FATHER LACOMBE HERMITAGE
By Farley Wuth, Curator,
Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village
Copyright, Pincher Creek & District Historical Society
The physical origins of the Roman Catholic faith in the Pincher Creek area can be traced back to the Father Lacombe Hermitage, constructed in 1885 when logs hauled in by horses from the Beauvais Lake area were painstakingly squared and notched with broadaxes and erected in frontier style to provide this place of worship. Mud, manure and grass were used as chinking. This pioneer church originally sat prominently on the south hill, a site now occupied by the Lebel Mansion. It was the second Christian denomination to trace its roots to Pincher Creek where six churches dotted the landscape prior to the First World War.
Father Albert Lacombe (1827 – 1916), seen in this portrait, was the Catholic missionary who first visited the southwestern corner of the Canadian Prairies in 1869. He was one of the founders of the local church. It was named the Father Lacombe Hermitage due to its one-and-a-half storey structure that included a loft where the missionary lived and planned to retire. The main floor served the parish’s religious needs. Lacombe’s stay in Pincher Creek was cut short within a decade as the esteemed priest was called to active duty in other western Canadian settlements. A tangible reminder of the missionary is his writing desk seen here, noted for its sloped top, cross cut into each leg, and a lockable box which likely was used for offerings.
Many of the early local parishioners derived from the French-Canadian and Metis population who lived at Pincher Creek and Beauvais Lake. Most were businessmen or local ranchers/homesteaders. Ludgar Gareau who doubled as a carpenter, built the wardrobe and cabinet which decorate the Hermitage. Timothee Lebel helped finance the parish. A copy of his priceless photo album is on exhibit here.
The Father Lacombe Hermitage served local parishioners well for seventeen years. In 1902, a new church, St. Michaels’s, ornate in architecture, was constructed across the street (Christie Avenue) to serve the growing number of worshippers. When replaced by the new brick church in the mid-1960s, its religious statues were brought to the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village where they are exhibited in the historic Hermitage. The organ, bells, and stained glass windows housed in the frame structure were carefully transferred over to the modern building.