Lac Ste. Anne, Alberta

Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage  (Designation Name)

Other Names

First Nations  

Lac Ste. Anne is a large lake in central Alberta, Canada. It is in Lac Ste. Anne County, along Highway 43, 75 km west of Edmonton.

The lake has a total area of 54.5 km2, a maximum depth of 9 m, and an average depth of 4.8 m. Lac Ste. Anne lies at an elevation of 730 m, and has a drainage area of 619 km2. The eutrophic lake is formed along the Sturgeon River through which it drains into the North Saskatchewan River. Two islands are found at the western end of the lake, Farming Island and Horse Island, while the small Castle Island and tiny Rock Island lie at the eastern tip of the lake.

Along the southern area coal mines generate power and employment, and recreational businesses have flourished because of the lakes. Agriculture is still a mainstay and the area is known for some of the best oat crops in Canada.

Lac Ste. Anne was first called Wakamne (God's Lake) by the Nakota Sioux and Manitou Sakhahigan (Lake of the Spirit) by the Cree before the arrival of the settlers.

First Nations and Métis peoples hunted buffalo and fished in the lake. Legends told of a large serpent that lived in the lake, where it created dangerous, unpredictable currents that could easily capsize a canoe. Very few people saw the serpent, but when the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) came employees renamed the lake Devil's Lake, which was a mistaken translation of the Cree name for it. The Cree name actually means Spirit Lake, because they consider it a very sacred place.

Elders of Alexis Reserve recall their grandparents telling of how as children they would go out on the lake and peer down through the then clear water to the lake bottom in search of the monster. They would hope and fear that they might see its legendary form.

The village of Lac Ste. Anne is one of the first permanent Métis communities in what later became Alberta and the first Catholic mission. Lac Ste. Anne was visited by Jean-Baptiste Thibault, a Catholic priest, in 1842. Two years later in 1844 he established the Mission of Lac Ste. Anne. There were 30 Métis families living here, who had come there in the 1830s, and the church served the Métis and First Nations of the area who had converted to Catholicism. He renamed the lake Lac Ste. Anne, honouring Saint Anne. Lac Ste. Anne was in a central location with good fertile fields, tall trees for lumber, and plenty of fish and wildlife. It was also far away from the HBC politics in Fort Edmonton.

Jean-Baptiste Thibault 

Jean-Baptiste Thibault founder of the Lac Ste. Anne Mission

The missionaries began to spread the church's teachings and taught the people how to farm. The people in the area could see the buffalo was declining, and the missionaries wanted to make the Métis people into farmers. By 1859 the mission boasted 17 fat and fine cows, 15 horses, ten dogs, ten cats, and a garden with flowerbeds. Pigs and sheep were not raised because of the dogs and wild predators. Crops included wheat, barley, potatoes, cabbage, onions, and turnips.

In 1859 three Grey Nuns journeyed from Montreal to the mission, where they arrived on September 24. They began their lives in Lac Ste. Anne started a school by learning the Cree language, helping in the gardens and painting the windows of the church so that worshippers would not be distracted during services.

The Mission grew until there were over two thousand people. An HBC post, a separate school, an orphanage retreat, a North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) barracks, a dance hall, a post office, several stores, saloons and hotels moved into the area, complementing the church, rectory and convent.

At one time, the mission was more significant in population and commerce than Fort Edmonton.

Albert Lacombe, a Catholic priest who arrived in 1852, left Lac Ste. Anne in 1861 to build a new mission at St. Albert. When he left the mission of Lac Ste, Anne, it was almost deserted by pastors and followers of the church. A few families were left: the church, the rectory and the Grey Nuns' residence.

Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage

Pilgrims on Lac Ste. Anne

Father Joseph J. Lestanc O.M.I. organized the first pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne in 1889 in honour of Saint Anne, whose feast day is July 26. In 1926 over 5,500 pilgrims attended. Many came by a special train from Edmonton, 72 km (45 mi) away. Today pilgrims come to the lake from all over North America, many walking miles bare-footed as penance, to witness or be a part of the miracle of healing. Pilgrims have left a display of crutches and canes in the shrine. Thirty to forty thousand people now attend the annual pilgrimage in the last week of July. Oaths of sobriety and other lifestyle promises are made, and prayers and forgiveness are given.

The Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage was declared a national historic site of Canada in 2004 for its social and cultural importance.

Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage is a site of national historical significance because as early as 1889, Aboriginal people, including Cree, Dene, Blackfoot and Métis, have been coming to Lac Ste. Anne to celebrate the Feast of Saint Anne. Saint Anne embodies, for many Aboriginal peoples, the traditional importance of the grandmother figure. For the Aboriginal people of Western and Northwestern Canada, the pilgrimage site is an essential place of social, cultural and spiritual rejuvenation, which are important aspects of the traditional summer gathering.

 Parks Canada

In July 2022, Pope Francis visited the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage.

Alexis powwow

Airbus A330-200, parked at Edmonton International Airport, brought Pope Francis to Canada on 24 July 2022 to apologize to Indigenous peoples for abuses by Catholic missionaries at residential schools.

26 July 2022, 18:09:31


Reflecting on 1 year after Pope Francis' visit to Canada and apology to the Indigenous community (2023)

Pope Francis  Canada Lac Ste Anne & Quebec