FOR SEVERAL DAYS each July,
thousands of pilgrims make their way to the shores of Lac Ste. Anne.
Many come in search of healing and spiritual renewal. Some simply
come to reconnect with old acquaintances and forge new friendships.
This pilgrimage, which began over a hundred years ago, has become the
largest annual Catholic gathering in Western Canada.
The history of the lake stretches
back to the distant past. Here Native families, who in the fall had
scattered to winter camps and trap lines, gathered in the summer for
the buffalo hunt. The Crees called the lake Manito Sakahigan" or
"Spirit Lake". The Sioux living nearby named it "Waka
Mne" or Holy Lake.
In 1841 a local Métis named
Piche asked Bishop Provencher in far off St Boniface to send a priest
to live among them. Priests were scarce. Bishop Provencher had only
four priests to minister to a territory that stretched from Ontario
to the Rocky Mountains. Still, the next spring he sent Father
Jean-Baptiste Thibault to make an exploratory trip. In 1844, a
small shack was built to house Fr. Thibault and a young priest named
Joseph Bourassa. Fr. Thibault immediately blessed the lake and
renamed it Lac Ste Anne. This was in fulfillment of a promise he had
made to give her name to the first mission he would 'father'. It was
the first permanent Catholic mission west of Winnipeg.
Oblates of Mary Immaculate are a society of Catholic missionaries.
Founded in France in the early 1800's, they are especially dedicated
to preach the Gospel to the poorest of the poor and to serve in the
most difficult of missions. With the coming of the Oblates,
such as Father Lacombe, the Mission enjoyed a period of great growth
and importance. These men quickly gained a reputation for bravery,
goodness and holiness. In plagues, they cared for the sick and
comforted the dying, asking nothing in return. They worked for peace
between warring parties and brought an end to the fighting. They
preached the Gospel everywhere and many came to believe in Christ.
Father Remas especially had a
reputation for great holiness. Once, when the men were fishing on the
lake and suddenly threatened by a violent storm, their wives fearing
for their lives ran to get Fr. Remas. The priest went to the shore
and commanded the storm and the angry lake to be calm. He sprinkled
it with holy water and immediately all became still.
By 1887 the buffalo had disappeared
and the lake lost its importance as a gathering place. Most of the
population moved away and the mission was almost deserted. Its pastor
Father Lestanc made the decision to close the mission. Then, on his
first holiday back home to France in thirty years, he paid a visit to
the Shrine of St. Anne d'Auray. He later related that while in
prayer at this Shrine, God revealed to him in a powerful way that he
must not close the mission. Rather, he must build a shrine there in
honor of St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. It would be a place for
pilgrims to come and receive spiritual help. Fr. Lestanc was deeply
moved and, on his return lost no time in carrying out what God had
revealed to him. The first pilgrimage was held in 1889 with several
hundred attending. It soon became an annual event, drawing people
from all directions and many nations.
From these humble beginnings the
pilgrimage today has grown into one of the most unique spiritual
events in North America. The lake once again became a place of
meeting, a place where once traditional enemies now gather as friends
under the Sign of the Cross. As many as 30,000 people attend on any
single day. Here the old and the new are blended together. It is
possible to see racks of meat and fish drying alongside modern
campers and motorhomes. And always, in the background, the sound of
hymns and prayers and worship.
On July 26, 2000, in the year of
the great Jubilee, the Missionary Oblates made a public declaration
of intention to enter into a new partnership with the aboriginal
people to own, direct, and operate the Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage. The
Oblates invited individuals who share these beliefs and who supported
the mission and vision of the LSA pilgrimage to ensure that the
legacy and sacredness of the pilgrimage site continue for generations
To this end, lay individuals were
added to the Board of the LSA Company to help organize and plan the
annual pilgrimage. The LSA Trust was established in July 2003.
(A trust is a legal structure whereby the Trustees are obligated to
manage the assets within the objects of the Trust documents). The
Oblates transferred the lands and the operating company to this
Trust. The Trust is composed of The Provincial of the Oblates (or his
designate) the Archbishop of Edmonton, three first Nations Catholics
(from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Northwest Territory) and one
The objects of the trust are to: