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

The Oblates

…if you sought him [the French missionary] in his lonely hut, you found ever the same surroundings, the same simple evidences of a faith which seemed more than human… And it has ever been the same, East and West, far in advance of trader or merchant, of sailor or soldier, has gone this dark-haired, fragile man, whose earliest memories are thick with sunny scenes by bank of Loire or vine-clad slope or Rhone or Garonne…

Quote- Sir William Francis Butler, commenting on the Oblates in St. Albert

Key to the transformation of Rupert’s Land from the domain of Aboriginals and fur traders to a promised land of agricultural settlement was the work of the missionaries who established many of the foundations of Euro-Canadian civilization in the region. Arguably the most influential missionaries were the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, members of a Roman Catholic religious congregation founded by Saint Eugene de Mazenod in 1816 in southern France. In 1841, the congregation established a presence in Montréal. Four years later, the Oblates arrived at Red River. Their growth was dramatic; their expansion remarkable. By the turn of the twentieth century, they had become the largest male religious congregation in Canada and had succeeded in penetrating more than one half of Canada’s landmass and converting many of its inhabitants. They learned First Nations’ languages and lifeways while they worked to evangelize them. They established missions and settlements, and built roads, schools, farms, mills, and steamships. They also recruited religious women to provide educational, medical, and charitable services. They were some of the founding fathers of western Canada.

The early history of St. Albert is inextricably tied to the Oblates. Founded by Oblates in 1861, the fledgling mission site was bolstered in the late 1860s by the arrival of Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin and a host of his Oblate brothers. Among the early Oblate brothers were carpenters, blacksmiths, farmers, ranchers, millers, and sawmill operators. These represented some of the first skilled tradesmen in present-day Alberta and they were essential to the community’s early development. As they did elsewhere, the Oblates built infrastructure, established new transportation routes, and introduced new technologies. The elevation of the decade-old mission of St. Albert to an Episcopal See in 1871 under the leadership of Oblate Bishop Grandin recognized the Oblates’ remarkable achievements and established the community as an administrative, economic, and religious centre for both the congregation and the Roman Catholic Church.

Last reviewed/revised: May 7, 2012
Bishop Emile Grourd

Bishop Emile Grouard (1840 - 1931) was a missionary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta, A2345

Bishop Vital Grandin

Bishop Vital Grandin, omi arriving at St. Albert, Oct. 1886.
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB1710.

Mission Hill

View of the bridge, General Store and Mission Hill, before 1900.
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB1734.