Whether it’s a pilgrimage or a family vacation or simply a day trip, there are plenty of interesting spots across Canada to visit this summer that are linked to the history and heritage of Catholicism.
The list is long, but we are offering a few suggestions:
Mary Salvador has been planning trips for Blessed Trinity Parish in Toronto for 34 years.
It’s a lot of planning and a lot of hard work but when someone in her pilgrim group finds a moment of encounter with God, it makes her labour of love worth it.
“I find that most of the pilgrims who come, come to see a place for the first time with me,” she said. “Most of the time, they’ve just come to see the place but somewhere along the line, God has a purpose and a plan, right? And then He draws them closer, little by little, so that they are touched by Jesus.”
As the weather gets warmer and sunnier, more Canadians are bitten by the travel bug. And instead of travelling to a far off place, Salvador suggested getting to know the hidden gems in our own country.
Last year, Canadians spent more than $80 billion on travel and tourism. Almost 80 per cent of that revenue came from domestic travellers, according to Statistics Canada. As Catholics make their own plans to travel across the Great White North, The Catholic Register has put together a list of interesting stops that have both spiritual and historical significance to Canada — from a boat that helped open the North to magnificent artwork on a prairie church ceiling.
“We’re a very Catholic country and a lot of people who go to church don’t know that,” said Jesuit Fr. Terence Fay, Canadian Catholic historian. “In fact, I think you should break it down into at least four articles because we have a long, rich history.”
When Catholics think about Church history, it is easy to think of visiting Rome or Jerusalem to connect with our roots but Fay said there is much to learn about the Church in Canada, especially when visiting places like Quebec City and Montreal.
“When talking about the foundations of Canada, it was the missionaries that were coming over here. It was the Catholic Church,” he said. “They wanted to share the Gospel message with the people over here and that’s why they came.”
Fay also said he often visits the Canadian Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., as a great example of the Canadian Church. Many Canadian saints have sacrificed their lives and died savage deaths in order to spread the Gospel across the country.
“You have to learn what’s around you,” said Salvador. “There’s so many healing opportunities here. There’s good things happening here in Toronto alone and unfortunately, not many people know that.”
Salvador began planning trips from her parish when she came back from her own pilgrimage to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Basilica and Shrine in Quebec City in 1981. A photographer friend had just come back from a visit to the basilica when he suggested that Salvador make her own trip there.
She had never heard of the basilica and shrine before but she remembered that she used to visit a parish dedicated to St. Anne when she was a young girl living in India. Salvador said she marvelled at what she saw there and decided that every year she would visit the basilica and shrine at least once.
“I used to go on my own, I would drive once a year or twice a year, basically because it was so beautiful,” she said. “One of those particular years that I went, I had a sense to bring the parish. … And on the second year, I didn’t think of doing it again but someone asked me about it so we did it again and it built up from there.”
Salvador said it has been a great joy to serve fellow travellers to different sites across the country. She knows that these trips bring graces to those looking to encounter God.
“Miracles have happened on our pilgrimages,” said Salvador. “I remember very vividly a woman who came one year with a cane and she left her cane behind. People come with headaches and they are cured of their headaches and it’s the power God in these holy places.”
- St. Mary’s of the Assumption, Banff: Established before Confederation, the original log-cabin church was rebuilt in 1950 by the pastor who also worked as an engineer with Banff Springs Hotel.
- St. Joseph’s Basilica, Edmonton: Established in 1914, the current building with its classic architecture and 69 stained glass windows was consecrated in 1963 and is the seat of the Archdiocese of Edmonton.
- Lac Ste. Anne Pilgrimage: About an hour west of Edmonton, the lake has become a key spiritual destination for First Nations and Catholics, who started a mission on the site. Pilgrimages to the healing waters of the lake began in 1889 and continue each July.
- Father Albert Lacombe Chapel, St. Albert: Built in 1861, it is the province’s oldest building, home to the first St. Albert Roman Catholic Mission and the legendary Oblate priest who is credited with making peace between the Cree and Blackfoot.
- Skaro Shrine, Skaro: The stone grotto, modelled after the Lourdes shrine in France, is the centrepiece of the shine northwest of Edmonton. It was built by Polish and Hungarian immigrants in 1919 and draws thousands to its annual pilgrimage in August.
- Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Fraser Valley Heritage Park, Mission: The grotto was the dying wish of Bishop Louis Joseph d’Herbomez, the first bishop of B.C. The original shrine was torn down in 1965, and in 1988 the Knights of Columbus and the Mission Heritage Association raised funds to rebuild the grotto. Since then the archdiocese has organized an annual pilgrimage to the grotto on the third Sunday of August (Aug. 17 this year).
- Westminster Abbey, Mission: Go for the art. Paintings inside the chapel are by extraordinary artist monks.
- Holy Eucharist Cathedral (Ukrainian Catholic), New Westminster: The interior is covered with beautiful artwork, the most recent sections done by artists flown in from Ukraine. There’s also perogy sales and monthly swing dances to entice visitors (proceeds to charity.)
- Rose Prince gravesite, Fraser Lake: An annual pilgrimage takes place July 5-7 to the site of the grave of Rose Prince, an Indigenous woman who suffered a physical deformity and was known for her peaceful nature and humility. She died of tuberculosis in 1949 just before her 34th birthday. Her body was found incorrupt in 1951 during a cemetery transfer, and her cause for canonization is being promoted.
- St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Kamloops: Built in the late 1800s, the heritage site is a product of Catholic missionaries and the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation.
- Our Lady of Good Hope Church, Fort St. James: One of the oldest wood-constructed Catholic churches in B.C. and site of Fr. A.G. Morice’s mission Stuart Lake. Behind the church is his cabin where he printed prayer books in Carrier syllabics.
- St. Ann’s Church, Duncan: The original church was built in 1870 and rebuilt after a fire in 1903. The Sisters of St. Ann also built a school for girls on the property, which later became part of Providence Farm, now a therapeutic setting for people with developmental disabilities, ex-convicts and recovering addicts. Great lunch, arts and crafts for sale.
- Cathedral of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Vancouver: Completed in 1900, the French Gothic structure is the only church in Vancouver with eight bells mounted for change ringing and one of only six across Canada.
- Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine at St. Laurent, Duck Lake: One of the oldest pilgrimage sites in the province, dating from 1884, with a strong history in the Catholic community, including among Metís and Indigenous peoples. They have special pilgrimage dates July 15-16, Aug. 15 and Sept. 8, and Mass is celebrated there daily throughout the summer.
- Musée Ukraina Museum, Saskatoon: Preserving the history of the contributions of the Ukrainian Catholic community in the province. Open Thursdays and Sundays in the summer.
- Our Lady of the Assumption, Gravelbourg: Now the co-cathedral for the Archdiocese of Regina, it used to be the cathedral for the francophone diocese in southern Saskatchewan. The real interest is the paintings on the back of industrial linoleum byMsgr. Charles Maillard, pastor of Gravelbourg, who carried out the work over a period of 10 years from 1921 to 1931.
- Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, Rama: Built in 1941, it features a Lourdes-styled grotto and hosts an annual pilgrimage Aug. 14-15.
- St. Peter’s Abbey, Muenster: Home to Benedictine monks, it also has guest rooms to for visitors to taste life at the Abbey. Nearby St. Peter’s Church features interior paintings by Berthold Von Imhoff.
- Holy Rosary Cathedral, Regina: Heritage site was built in 1912 and is the mother church for southern Saskatchewan.
- Our Lady of Assumption Church, Kaposvar: Historic fieldstone church outside Whitewood is noted for its association with the migration of Hungarians to the province in the late 1800s. A stone grotto was added to the grounds during the Second World War. A pilgrimage and candlelight procession has been held each year in August on the weekend closest to the feast of the Assumption and attracts thousands. The church closed in 1961 but is still used for weddings and funerals and has become a major tourist attraction in the area. A life size statue of St. Marguerite d’Youville recalls the contributions of the Grey Nuns to the colony.
- St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, Yorkton: Built in 1904, the heritage site with its silver dome is testament to the influence of Ukrainian immigration on the area.
- Lebret: The small village in the Qu’Appelle Valley on Mission Lake was a focal point for the missionary Oblates working with Metis and First Nations in the 1800s. On a hill overlooking the town, Stations of the Cross were erected in 1929.
- Shrine of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, Winnipeg: A newbie among parishes, it is the first Canadian shrine to St. Gianna Molla, who was canonized in 2004. She died in 1962 at the age of 39 after giving birth, a birth made more difficult because she refused to abort the baby to save her own life following earlier complications.
- St. Mary’s Cemetery, Winnipeg: Here you’ll find the grave of the only Canadian cardinal from Western Canada, George Flahif, who was Archbishop of Winnipeg and elevated to cardinal in 1969 and died in 1989.
- Bishop Velchkovsky Martyr’s Shrine, Winnipeg: The shrine, opened in 2002, is named for the Ukrainian-born priest who died in Winnipeg in 1973. He had been exiled from his homeland the year after spending more than 10 years in prison camps for defending the Church against Soviet persecution.
- Le Musée de Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg: Besides being home to a permanent exhibit about the life and times of Louis Riel, the building itself is also the oldest in the city and the former convent of the Grey Nuns.
- Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Resurrection, Dauphin: The cathedral-styled church stands out for its spectacular artwork on the interior by iconographer Theodore Baran. The church is considered one of the best from renowned designer and Oblate, Fr. Philip Ruh.
- Trembowla Cross of Freedom, Dauphin: The historic site and museum is the site of the first Ukrainian liturgy in Canada in 1897.
- Notre Dame de Lorette, Lorette: In the early 1900s, Quebec painter Louis-Eustache Monty was asked to paint the small-town prairie church. The result is an interior that some refer to as the “Sistine Chapel of the Prairies.”
- St. Boniface Cathedral-Basilica: The French Romanesque architecture is just the start of what’s to like about this church on the Red River. Its cemetery is also the resting place for some of the most famous Catholic pioneers including Louis Riel and Bishop Norbert Provencher.
Northwest Territories and Nunavut
- Our Lady of Victory Church, Inuvik, NWT: Oblate architect and missionary Br. Maurice Larocque designed what is commonly called the Igloo Church, completed in 1960, also featuring interior paintings by Inuit artist Mona Thrasher.
- Church of Our Lady of Good Hope, Fort Good Hope, NWT: The small church built in the late 1800s, a national historic site, was built by the Oblates and features unique interior decoration.
- Our Lady of Lourdes boat, Tuktoyuktuk: The boat sits right at the end of the Canada trail in Tuktoyuktuk. It was operated by an Oblate missionary and brought supplies into the community, as well as carrying children to residential schools. Since 1982 the vessel has sat on display near Tuktoyaktuk’s Catholic mission.
- Mission Hospital, Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut: The historic small community was home to the first Catholic mission in Nunavut in 1912 that included a residential school run by the Oblates and a hospital served by the Grey Nuns.