New sod, more bathrooms and a police lane, Lac Ste. Anne prepares for the Pope

In just under two weeks, the small community of Lac St. Anne will be inundated with visitors from all over the world.

July 26 is the annual gathering on the sacred shore of the lake, which became a place of pilgrimage in 1889.

The Alexis Nakota Sioux call it Lake Wakamne – or “God’s Lake” – and the sacred waters are said to have healing powers.

The pilgrimage has grown to about 40,000 people attending over the course of a week in pre-pandemic times.

This year more than 100,000 people were able to attend when the Pope attends the day as part of his reconciliation visit to Canada.

His visit follows a mass at Commonwealth Stadium.

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“It’s going to be damaging in a way because I think it’s going to bring up really a lot of bad memories and a lot of bad feelings,” Lac Ste said. Anne County Reeve Joe Blakeman told Global News.

“But I think if everyone understands that an apology has been made and hopefully we can slowly move on and move on together, it will be better for, I think for Alberta, probably for Canada.”

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The visit is expected to put tremendous pressure on the area.

Alberta Beach typically has a population of around 1,000 people. It will swell to 5,000 on sunny days, but the Pope’s visit will draw a whole new level of attention.

“We’re making sure we have additional portable potty and wash stations that we work in to ensure we have access to medical supplies,” Alberta Beach Mayor Angela Duncan said.

Officials from multiple jurisdictions meet regularly to discuss plans for the day.

New turf and a new pavement were laid at the pilgrimage site.

Range Road 40 will be repaved a year ahead of schedule. Other roads leading to the sacred shore will also be improved.

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On Tuesday, RCMP members were seen at a planning meeting at the site. Audiovisual staff were also present.

The police presence in the area is expected to increase from this weekend and continue until after the Pope’s departure.

The Alberta Beach jetty will be closed during the Pope’s visit to allow police to use it – meaning they will have officers on the water, on the ground and in the air in their helicopter.

Several streets will also be closed to visitors.

There will be no access to the pilgrimage site through Alberta Beach from Sunset Point to the west.

Highway 633 — the main route to get into the area — is also expected to be closed to vehicles for at least part of the Pope’s visit, with only pedestrians and shuttles allowed.

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A pass has been given to Alberta Beach residents so they can enter and exit the area more easily. However, they are told not to expect to park in the community or simply travel that day.

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“Most of our local residents will likely remain in their homes during the week,” Mayor Duncan said. “Those who have to work are a bit nervous when they come in and leave the village.”

Free tickets are required to access the sanctuary. These are expected to be available soon, although they will be in limited quantities.

Anyone wishing to be in the area is asked to arrive early and be prepared to walk quite a distance.

“We want you to come here, we just don’t have enough space,” Blakeman said.

“The Pope is the only guy who has outbid Garth Brooks.”

Blakeman is happy that work is being done on the pilgrimage site. It’s a national historic site and he believes it’s about time the federal government helped improve the area.

He hopes that the work done will benefit the region in the years to come.

“I think because it’s going to be national, and not just national, but all over the world, that could draw in more people and give everyone a better understanding of what’s happened here over the years and what truth and reconciliation is.”

Officials are expected to release more details on road closures, tickets and shuttles in the coming days.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc. New sod, more bathrooms and a police lane, Lac Ste. Anne prepares for the Pope


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