Friday, 17 August 2012

A priest at Portage La Loche

 1908 Frank Crean Expedition photo of Portage La Loche  (coloured version).

Portage La Loche/Methye Portage:

The residents of Lac La Loche have been gathering at the Portage since the early days of the fur trade. 
When the brigades arrived in July the residents of Lac La Loche would set up tents at or near the Portage to do some trade or to work at portaging.
The Athabasca and Mackenzie brigades arrived from the north with furs gathered during the winter and the Portage La Loche Brigade  (this famous brigade was active from 1826 to 1870+)
arrived from the Red River Settlement with supplies. At times more than 400 people were gathered at the beginning of the Portage trail.
For several weeks the men hauled this freight over the 19 kilometres portage.

A section of  Sir John Franklin's map of 1819-1820 showing Lac La Loche (Methye Lake) and the Portage to the 
Clearwater River.
A priest at the Portage 1845:
In 1845 Father Thibault, a Catholic priest, arrived at the Portage. 
He sent word that he was coming and was welcomed by over 200 Dene from the surrounding area. 
Most were residents of Lac La Loche and Garson Lake but some also came down from the Athabasca.
On returning from his trip Father Thibault strongly recommended that missions be established in the area.
Two years later the first oblate priests arrived in Ile a la Crosse.
A priest was now able to be at the Portage every year at the arrival of the brigades.
People traveled from very far away to see the priest at the Portage.
They confessed their sins and received Communion. They got married.
They brought their children to be baptized or were baptized themselves.
Father Petitot:
In 1862 Father Emile Petitot was at Portage La Loche.  He wrote of his visit:
"We stayed at this mission, Father Grouard and I until the departure of the Mackenzie brigade, that is twelve days.
I took advantage of the time to raise a conical chapel which I covered with white covers and colored decorations.
An altar surrounded in white cloth stood the whole time we were there.
It was in this improvised little temple that I had the joy of singing High Mass on the Sunday after our arrival, and to
celebrate the holy mysteries each day in front of more than three hundred and fifty people, both metis and Indian."|thibault%20AND%20loche||score
Summer missions:
Later more formal “missions” were held in West La Loche and La Loche.
The chapel built in 1877 on the Big Point was the site of two missions. 
This chapel was demolished in 1891 and a small church was built in La Loche.
By the 1890's the site of these summer missions had moved to a permanent location near the church in the village of La Loche.
The summer mission in June, 1918

Families from Garson Lake, Descharme Lake and Turnor Lake traveled for days to reach La Loche.
Many families came by boat from West La Loche to camp in the village.
The people of La Loche, except the ones that lived nearby, also set up tents close to the church. 
These were the people of the Mission of Our Lady of  the Visitation.
They gathered for two weeks every summer to attend daily mass, listen to sermons and 
get their children ready for first communion and confirmation.
Everyone came to this important gathering. Even a few strangers.
Father Penard describes this two week mission as  "the great retreat" in his letter of 1911.
Father Ducharme wrote about this two week mission in his letter of 1922 and in his letters of 1930,1932,1933.

The Franklin Kitto expedition photo of the 1918 mission gathering at La Loche (coloured version).
One of the buildings is the Revillon Freres Post.
Franklin Kitto 1918:
Franklin Kitto describes the mission gathering of 1918.
His men wanted to attend the services after stopping at the HBC post at West La Loche.
Mr. Kitto worked for " Natural Resources Intelligence Branch" Ottawa.
He writes the following description:
"at the Mission adjoining Revillon's post on the east side of the lake"
"Arriving at the Mission we found that a couple of priests from Lac la Plonge were conducting a series of services extending 
over a period of two weeks, and the Indians from the country-side to the extent of two or three hundred were gathered
in attendance. Row after row of tepees lined the beach and clustered about the few wooden buildings of the post.
The entire families had come from far and near bringing all their worldly possessions with them and the place was
alive with children and dogs."|kitto%20AND%20loche||score
Father Ducharme 1922:
Father Ducharme continued the tradition of holding a yearly two week mission during his stay in La Loche from 1916 to 1949.
The following is the daily schedule of a formal summer mission as written by Father Ducharme in 1922. (my translation)
  • The daily schedule of the Mission            
  • 7 am.....Mass; sermon for all.
  • 11 am....Catechism for the children till noon.
  • 2 pm.....Sermon; one for men, one for women, one for the young men and women.
  • 5 pm.....Sermon for all: rosary; prayers; and Benediction.
  • 10 pm...curfew

Sometimes in the 1950's the last of these “missions” was held in La Loche.