Lac Ste Anne Pilgrimage
Michelle Sylliboy photos
First called Wakamne or God’s Lake by the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation who live on the west end of the Lake and Manito Sahkahigan or Spirit Lake by the Cree, Lac St. Anne is the site of the annual Lac St. Anne Pilgrimage, one of the most unique and memorable spiritual gatherings in North America.
The history of this lake stretches back to the distant past. Here Native families, who in fall had scattered to winter camps and trap lines, gathered in summer for the buffalo hunt. The Crees called the lake "Manito Sakahigan" or "Spirit Lake". Later, white traders referred to it as Devil's Lake, because in storms it could quickly become dangerous.
In 1841 a Métis name Pich‚ who lived in the area, travelled to St. Boniface to ask that a priest be sent to live among them. Priests were scarce. Bishop Provencher had only four priests to minister to a territory that stretched from Ontario to the Rockies. Still, the next spring he sent Father Jean-Baptiste Thibault, who spoke Cree, to check things out. Guiding him was Gabriel Dumont.
By 1844, a mission was set up and a shack built to house Fr. Thibault and a young priest named Joseph Bourassa. Fr. Thibault blessed the lake renaming it Lac Ste. Anne, thus fulfilling a promise he had made to give her name to the first mission he would 'father'. This was the first permanent Catholic mission west of Winnipeg.
The first Catholic mission, west of St. Boniface, Manitoba, was opened at Lac Ste. Anne in 1844. Its origin is linked with the historic Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre, Quebec, erected by French sailors in 1658 in fulfillment of a vow made of St. Anne for having saved them from shipwreck on the shores of Newfoundland.
The devotion to St. Anne which had been flourishing in France for almost four centuries, soon spread to New France and was widespread in Eastern Canada in the 1840s. Just as the spread of Christ’s religion had been confided to St. Anne in the East, so also God had willed that the “Cradle of Faith” in the Canadian Northwest should be placed under the solicitude of the good St. Anne.
A veteran missionary of the Northwest Territories, Father J. M. Lestanc, O.M.I, wrote on July 27, 1910: “I was told that a young missionary priest on his departure for the missions of the Red River in 1823 had made a promise at the feet of the statue of St. Anne de Beaupre, Que., that he would dedicate in her honour the first mission and church he would build in Western Canada.” This missionary was Father J. B. Thibault who became the first resident priest in [the area now known as] Alberta.
Sent by Bishop Provencher of St. Boniface in 1844 at the request of John Rowand, a Catholic and Chief Factor of the Hudson Bay Fort at Edmonton, to minister to the needs of the Métis and Indians of the territory, he organized a mission on the shore of a lake called Lake of the Great Spirit by the Indians, and falsely called – Father Lacombe tells us – Devil’s Lake by the Canadian Scouts.
It would seem then, that the good St. Anne has accepted the role of guide and protectoress of the Church in the Canadian West.
Western Catholic Reporter
Written By the Director of St. Anne’s Pilgrimage
Originally printed June 7, 1961
Wakamne : God’s Lake
Manito Sahkahigan : Spirit Lake
Lac Ste. Anne : Lac St. Anne