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

The Grey Nuns

In spite of sufferings, constant struggles, all kinds of privations, never a word of complaint, never a regret, never a glance at the past security and comfort of their dear mother house… They never give up, they encourage each other, they support each other; it is like an uninterrupted contest as to who would do most for the glory of God and the salvation of their brothers and sisters.

Quote- Father Lacombe, commenting on the Grey Nuns

While the Oblates pioneered a number of economic, technological, and transportation innovations in western Canada, it was congregations of religious women who laid the foundations of the educational, medical, and charitable services essential to the establishment of Euro-Canadian civil society. Among the most significant of these was the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of Montréal, more commonly known as the Grey Nuns. Founded in 1737 by Saint Marie-Marguerite d'Youville to serve the poor and the sick of Montréal, the Grey Nuns established a presence in the west in 1844, when four sisters arrived at the St. Boniface settlement on the Red River. Fifteen years later, in 1859, three young Grey Nuns – Sisters Emery, Lamy, and Alphonse – accepted Fr. Lacombe's invitation to join him in his work at the Lac Ste. Anne mission, approximately 50 kilometres west of St. Albert. The sisters endured an arduous 51-day trek from Red River to Lac Ste. Anne along primitive paths and through treacherous conditions to reach their destination. During their four years at Lac Ste. Anne, the sisters pioneered nursing care in Alberta, taught classes to Cree and Métis students, tended to orphans, and collaborated with Fr. Lacombe to compose a Cree grammar book.

In 1863, the Grey Nuns at Lac Ste. Anne followed Father Lacombe to the St. Albert mission. The following year, the Grey Nuns moved into a newly completed convent. This sparsely furnished building not only accommodated the sisters, but also served as a hospital, school, and orphanage. It was the first such institution west of Red River. From this humble beginning, the Grey Nuns would break new ground in health care, education, and charitable services. They operated a new hospital erected in St. Albert in 1870 and travelled throughout the region ministering to the sick and suffering. They taught hundreds of students at the mission school. And they tended to the aged and the orphaned. Over time, St. Albert became the centre of the Grey Nuns' missionary activities throughout Alberta. Their efforts were acknowledged in 1897, when the Superior General of the Grey Nuns founded the Vicariate of St. Albert. From this administrative centre, the Grey Nuns would administer missions and schools throughout western Canada.


Last reviewed/revised: March 18, 2016
First Youville Convent and orphanage

First Youville Convent and orphanage (opened 1863), 1884.
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB1942

Sr. Zoe Leblanc-Emery

Sr. Zoe Leblanc-Emery, 1885.
Photo: Archives des Sœurs Grises de Montréal, Leblanc-Emery, Zoe 1885

Sewing department, Industrial School

Sewing department, Industrial School.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta, B9510