Lacombe’s origins came from Strawberry Plains

Michael Dawe

September 5, 2010 is a milestone date in the history of Central Alberta.

That was the day that Lacombe officially became the 17th city in the province and the fourth in Central Alberta (Wetaskiwin having been incorporated as a city in 1906, Red Deer in 1913 and Camrose in 1955).

The history of the community of Lacombe actually goes back a little more than 125 years when a true frontiersman, Ed Barnett, arrived in the area and started a log stopping house on the old Calgary Edmonton Trail. At the time, the area was often referred to as the Strawberry Plains.

A few other hardy pioneer settlers followed. Unfortunately, these settlers arrived before the surveyors did. That made it very difficult for them to get legal title to their new farms, ranches and homes. In the case of Ed Barnett, it took 10 years before he got title to his property.

A big change came in 1890-1891 when the Calgary Edmonton Railway was built through the district. The railway company decided to create a townsite in the centre of this rich agricultural region.

At first the C. &E. Company used the name of Siding 12 for the townsite. Many people wanted to use the name Barnett after the first settler. However, the railway company decided instead to use Lacombe as the permanent name for the new community.

Father Albert Lacombe was a very worthy recipient of the honour. He was an exceptionally compassionate, but also very courageous individual who earned the name Good Heart from the First Nations to whom he ministered.

After the railway was built, the community began to grow very rapidly. By 1896, Lacombe was incorporated as a village. In 1902, it became a town. While Red Deer was incorporated as a town the year before in 1901, Lacombe was actually the larger centre and seemed to have the momentum of growth behind it.

Unfortunately, Lacombe suffered serious setbacks with devastating fires in the business district in 1906, 1909 and 1911. However, in every dark cloud, there is usually a bit of a silver lining. In Lacombe’s case, when the commercial core was rebuilt, there was a heavy use of brick as it provided a degree of fire protection. That has given the downtown area the very attractive appearance that is such a community asset today.

Despite the setbacks from the fires, there were still many developments that had long lasting benefits. One was the creation of the Lacombe Experimental Station in 1907, which helped to showcase the tremendous agricultural potential of the area. The other was the establishment of Canadian Union College (now known as Canadian University College) in 1909, which helped make Lacombe a unique educational centre in Alberta.

Growth came to an abrupt halt with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The depressions of the early 1920s and 1930s and the outbreak of the Second World War meant that Lacombe and the Province of Alberta as a whole did not change much for a whole generation.

That changed with the discovery of oil and gas and the great post war boom that started in the latter part of the 1940s and continued on through the 1950s and 1960s.

Another big boost started in the mid-1970s with the development of a world-scale petrochemical industry to the south and east.

Also, because of its close proximity to Red Deer, Lacombe has become home to a number of people who work in Red Deer, but prefer the benefits of living in a smaller community.

While it has continued to boom in the last few years, Lacombe has been able to preserve and enhance its beautiful historic downtown, while places like Red Deer have largely destroyed their historic centres.

Together with a great community spirit and strong tradition of volunteerism, Alberta’s newest city is one of the best places in the province to live and to raise a family. Its future is truly bright.

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