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

St. Albert Settlement

[St. Albert is] a little colony of some twenty houses, built on the rising ground near a small lake and river. A substantial wooden bridge spanned the latter, the only structure of its kind we had found in the Hudson’s Bay territory. The priest’s house was a pretty white building, with a garden around it, and adjoining it the chapel, school and nunnery… we strolled around the settlement in company of our host [Fr. Lacombe]. He showed us several very respectable farms with rich cornfields [grainfields], large bands of horses and herds of fat cattle… Altogether this was the most flourishing community we had seen since leaving Red River.

Quote- Lord Milton and Walter Cheadle, 1863

The growth of the settlement at St. Albert during the 1860s was dramatic. Though the community struggled through agricultural failures and unproductive buffalo hunts, it produced enough solid harvests and attracted enough favourable attention to draw new settlers. More Métis families from Lac Ste. Anne arrived in 1863 and by December 1864, the population had swelled to roughly 300. Over the following years, hundreds more came and by 1870, St. Albert had approximately 1000 residents, the vast majority of whom were Métis. The community’s land was organized according to the river lot system common to Métis and French-Canadians, and its majority Métis population pursued a hybrid lifestyle mixing agriculture and buffalo hunting. The establishment of St. Albert as an Episcopal See in 1871 enhanced the community’s prestige and would result over the following years in an influx of funds, mission workers, and distinguished visitors. In 1871 – only ten years after its founding – St. Albert had become the most populous and the most agriculturally important settlement between Red River and Vancouver.

Over the succeeding two decades, the population of St. Albert diversified. While the community remained largely Métis, more and more French-Canadians and Anglophone Ontarians were immigrating to the settlement. These demographic changes, combined with the collapse of the bison population, resulted in an increasing focus on agriculture in the St. Albert district. By 1885, the settlement embodied the changes that had taken place in much of western Canada. While the river lot system of land settlement, the religious district on Mission Hill, and the large population of Métis settlers embodied the community’s roots, the growing number of non-Métis settlers and the increasing emphasis upon farming as the focus of the community’s economic activity mirrored the changes taking place throughout much of the North-West as the region transitioned from fur trading and buffalo hunting to agricultural settlement.

Plan of St. Albert Settlement, 1884

Plan of St. Albert Settlement, 1884.
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, Set-229

Last reviewed/revised: March 18, 2016
View of the village and the hill

View of the village and the hill, [1920s].
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB1719

First Town Council

First Town Council – N. Asselin, Fleury Perron, Henry Cunningham, Lucien Boudreau (standing), David Chevigny, Chery Heber (Mayor), Joseph Leonard, 1904.
Photo: Missionary Oblates, Grandin Collection at the Provincial Archives of Alberta, OB1955