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    Categories: Arts & Culture

The man who saved the father

Gerald Delorme is on a quest to get more formal recognition of his ancestor, Pierriche Pierre Lemay Delorme, who saved the life of Father Albert Lacombe according to several oral histories.

Even if you live on Delorme Place just in the very southeast corner of Deer Ridge, you likely have never heard of Pierre Delorme. Back before St. Albert had even been founded, he saved the life of Father Albert Lacombe.

At least, that’s what the oral history says. In Joachim Fromhold’s The Old North Trail (Cree Trail) – 15,000 Years of Indian History: Prehistoric to 1750, he reports “Father Lacombe at some time ca. 1855, while traveling across Lac La Nonne, broke through the ice and was saved by Pierre Delorme Sr.”

There were a few men who had the name Pierre Delorme in the history books, including one who was Louis Riel’s right hand man, according to Edmonton’s Gerald Delorme. The one who was there on the frozen lake on that fateful day shared that name with two other men.

Pierre Ayami Akmasew Delorme was a guide for Alexander Mackenzie and David Thompson. He passed away in 1853, which excludes him. His son, Pierriche Pierre Lemay Delorme, was born in 1812 at Whitemud Creek and lived till he was 76. There was a third Pierre – Pierre Peter Lemay Delorme – but Gerald said that this one “was born on the Alexander Reserve and this could not be the ‘Pierre Delorme that saved Albert Lacombe’ because the reserves were internment camps and one would have to have a pass to come off in those days.”

“So, in deduction, Pierre number 2 is the one that saved Father Lacombe. He must have learned from his father how to guide,” said Gerald Delorme.

The Trails Northwest: a history of the district of Barrhead Alberta, 1867-1967 goes a bit further, but not much, in offering details on what happened. The book by the Barrhead and District Historical Society says, “Father Lacombe who, as the story goes, dropped through the ice when travelling the Lake with a four-dog team. He was promptly rescued by Pierre Delorme, who was fishing nearby.”

Anna Churchill, current member of that historical society, calls it an unsolved mystery. She said that the now 50-year-old history book has a lot of gaps in its accounts. At some point some years ago, she was working on a display featuring historical art. She came across an image of Father Lacombe when he was in Bloomsbury, a small community more than 10 km northwest of Barrhead. Lac La Nonne was right on the pathway between Bloomsbury and St. Albert.

The story that he would be on a four-dog sled traversing the frozen lake fits with that bit of history, yet it’s strange to her that there is no further record of him going through the ice.

“It seems plausible but with Father Lacombe being such a well-known figure, wouldn’t that story follow him in some other capacity?” she said.

Not even Father Lacombe – James G. MacGregor’s definitive biography of the man nor Lacombe’s own memoirs or correspondences held at the Provincial Archives of Alberta – offer further detail on this life-or-death experience.

Churchill said that the archives much like the Barrhead museum are profoundly subject to the information that is available to them, making objective history far from complete.

She said the museum has had many challenges in establishing details surrounding the rescue.

“There was very little co-operation. They simply said, ‘We have bad memories of our history and we don’t want to regurgitate it’. They’re very quiet about it. It’s too bad. Small museums like ourselves don’t have the resources or the funding to get some accurate history.”

As far as Gerald Delorme is concerned, however, the detail is noted in two history books and that’s enough for him. He said his ancestor saved the life of Father Lacombe six years before St. Albert was founded and no one else has suggested some more formal praise or recognition of Pierre Delorme for his bravery and heroism. There isn’t even any note in this city’s own history books or in its museum.

There is, however, a street named Delorme Place. In A History of the Street Names in St. Albert, produced by the Musée Héritage Museum in 1991, it states that this street is named after Antoine Delorme “who was one of the first settlers in St. Albert as early as 1861.”

Who that person was is anybody’s guess.

“I went through different records. I was looking for Antoine Delorme in St. Albert. There’s not one. Nobody knows. Even the archivist doesn’t even know,” Gerald Delorme said.

Vino Vipulanantharajah, archivist at the Musée Héritage Museum, confirmed that there is no detail on who Antoine Delorme was. He also said that until Gerald Delorme made contact with them, there had been no local knowledge of the story of Father Lacombe being saved from the icy waters.

“We know there’s a reference but we still don’t have any sort of primary document to go on right now,” he said, suggesting that even those brief notes in the two history books aren’t anywhere near being satisfactory citations. “It’s kind of like an aside in that paragraph, kind of thrown in there, a footnote or something. Where does that come from? There would have to be more digging.”

Gerald Delorme remains firm: if it weren’t for his ancestor, there would be no St. Albert. He suggested that the city could simply amend who the street is named after but he thinks that something more formal might be more appropriate. He says that Pierre Delorme is a hero.

“It would be nice to see if that was changed to Pierre Delorme on the records. That’s a good start,” he said, Gerald Delorme said that not many people really think twice about who streets are named after. “If you see a monument or a statue, you say, ‘who was that guy?’ Just like they did to Father Lacombe or Wayne Gretzky. Same difference, right? It seems more fitting.”

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.