Lac Ste. Anne, west of Edmonton, is one of the oldest continually used places of faith in what is modern-day Alberta. Indeed, its identity as a place of faith predates the arrival of Catholic missionaries here by a significant margin and may have influenced their decision to establish a mission here.
The earliest references to Lac Ste. Anne refer to it as “God’s Lake”. This is likely an English translation of the Nakoda name for the lake, which was “Wakamne”. Their allies, the Cree, called it “Manito Sahkahikan,” which meant “Spirit Lake”.
These Cree and Stoney names show the significance of Lac Ste. Anne as a place of faith long before the arrival of missionaries in the 1840s. Oral histories tell of a Nakoda chief who received a vision directing him to take his people to the shores of this lake, where Alexis First Nation can still be found today.
In addition to being a place of faith, it was also an important gathering place for Stoney, Cree, and later, Métis families. In this sense, the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage predates the establishment of Lac Ste. Anne Mission.
Its rich fisheries allowed Nakoda, Cree, and Métis families to settle around the lake on a more-or-less permanent basis. By the 1820s, some of these sedentary families had begun to plant crops of potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, squash, beans, and barley.
Many Métis had learned about Christianity from their French, Scottish, and Iroquois ancestors. They practiced a syncretic form of folk Catholicism that combined aspects of Catholic devotion with Indigenous ceremony. But up to this point, few of the Métis in the Saskatchewan District had ever encountered a priest.
In 1841, Alexis Piche, a Métis man who lived among the Cree, journeyed to St. Boniface. While there, he made a formal request to Bishop Provencher that a priest be sent to the Saskatchewan country to minister to the Catholics there. Provencher promised Piche that he would dispatch a man of the cloth that spring.
At the time, the HBC was antagonistic to mission work in its territories and refused to allow the missionaries to establish themselves at Fort Edmonton. The nearest settlement of any substantial population was the Métis, Nakoda, and Cree communities that had emerged around God’s Lake since the 1780s.
Many of the people there, particularly the Métis, were at least nominally Catholic. The settlement’s relatively sedentary lifestyle, its role as a gathering place, and its spiritual significance for multiple Indigenous communities all contributed to Father Thibault’s decision in 1844 to establish his mission at Wakamne/Manito Sahkahikan, which he rechristened Lac Ste Anne.
Throughout the buffalo days, Lac Ste. Anne remained an important settlement and gathering place. With the decline of the buffalo in the 1880s, the community waned in importance.
In 1887, Father Lestanc reportedly had a vision instructing him to build a shrine to St. Anne on the shores of the Lake. The shrine was completed in 1889, and would subsequently become a major pilgrimage site for Métis, Cree, and Nakoda Catholics. This pilgrimage remains ongoing to this day.
This listing was created by Matt Hiltermann on April 21, 2023. Please confirm details at the site’s own website before planning your visit. Are you the owner/operator of this historic place? Would you like to make changes to this listing? Please contact us at email@example.com