Wednesday, March 28, 2007
(from St. Albert Gazette, by Bryan Alary, Staff Writer)
Revered as a priest, teacher and peacemaker, Father Albert Lacombe’s name is synonymous with the title of community leader. Perhaps overlooked in the annals of history is his legacy as a former president of the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Lacombe’s contributions to the railway industry earned him the posthumous honour of induction into the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame. The award was presented at last Monday’s council meeting.
Hall of fame volunteer director Shawn Smith said Lacombe’s abilities as a peacemaker were instrumental in allowing the CPR to pound railway spikes west of Calgary. He brokered peace between the Blackfoot and Cree nations, and later convinced the Blackfoot to allow the CPR to extend the rail line through their territory.
“Otherwise there was the threat that there was going to be a blockade,” Smith explained.
Lacombe’s skilful negotiations with Blackfoot Chief Crowfoot earned the respect of CPR’s flamboyant and outspoken general manager, Sir William Cornelius Van Horne. Both men received a lifetime railway pass, but Lacombe was given an even higher honour, Smith said.
“At a business card dinner, Van Horne basically vacated his seat as president for an hour and they elected Father Lacombe as president. It’s an interesting piece of Canadian history.”
Mayor Paul Chalifoux and council accepted a plaque commemorating Lacombe’s induction.
“This is indeed an honour to recognize Father Lacombe in that way,” said Chalifoux, who had his own interesting piece of railway history to share.
The same lifetime CPR pass Lacombe received from Van Horne was instrumental to the repair of the St. Albert Mission bells in 1980, Chalifoux said. After sitting for decades as mere artifacts, the bells were set to undergo repairs at a foundry in Garney, Que. The restoration was part of a local plan to celebrate Alberta’s 75th anniversary. Transporting the bells proved a logistical and financial hurdle, one that was only solved when the CPR agreed to ship them free of charge using Lacombe’s rail pass.
Virtual hall of fame
Each year the Canadian Railway Hall of Fame recognizes Canadians who’ve had a positive impact on the railway industry. Their accomplishments are posted on the hall’s website.
Smith describes the six-year-old railway hall of fame as “probably the first, if not the first, virtual hall of fame in Canada.”
The hall has recognized the accomplishments of 36 Canadians, along with several communities and technologies.
“The Canadian Railway Hall of Fame tries to honour achievement in the industry and those who helped develop it,” Smith explained.
Famous inductees include former prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald and folk singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, whose much-loved song, Canadian Railroad Trilogy, could very well be the hall of fame’s unofficial theme song, Smith said.
Every year, more than 30 nominations from across the country are reviewed and researched by railway historians and aficionados, before they’re passed along to the hall of fame’s board of directors. Smith isn’t sure who nominated Lacombe, but believes it was done anonymously.
Inductees or their representatives are usually given a plaque in person, but Smith conceded it’s a juggling act for volunteers. Lacombe was inducted into the hall last fall, but council wasn’t presented with his plaque until last week.
For more information, visit www.railfame.ca.