Monthly Archives: January 2021

Father Lacombe, the Black-Robe Voyageur

An excellent book about a very talented Canadian missionary Fr. Albert Lacombe, OMI. It was first published in 1911 by Katherine Hughes Canadian journalist and author. She was approached by Fr. Lacombe to help him write his memoirs after 60+ years of ministering to the Cree, Métis and Blackfeet First Nations people in Alberta. I highly enjoyed reading about his first hand encounters with these peoples during years of tumultuous change and development in north western and all Canada.

Father Lacombe and the Blackfeet, C. W. Jefferys, 1934
Born in Saint-Sulpice, Lower Canada in 1827 it was soon evident that he had a strong interest in religion. After ordination as a secular priest he was sent to Pembina, ND in 1849 where he accompanied the Métis on the plains during there semi-annual buffalo hunts. After a short return to the east he was sent to Lac Ste Anne (Alta) where he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) religious order. Working with Bishop Alexander Taché of Red River (Man), they selected a new site for a mission near Fort Edmonton where the Cree and Blackfeet came to trade and named it St. Albert. Pere Lacombe established this mission successfully for the Metis who were Roman Catholics being the descendents from french, english and native parents.

In 1865 at his request, Taché permitted him to establish an itinerant ministry to the Cree and Blackfoot. He established Saint-Paul-des-Cris on the North Saskatchewan River. From there he went on to camp with the Blackfeet who were the mortal enemies of the Cree and the fiercest of all the Plains Indians. The Cree were somewhat receptive to Pere Lacombe’s Christian teachings and some agreed to be baptized into the faith. Not so the Blackfeet. Along with their allies, the Piegan and Blood tribes, they had a culture that did not permit a warrior to humble himself. Nevertheless Pere Lacombe gained their respect and became great friends with their Chief Crowfoot.

He developed a famous catechesis ladder with pictures that showed the path to heaven and the path to hell. He would use this to instruct native youth while helping to develop Cree and Blackfoot language dictionaries as well as nursing them when sick. He was assisted in this by the interpreter and controversial “lay priest” Jean L’Heureux. At one point Lacombe was caught in a battle between the Cree and Blackfoot. While trying to stop it he was grazed by a bullet and nursed back to health by L’Heureux.

One in the most memorable stories in the book for me was when he was travelling back to a mission in the dead of winter on foot. They had but a few days of food remaining when they came upon a small group of starving Cree. Pere Lacombe invited them to join and they continued together. He immediately gave away the last food he had to the starving natives as they continued to plod forward together. They were all near death one morning. Pere Lacombe urged everyone to walk for one more day. At the end of that day, they finally spotted a light from the encampment and staggered into safety at last. This is the supreme Christian example of giving away what you yourself need as an act of charity to help someone else. This was what Pere Lacombe was like as a man. Please watch this short CBC video for some further testimony.

In 2018 Marie and I took a Great Plains road trip and snapped this photo of Fort Whoop-Up in Lethbridge, AB. Ironically it was closed for the season. Pere Lacombe and the Methodist missionary Rev George MacDougall pleaded with Ottawa to halt the illegal whiskey trade there by Americans in the 1870s. It was destroying the Blackfeet and other tribes. In 1873 the North West Mounted Police force was established and put an end to this devastation for good.

In what I would call Part II of his life, he was called back to the Archdiocese of St. Boniface in 1874 to assist Bishop Taché in fundraising efforts for the western missions. For the next 40 years he criss-crossed Canada, parts of the U.S., Europe, journeyed to the Holy Land and became first hand friends with Prime Ministers, Governors-General, business men like William Van Horne CPR President, and international and church leaders including Popes and Emperors. He served as a peacemaker in the 1885 North West Rebellion by convincing the Blackfeet to not join in with the 2nd Métis rebellion under Louis Riel. He enabled a peace agreement with the Blackfeet to permit the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway across their reservation land. He built a colony for the Métis who were the worst of persecuted peoples even to this day. He established a home for orphans and the aged in Calgary when he was in his eighties. He was a master fundraiser and planner who never kept a penny of donations for his own use. It is reported that he would only eat one meal a day so every extra penny could go into the missions!

Pere Lacombe in 1913, photo Wikipedia
Yes he was instrumental in the founding of the Residential School system in Canada. But he admitted that there were problems. The educated youth who would return to the reservation were neither white nor Indian. He knew then that it was not an ultimate solution. I liken the role of a religious missionary in 19th century Canada to be like the cutting wheel of a vast mining machine (colonialization) that keeps pushing deeper into the coal face. Yes, he could be impatient at times and embelish. But he always had the welfare of First Nations peoples in his heart. They called him “man of good heart”. Finally slowing down a bit…, he moved to Hermitage St. Michel in Pincher Creek to write his memoirs but continued his fundraising trips unabated. It was in 1916 that he drew his last breath in Midnapore, now a suburb of Calgary. He is the archetype of Oblate missionaries in Canada, always among the people. He was successful for three reasons. First, he got along with everyone he met, easily making friends and gaining trust. Two, he was an adventurer and planner who could never sit still. Third, he was both skilled and compassionate wanting to remain a priest rather than become a bishop with admin duties. In 1932 he was named a National Historic Person of Canada. The cities of Lacombe and St. Albert, Alberta have been named in his honour. Peacemaker, priest and pioneer, Pere Lacombe makes me proud to be an Oblate Associate and a Canadian.

Photo courtesy University of Calgary
Well done Pere Lacombe and Katherine Hughes for writing this highly fascinating, accurate and factual account of a great life. 5 out of 5 stars!

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(Rev.) White Burton Morgan 1879 – 1956

Rev. White Burton Morgan c. 1950

My paternal grandfather White Burton Morgan was born in Hartland, NB on March 24, 1879. His parents were David Ezra Morgan 1852-1924 and Lois Parmelia Orser (Morgan) 1856-1939. Each was descended from Loyalists from New York State who came to New Brunswick from the U.S. following the American Revolutionary War. In 1879, Canada was but 12 years old. PM John A. McDonald was busy introducing protective tariffs on manufactured goods and promising a transcontinental railway as the Plains first nations people were starving in the west due to the disappearance of buffalo. I never really got to know my Grandpa Morgan as he died after a long illness when I was 6.

White was the middle of 5 children. Sadly older sister Martha died in 1878 at age 3 and younger brother David died in 1888 at age 4. Older brother Edmund and younger sister Lina lived a long life so little White’s life was tinged with both sorrow and subsequent joy from the very start. There must have been a lot of religion in the family to sustain them as both his mother Lois’ father Moses and Uncle Charles were Free Baptist Ministers. White’s father David listed his profession as farmer. His mom’s sister Minnie Bell was married to a Samuel White so I suppose this is how White may have got his unusual first name.

Edmond and White c 1882-3

Hartland (pop. 1000) had been founded by White’s mother’s great great grandfather William Orser in 1797. Known now for having the longest covered bridge in the world, it is in the heart of potato country and must have been a very peaceful place to grow up in.

I have little information about his early childhood life other than he grew up on a farm with his older brother and younger sister. He went to Hartland High School and later Provincial Normal School in Fredericton. White began his career as a teacher locally but then out west to teach in Saskatchewan and Alberta. He served a stint in the Royal Engineers in Halifax and came to Ottawa in 1905 to be boys’ secretary at the YMCA. He then went to Queens University, Kingston graduating with a BA in 1909. In 1913 he enrolled in Theology at Trinity College, Toronto and graduated with a BD in 1914.

He was ordained an Anglican Rector at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa in 1913 and briefly assigned to the mission at Madawaska and Killaloe in the Ottawa Valley. He then became assistant rector at St. Mathew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa before being assigned as Rector, St. John’s Anglican Church, Vankleek Hill, Ontario in November 1915. But just before this move he married Bella Mae Vallillee of Ottawa on July 7 at St. Mathew’s. They had courted for a year. She was the only child of George William Vallillee and Rebecca Jane Skuce both of Ottawa and was born Jan 4, 1895. Her mom Rebeka Jane nee Skuce died in 1914 when Bella Mae was 19. Her dad, George Vallillee remarried Margaret Tait in 1917 and they had a son George Vallillee.

In Vankleek Hill, White and Bella Mae gave birth to six children. It was a busy time for sure. White was 42 and Bella was 26 when my dad was born:

  • Lois Geraldine Feb 5, 1916
  • Burton Roper Mar 23, 1917
  • Vera Marjorie Apr 19, 1918
  • Barbara Caroline Jul 11 1919
  • Alfred David Apr 14 1921 (my dad)
  • Reginald Aug 24 1922
St. John the Apostle Anglican Church, Vankleek Hill, Ontario Today

In 1922 he moved to Russell and Edwards, ON where he was Incumbent. It was on May 1, 1927 he was appointed Rector at St. Martin’s Anglican on Woodroffe Avenue in Ottawa’s west end. St. Martin’s then was located in what is the current Hulse and Playfair Chapel just across from Our Lady of Fatima RC Church. White was also responsible for St. Stephen’s Anglican on Britannia Road. The Morgan family established themselves on Fourth Avenue in McKellar Park not far to the east from both churches. McKellar Park Golf Course had just opened in May so it was the start of a long love relationship with golf in the Morgan family.

Morgan Family c 1935
White, Bella Mae and daughter Vera on the golf course, c 1938

White was busy with his two churches and Bella with their 6 kids. He was also responsible for the Missions of Chelsea and Gatineau Mills across the Ottawa River in Quebec from 1933-40. The years flew by. The kids went to Broadview public school and Nepean High School just a few blocks away. Then it was off to university for some. When the war years came, oldest son Burton who also went to Trinity College, enrolled in the army and my dad Alfred, in the RCN Volunteer Reserve. White was a Mason of the Scottish Perfection, was very affable and popular, making many friends around town.

At my dad’s graduation from McGill 1942

Meanwhile the grandchildren had started coming and coming and coming. All told he and Bella had 20 grandchildren from 1941 to 1961. 4 of their 6 six children stayed in Ottawa, only the oldest Lois moving to Brantford, ON and the youngest Reginald ending up in Cornwall. So there was plenty of opportunity to be with their grandchildren. Many large family get togethers occurred at the Morgan household now on Windermere Ave, Fourth Ave having been renamed.

With grandson Robert Carson c 1941
At the sea 1940s

However, tragedy was about to strike. Rev. White retired from St. Martin’s in 1949 after 23 years as Rector, for illhealth reasons. Mind you he was 70 so he was likely ready to retire anyway. I do not know the details of his illness but I know it affected his retirement adversely. His friend Rev. Ken Cowan took over as Rector. Bella was not well either suffering from some disorders that I do not know the details of. As a young boy I remember visiting them in hospital and that is about all.

Me with Grandma and Grandpa Morgan 1951

Sadly White passed away on May 24, 1956 at the age of 77 in the Perley Hospital Ottawa and was interred at Beechwood Cemetery after the service at St. Martin’s. Bella Mae did not live much longer and passed away on Oct 19, 1956 at the age of 61. They had had a good very productive life together and the Morgan family name lives on in Ottawa and elsewhere thanks to them. I wish I had had the chance to get to know you both more Grandpa and Grandma Morgan, may God continue to bless your souls.

I wish to acknowledge and thank cousin John Morgan for supplying the bulk of the family material used to create this biography. Also posthumously, his sister Barbara who provided me with the Morgan family genealogy files some years back. This is one of a series of family biographies on Mattersofthemoment.com based on my family tree below. Cheers, Dave.

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A Renewed Importance of Place

Christianity is not the religion of salvation from places, it is the religion of salvation in and through places. John Inge, A Christian Theology of Place

In his 2010 book entitled A Rumour of God, noted Canadian journalist and author Robert Sibley offers up a fascinating history of the ebb and flow of the importance of place in our lives. Our renewed interest in place has been triggered by the pandemic. Like you, I am hunkered down in a particular place not able to escape through space to another place. Jesus Christ had no place and wandered around Galilee and Judah living a nomadic existence. He prayed to God in wide open spaces like gardens, hilltops and desert wilderness. His disciples even had to borrow a tomb for his body. He was effectively placeless. It was only in the third century that place and religion were firmly linked when the Church established itself in Rome. The balance between space and place held up until people started going on pilgrimages to far off places like Santiago de Compostela, Rome, Jerusalem and Canterbury. They came home describing these places which fed peoples’ desire to escape the local claims of place for the increased freedoms of space.

Sibley explains that in the middle ages, the Archbishop of Paris attempted to suppress doctrines that in his view claimed to limit God’s power e.g., the Aristotelian idea that there is only a finite amount of matter in the universe and thus a limit to divine power. The Archbishop’s condemnations ultimately proved harmful for Christianity as it opened up the possibility of infinite space – thus diminishing the importance of place. People today remain attached to their places for sure but science has opened up the possibility of escaping the oppressive aspects of those places, whether in body or mind. As moderns we are living under the apotheosis of space, at least until the pandemic hit. Geographers say that the greater mobility of modern society dilutes our sense of place. Modernity requires us to subordinate place to the imperatives of the time-and-space world view. Many people are unable to maintain ties to any particular place because they experience more places over a lifetime than their forefathers ever imagined. Witness those people who live on the cruise ship the World that wanders the globe aimlessly in normal times.

Sibley goes on to the intriguing ideas that Tony Hiss expresses in his 1991 book The Experience of Place. Hiss proposes that we experience the world in two ways: “ordinary perception” and “simultaneous perception”. Usually we go about our lives in the ordinary perception mode. We perceive the outside world only to the degree necessary for our daily survival as we are absorbed for the most part with the chatter in our heads. Simultaneous perception on the other hand broadens and diffuses our beam of attention across all the senses so we can take in whatever there is there to be received. Some places seem to trigger our experiencing of them more intensely. When this happens we choose to stay in our heads or to let go and release ourselves to the full experience of a particular place. This mystical experience has certainly happened to me while on the Camino, on a golf course, at a retreat centre, hiking on a mountain trail with Marie or in a church building. How about you? Have you ever had the experience of being in a place that is so beautiful, enchanting or magical that you just let go? If you are a believer, do you become more aware of God’s presence in moments like these? Sibley proposes that this is a good thing and that to restore our sense that the world is indeed an enchanted place, we need to become more sacramental in our daily lives.

The Covid pandemic has made me appreciate more than ever before, the importance of the place that I am in. My lived experience of place has changed. If you have a comfortable and safe abode at present, the lock down is not so bad. On the other hand, for the homeless, seniors in retirement homes, multi-generational families in single room houses, indigenous in isolated communities and those in crowded prisons or hospitals, the place itself may be the problem i.e., increasing your risk of being infected. We lament the current loss of free movement and access to family and friends. But this means that the place we are in has increased importance and can be our salvation. Will this sense of renewed importance of place stay with us post pandemic? I am not so sure.

(Photo courtesy MasterMaq’s Blog)
Hey everyone, thanks for travelling with us during this the year of the pandemic. Wishing you a Happy, Blessed and Healthy New Year in 2021! Dave (and Marie)

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