe’s arrival in the April 1861, he and his Métis companions crossed to the south side of the Sturgeon River, where they felled spruce trees. The trees were hand-hewn into square timbers with a broad axe. The timbers were transported to the hill on the north side of the river and assembled using a post-on-sill method of construction (also known as Red River frame, Hudson’s Bay frame, or pièces sur pièces construction). A simple frame of long sill plates was placed at the base of the building. Vertical posts were mortised into the sill, and capped with a top plate. Then the horizontal timbers were slid into the grooved uprights. Once the main frame of the building was completed, the workers constructed a gable roof supported by rafters. A simple mortar of sand and lime was used to daub between the logs. Pitsawn boards were added to the front façade of the building to give the main face of the church a more finished appearance.

The Father Lacombe Chapel is an excellent example of early settlement architecture. The post-on-sill method of construction was common in fur trade posts and in French-Canadian and Métis communities. This method required few tools and resulted in simple, durable buildings that could be adapted for a variety of uses. The use of this construction method and the situation of the church on a former river lot speak to the French-Canadian and Métis heritage of the church. Its simplicity and its similarity to fur trade buildings embodies the practicality of early western Canadian missionaries, who often eschewed architectural sophistication in favour of thrift, utility, and speed of construction.

Last reviewed/revised: March 18, 2016
First Chapel / Cathedral

First Chapel / Cathedral – Fathers A. Blanchet, omi, A. LeCorre, omi (seated) and V. Ladet, omi, [1920s].
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB1739

Interior of the first church in St. Albert

Interior of the first church in St. Albert, 1928. Photographer: A. Philippot, omi.
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB1742

Post on sill construction.
Photo: Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch, PoS1