A Jewel in Alberta

City of Lacombe

The heart of a province can often be seen through a glimpse at its smaller communities. In Alberta, one of the province’s lesser known jewels is Lacombe. Only a 25 minute drive from Red Deer, this city of 12,000 people encompasses the community spirit that helps to define the province.

Business in Focus spoke with Chief Administrative Officer Norma MacQuarrie and Community and Economic Development Manager Guy Lapointe to find out what makes this community unique.

First surveyed in 1880, Lacombe is one of the oldest communities in Alberta and predates the formation of the province. The city is named after Catholic missionary Father Albert Lacombe who negotiated peace between the Blackfoot and Cree in the area, got Blackfoot leader Crowfoot to promise not to join the 1885 North-West Rebellion and negotiated the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway through Blackfoot territory. The railway not only played a large part in the growth of Lacombe but in that of the country itself. Many of the buildings in the historic downtown date back to the first growth spurt of 1905 and the city strives to maintain the old buildings as a tribute to its past.

Lacombe’s historic main street has been named ‘Best Street’, as one of Canada’s 2013 Great Places by the Canadian Institute of Planners. A panel of experts selected the street on the basis of both popularity and planning excellence. 50 Avenue’s intact Edwardian streetscape, featuring several provincially designated historic sites, welcomes both visitors and residents to the community. The business community has embraced the scenic historic buildings, incorporating them into the bustle of modern life. “With this nomination we are really happy that we beat out the city of Edmonton, and we will have a formal celebration in April. Despite being a small municipality, we are very competitive with larger municipalities with our infrastructure and historic buildings.”

Lacombe has been recognized as one of the best places to live in Canada. In 2014, MoneySense magazine rated it as the seventeenth best city in Canada in which to live, as well as the fourth best small city. “We are very proud of those rankings.” MoneySense, a subsidiary of Maclean’s Magazine, performed an analysis of roughly two hundred communities across the country. “For a city of our size to be competitive is a point of pride.”

And it is also the locals who agree with the results. In 2013 a Citizen Satisfaction Survey was implemented for the first time. Ninety-six percent of its residents rated the quality of life in Lacombe as either good or greater than good. “For the most part residents had a very positive view of the city and the services that we provided,” with most appreciating the small town feel of the community.

Part of the survey asked about residents’ satisfaction with the services that the city provides. The city sees consistent manageable growth at around two percent per year. The satisfaction survey became an important tool in deciding what direction the city would grow in terms of program development. Information gleaned from the survey indicated that retail growth was asked for and Guy explained that this will be a main focus for the city in the years to come. It will be a challenge to improve upon ninety-six percent satisfaction, but he feels that the city is up to the task.

Lacombe is a largely agriculturally based community with one of the major employers being the Agricultural Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) which employs over three hundred people. The area is also home to the Lacombe Research Centre and the Field Crop Development Centre, both dedicated to agricultural research. These federal and provincial research centres bring highly educated scientists to the city. While the general public may not necessarily have a full appreciation for the work being done, it is vital to world agricultural advancements and, “in the fields that they are respected in, both research stations are world renowned. The federal station also has about one hundred years of history here. It is a very important federal site to that continued evaluation of agriculture.”

Education is an important facet of the city. Canadian University College is a faith based university with a student population of about five hundred and a further one hundred and fifteen staff and faculty. “It certainly brings with it the benefits of having higher education for the students, and we feel that it brings a diversification to our economy.”

The city, with its long history of supporting amateur sports, has formed partnerships which have contributed to the town’s character. The multi-use MEGlobal Lacombe Athletic Park facility has an artificial turf, grandstands, lighting system and a field house with concession stand, public washrooms and shower equipped change rooms. The park is a centre for the city to host football, soccer, rugby and the increasingly popular lacrosse games. Non-profit Lacombe Athletic Park Association has future plans to surround the field with a running track.

A concrete skate park, located within Mitchener Park, was championed by a local community group that also did the necessary fundraising. The group corresponded with consultants and contractors to develop and build the facility that attracts local and regional users into the community. Sport loving Lacombe also has a golf course with a number of others just outside city borders.

Despite its modest size, Lacombe has hosted some significant sporting events like the five day 2014 BP Cup curling championships which took place in February of this year. The local ice arena was converted into the host venue for this men’s provincial curling championship which was a very well attended successful event, attracting many people from outside the community who also enjoyed nightly entertainment.

A local volunteer committee planned, hosted and coordinated the event. “It was an excellent display of the kind of cooperation and collaboration between the city, our local sporting association and volunteer contributions. It was planned two years in advance and, in 2015, we will host the woman’s provincial championships, and 2016 will see the junior provincial championships.”

A unique feature of the city is the Len Thompson fishing pond. This popular catch and release pond is stocked through a partnership between the Lacombe Fish and Game Association and the Thompson-Pallister Bait Co. Ltd. Well known throughout Western Canada, Lacombe based Thompson-Pallister produces fishing lures and tackle. The pond has become a favoured social gathering place for the community.

The Lacombe Memorial Centre is a community centre that has become a cultural and social hub in the city. The space doubles as a conference and banquet facility with a boardroom, spacious meeting rooms and banquet facilities for groups of up to five hundred people. The facility hosts the local library and family community support services department and displays the city’s public art collection.

In other areas of the arts, Lacombe can boast a few home grown celebrities who have made quite the impact in Alberta and on the world stage. World renowned opera singer Anna Maria Kauffman sang the lead in the soundtrack of Phantom of the Opera which sold over two million units in Germany making it one of the most successful German recordings of all time. “She left the community to seek her dreams and has been very successful, but still comes back to visit Lacombe.”

Award winning country music singer and songwriter Gord Bamford is active in the Lacombe community. His charitable foundation has raised over one million dollars which he has put back into the place he calls home with beneficiaries such as the Lacombe Big Brothers and Big Sisters, The Lacombe Accessible Playground Park Society, Make A Wish Foundation and The Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta project.

Collaboration has proven to be beneficial for Lacombe as it joins forces with the cities of Blackfalds and Red Deer to introduce a new regional transit line which will allow people to commute between the three cities. The service, which is set to begin in September 2014, is necessary since Greyhound discontinued its service to those communities. “It is key because of our willingness to partner with our neighbours to the south. If we were looking to do this independent of the other communities, or in isolation, it would not be affordable for us.” Access to transportation is vital for students, seniors and commuters and will increase the long term viability of the area.

Echo Energy is a recent city initiative. In Alberta, the electricity market is deregulated which created an opportunity for Lacombe as it partnered with Utilitynet in a venture which is committed to maintaining competitive energy rates. For over thirty years, Utilitynet has provided power to Albertan customers ranging from oil companies to the University of Calgary. Its partnership with the community of Lacombe allows it to leave marketing to the city, which in turn can put proceeds from energy sales towards the Echo Lacombe Community Fund. Profits are then used as a source of funding for community projects that improve the quality of life within the community.

This is a city that thrives on community spirit. This was demonstrated during the annual Light up the Night festival on November 29. An attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the world’s largest human Christmas tree attracted almost nine hundred participants – nearly ten percent of the Lacombe population who stood in tree formation for five minutes after news spread via social media. Although the group temporarily broke the previous record, that record has since been topped but they plan to make other record attempts next year.

With its location in the middle of the Calgary to Edmonton corridor, this city of collaboration is perfectly set to continue to grow and prosper. Lacombe is the little city that could.

For more information about the City of Lacombe, please visit http://www.lacombe.ca/

October 17, 2017, 4:20 PM EDT

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