The Canada Day long weekend, with specific "Homecoming" events in the Northern Saskatchewan Community of Ile a la Crosse marked the 150th year of the establishment of Saint John the Baptist Catholic
In 1846, Bishop Provencher of Saint Boniface sent two young priests, Fathers Tache and Lafleche, from Norway House to establish a mission at "Sakitawak",. as the Cree people called Ile a la Crosse. Despite many initial hardships the two missionaries persevered and found fertile ground for planting the Gospel among the Metis, Dene and Cree inhabitants.
The Mission really prospered with the coming of Missionary Sisters, the Grey Nuns of Montreal, who founded a school and the first health clinic in 1860. One of these missionaries was Sr. Sara Riel., Louis Riel's sister. She came to the Mission in 1872. The trip overland from Fort Gary took 68 days - one of the hardest trips ever planned. She served the Mission for twelve years; those early years of hardship took its toll and Sr. Sara Riel died in 1883 at only 34 years of age.
The Anniversary Celebration drew a number of people who had been there in 1946 when the 100th anniversary was celebrated, among them was the Oblate Father Adrien Darveau. Fifty years ago, the mission was re-dedicated by Cardinal Rodrigue Villeneuve. Two altar boys who had served at Mass presided by the Cardinal in 1946, Jim and Fred Ramsey, served the eucharistic celebration presided by Archbishop Peter A. Sutton, OMI, of the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas, fifty years later!
A centre of great interest over the weekend was the archives of the Mission displayed in the Friendship Centre. You had to line up, at times, to get to the old photo albums full of past memories. The walls were covered with pictorial history of this oldest Roman Catholic mission in the Archdiocese of Keewatin-The Pas.
The event was officially opened on Friday, June 28, under the "big top" with a prayer service led by Fr. Ronald Roiheiser, OMI. This was followed by an impressive procession, led by a contingent of the RCMP in red serge, to the Marian Grotto, where the rosary was recited in four languages, Cree, Dene, French - the second language of many of the elders - and English. The procession then continued to the cemetery where Archbishop Peter blessed the final resting places of the faithful inhabitants of years past. Families grouped around their relatives and family members now resting there and the members of religious communities grouped around the graves of those of their communities who died while in service at the mission and were buried among their people.
Saturday, June 29, another glorious sunny day highlighted a memorable experience of reconciliation. After an opening prayer led by Don Favel, Area Director of Region III of the Metis Society, Archbishop Peter Sutton, OMI delivered a Statement of Reconciliation which brought forth expressions of forgiveness for mistakes of the past that have been carried over the years through hurtful times for both the missionaries and the people. The statement was translated in Dene and Cree languages, and was then responded to by Max Morin, Mayor of Ile a la Crosse, Jim Durocher, President of the Metis Nation of Saskatchewan and by the MLA Buckley Belanger. This was followed by, perhaps, the most moving part of the celebration, the healing service guided by Sr. Kateri Mitchell, SSA, who was also an active participant throughout the weekend. The representatives of the Church and the leaders of the people with the people themselves, together, hand-within-hand, eye-to-eye, with an embrace, a significant gesture or a word, expressed a desire for mutual respect in hope for a future, graced with life-giving promise of a new beginning.
On Saturday afternoon, a special service was held in the Mission Church to bless the couples who were celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversaries. Vital and Therese Morin, and Melchior and Pauline Bouvier were among the couples who were married 50 years ago during the Centennial Celebration in 1946. The large Morin family capped the day's events with a banquet and dance in honour of their family elders.
The highlight of Sunday, June 30, was the Mass concelebrated under the "big top" presided by Archbishop Peter with all the assisting clergy. The liturgy featured word and song in Cree, Dene, French, English and for a touch of nostalgia, the Latin Gloria! The Mass was followed by a pot-luck lunch which served close to one thousand participants.
The weekend also celebrated the 90th Anniversary of the signing of Treaty #10 in Ile a la Crosse in 1906. Most of the Chiefs of the area Bands belonging to the Meadow Lake Tribal Council were there to mark the event. A monument was raised through the efforts of Dene Senator Frank Maclntyre. After noteworthy speeches by a number of prominent leaders (local Chiefs, senators, political representatives and Archbishop Peter) the unveiling of the monument which commemorated the signing of Treaty #10 and its blessing by the Archbishop took place on the grounds of the Rehabilitation Centre.
During "Homecoming Weekend" the villagers participated in a number of activities, including a dunk tank in which many of the local leaders voluntarily took a bath. There were races, jig dances and a fine display of fireworks.
It was then the turn of the Bouvier family to host the celebration of the second couple, Melchior and Pauline Bouvier, who had been married at the 100th Anniversary in 1946. A special Mass and renewal of vows ceremony took place at 4:00 p.m., followed by a banquet at the recreation centre. Sr. Josephine Bouvier, SGM, spoke on behalf of her family, expressing congratulations and gratitude to their parents.
Many of the Oblate priests and women religious present for the celebration had served the mission over the years: Frs. William Stang, v.g., Raymond LeMay, Gerard Beaudet, Steven Andreas, Sylvain Lavoie, Nestor Silva, Ronald Zinuner, and those presently ministering in Ile a la Crosse, Srs. Leona Meier, SMS, Sheila Whelan, GSIC, pastoral assistants; the Grey Nuns Lucie Lefebvre, Therese Lesage, in Health Care Ministry at St. Joseph's Hospital; Fr. Albert Ulrich, CMI, pastor of the parish, and Fr. Germain Turcotte, hospital chaplain. Srs. Emma Mudrik, fdlp, Renée Buliard, SMS, and six Grey Nuns, former teachers and nurses also particitated in the festivities. Major Superiors, representing these various religious communities were Fr. Ronald Roiheiser, Provincial Superior of the Oblates of Saskatoon; Sr. Olive MacInnis, Superior General of the Sisters of Mission Service; Sr. Aurore Larkin, Provincial Superior of the Grey Nuns. Also participating actively at all functions of this 150th celebration was Fr. Timothy Coughlan, President of the Catholic Church Extension Society of Canada, from Toronto. This organization has helped the Home Missions financially and we of the Keewatin-The Pas Archdiocese duly owe gratitude. Also present was Fr. Claude Lemieux, CS5R - it might be noted that he participated in the social activities as well and came in second in the Senior Men's Jigging Contest! Two Sisters of the Holy Rosary, Rose Arsenault, Chancellor of the Archdiocese and a visiting friend of her community from Rimouski, Quebec, Edwina Bouchard were also present, as was Paul Bringleson, diocesan seminarian, who assumed an active part in the liturgy.
To say the least, the weekend celebration was a well organized, blessed and joyful event, marking an important chapter in the history of the Church in Saskatchewan and the Village of Ile a la Crosse. The younger children present were reminded that they would be responsible for the celebration of the Bi-Centennial in the year 2046. Some of the present leaders will then be very venerable elders and, thus, will then have the right to speak for as long as they want at functions, not just for the regular two minutes allotted to younger ones. (This was confirmed by Jim Sinclair, Member of the Congress of Aboriginal People when he opened his speech allowing himself time to speak eloquently for the rights of his people as an elder with no time limit!)
A resounding "Tapue Miwasin" to the leaders of the people of Ile a la Crosse for the impressive responsible leadership displayed by a magnificent and meaningful celebration!
By: Mr. Gerard Lavoie and Sr. Edwina Bouchard, RSR