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Bishop's Palace

St. Albert

Other Names:
Albert Lacombe Chapel
Grandin House
Lacombe, Albert Chapel
St. Albert Mission
Vital Grandin Centre

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Bishop's Palace is an imposing late nineteenth century, three and one-half storey building situated on a single lot high on the northern bank of the Sturgeon River overlooking the city of St. Albert. It is a symmetrically constructed wood frame building on a tall brick foundation that serves as the first storey. The Bishop's Palace maintains its association with the adjacent Father Lacombe Church, which is not included in this designation.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Bishop's Palace lies in its association with Bishop Vital Justin Grandin, its connection with the religious and social culture of the St. Albert Mission, and its embodiment of many of the architectural forms and features associated with French-Canadian convents.

St. Albert was founded in 1861 when Fr. Albert Lacombe of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate chose a site just north of the Sturgeon River for his next mission. He attracted settlers, many of them Metis, and the community became one of the earliest and most significant mission sites and agricultural settlements in present-day Alberta. In 1871, the Diocese of St. Albert was created and Vital Justin Grandin was made bishop. From his Episcopal See in St. Albert, Bishop Grandin directed the development of the Roman Catholic Church throughout his expansive diocese and co-ordinated the social work of the Oblates and the Grey Nuns. The palace also served Grandin's successor, Bishop Emile-Joseph Legal, who resided there until 1912, when the Episcopal See was moved to Edmonton.

In 1872, shortly after the creation of the Diocese of St. Albert, construction began on a large convent for the Grey Nuns who had arrived in St. Albert in 1863. The building was intended to be used as a residence for the sisters as well as a hospital, but upon its completion in 1877, the nuns insisted that Bishop Grandin use the building as his episcopal palace. The Bishop's Palace was clearly designed with its original purpose in mind. With its rectangular massing, gable roof, regular fenestration, dormers, short verandah, and balconies, it represents a fine embodiment of the forms and features typical of French-Canadian convents. Whereas French-Canadian convents where usually constructed of stone, the Bishop's Palace was built of wood - an adaptation of the tradition which was necessitated by the availability of materials. The bell spire crowned with a cross, the cruciform shape of the building, and the beautiful, hand-carved altar in the palace chapel all testify to its religious significance. The marriage of the convent architectural style with the building's rich spiritual symbolism expresses eloquently the palace's dual purpose as utilitarian structure and sacred space.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 291)

Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Bishop's Palace include such features as:
- blocky, rectangular form and massing, symmetrical design, and cruciform plan;
- high-pitched gable roof, regularly-spaced corbelled chimneys with decorative recessed brick panel and raised cross, gabled dormers, bell spire mounted by cross;
- tall, exposed brick foundation and wood feather edge siding;
- central projection from front facade incorporating stairs to main entryway;
- fenestration pattern and design, including rectangular, multi-pane double-hung windows and painted Gothic windows in north chapel projection;
- short verandah and balconies;
- wooden cross on stone base in front of palace;
- original floor plan, original stairwell configuration and wood railing;
- original interior materials and finishes, hand-carved mouldings, interior wall and ceiling panelling, pine floors, panelled doors and hardware;
- original wainscoting, furnishings, and hand-carved altar in chapel.


Street Address: 5 Rue St. Vital
Community: St. Albert
Boundaries: Lot 16, Block 12, Plan 2250NY
Contributing Resources: Building: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
2550 NY

Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
53.638780 -113.630490 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1977/02/15

Historical Information

Built: 1872 to 1877
Period of Significance: 1877 to 1912
Theme(s): Building Social and Community Life : Religious Institutions
Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Architecture and Design
Peopling the Land : Settlement
Historic Function(s): Religion, Ritual and Funeral : Religious Facility or Place of Worship
Residence : Single Dwelling
Current Function(s):

The Bishop's Palace was constructed between 1882 and 1887 as a convent for the Grey Nuns at the St. Albert Mission. When completed in1887, it was turned over to Bishop Grandin for use as the Bishop's Palace, and it continued to serve as the bishop's residence and administrative centre up to 1912, when the Episcopal See was relocated to Edmonton by Bishop Legal. It was then converted to use as a home for retired priests, before finally closing in 1974. The significance of this building lies in its direct association with Bishop Grandin and its role as one of the key buildings at the St. Albert Mission, one of Alberta's earliest and most important Catholic missions. This mission was also instrumental in encouraging Metis and other settlers to take up land in the St. Albert area, now one of Alberta's fastest growing urban centers.

Numerous important religious functions were conducted in the building throughout its life as the Bishop's Palace. The building is typical of French Canadian convent architectural style once found at various Roman Catholic missions in Western Canada. One reasonably common and a direct physical manifestation of western Canada's early ties to Quebec, few such buildings still remain. In addition the palace forms part of a complex of buildings on "Mission Hill" that include some of Alberta's most important historic sites, such as the Father Lacombe Chapel. The age of the building is also noteworthy as it dates back to the first beginnings of urban development in Alberta.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0524
Designation File: DES 0291
Related Listing(s): 4665-0212 (Father Lacombe Church)
Heritage Survey File: HS 26200
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 291)
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