The city of St. Albert (population 59,000)—northwest of Edmonton along the St. Albert Trail—is one of Alberta’s oldest settlements but has today become part of Edmonton’s sprawl. Albert Lacombe, a pioneering western Canadian priest, built a mansion overlooking the Sturgeon River in 1861, when Fort Edmonton was only a small trading post. A sawmill and gristmill were constructed, and by 1870, St. Albert was the largest agricultural community west of Winnipeg.
Father Lacombe’s first log chapel, the Father Lacombe Chapel (west of Hwy. 2 on St. Vital Ave., 780/459-7663, daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m. mid-May–Aug., adult $2, senior and child $1.50), was built in 1861. In front of the chapel, a cast-iron statue of Father Lacombe that was made in France overlooks the city.
The imposing building beside the chapel is Vital Grandin Centre, built in 1887 as a hospital. Down in the river valley is St. Albert Place on St. Anne Street, a contoured brick building designed by Douglas Cardinal. Inside is the Musée Heritage Museum (780/459-1528, Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 1–5 p.m., donation), with displays telling the story of St. Albert’s history and the people who made it happen.
From the museum, walk along the river (three km/1.9 mi) or drive (take Sir Winston Churchill Ave. to Riel Dr.) to Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park, protecting Big Lake and surrounding wetlands. Here, bird-watchers have the chance to see some 40 species of water and wading birds, including trumpeter swans.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition