Thousands of religious pilgrims were cleaning up their ravaged campsite Tuesday after a heavy storm blew through Lac Ste. Anne, Alta., cancelling events for the first time in decades.
Monday night, as many as 10,000 people were at the popular pilgrimage site where First Nations people have gathered since at least 1889 to honour St. Anne and for untold generations before that.
“It was really extreme last night,” said Andrew Papenbrock of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, which organizes the pilgrimage. “We had porta potties blown over and camps that were blown over and soaked out.”
The area saw several tornado warnings Monday night, including one that touched down in Wildwood, about 60 kilometres west. Environment Canada issued warnings, which were passed on to the pilgrims, said Papenbrock.
“People hunkered down.”
Papenbrock said the storm struck with heavy winds, rain and lightning. Trees were blown over, including one that fell on the gift shop.
Pilgrims took shelter where they could.
“We had them in the concession stand, we had them in the church, we had them in the shrine. We had people huddled together.”
That lakeshore shrine was visited a year ago by Pope Francis, who blessed the lake’s waters as part of what he described as his own pilgrimage to help atone for the damage the Catholic Church inflicted on some First Nations people.
Papenbrock said no injuries were recorded after the storm.
“By the grace of God, nobody was hurt. People were scared and soaked,” he said.
“We had one person who had a tree fall on their tent. It just banged their face a little bit.”
On Tuesday, those who had transportation were packing up. Many who arrived by bus were waiting for a ride out. RCMP were on the site.
The nearby Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation was helping house and feed those who needed it, Papenbrock said. The site’s concession was also opened.
Several events were cancelled, including masses and an address by Archbishop Richard Smith that was to reflect on the legacy of the Pope’s visit.
“This is the first time in modern history that the pilgrimage has been cancelled,” said an announcement on the archdiocese’s website.
One RV was damaged by a falling tree, said Papenbrock, who had decided that night to head into the nearby town to pick up supplies.
“It knocked out one RV on the entire site,” he said. “That was my RV.”