Celebration planned for return of Chapel Island altar
‘It’s a historic time, to be bringing our altar back home’
A day 200 years in the making will take place Monday, when the altar belonging to Chapel Island is returned.
The altar will be returned to the First Nation community after a two-century absence in preparation for the annual St. Anne’s Mission.
“It’s a historic time, to be bringing our altar back home,” project co-ordinator Tanya Johnson-MacVicar said Thursday.
At a meeting of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs earlier this year, Chief Wilbert Marshall noted that members of the Potlotek Mi’kmaq community have long expressed a desire to have the altar returned to the church on Chapel Island. A letter of support for the relocation of the altar was sent from the assembly to the Diocese of Antigonish and Parks Canada.
On June 24, the Potlotek chief and council received approval to have the altar returned. The altar was moved by Parks Canada from Johnstown to the Fortress of Louisbourg to be cleaned and to undergo some restoration work. Parks Canada staff will return the altar on Monday.
According to local historian Lillian B. Marshall, the altar was given to the Mi’kmaq as a gift in the 1700s. As the English and French fought during that time period, French churches were burned to the ground, and oral history says that the altar was moved several times to protect it. The altar was ultimately located for safekeeping in the vestry of Sacred Heart Church at Johnstown.
Lillian Marshall was the lead on the project to bring the altar home, Johnson-MacVicar said, noting she began working on it more than 20 years ago.
An archaeologist from the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative inspected the altar earlier this year to determine what sort of shape it was in and whether it could be moved.
A traditional welcoming ceremony involving the Mi’kmaq Grand Council will take place on Chapel Island to mark the arrival of the altar Monday, beginning at about noon, including prayers and a Mi’kmaq hymn. The altar will travel by barge to the island. It will then be taken inside the church and reassembled.
“We have a team of altar-keepers, as we’re calling them, that are going to be there assisting in the community and the people that are going to be attending the event, the greater public, will be there to watch it being put back to- gether,” Johnson-MacVicar said.
A Catholic mass will follow, likely at around 2 p.m., followed by a community feast.
Chapel Island ( known as Mniku in Mi’kmaq) is a national historic site located off of Potlotek in the Bras d’Or Lake and has been a traditional gathering place for the Mi’kmaq people. During the 18th century, French missionaries established Roman Catholic missions on Chapel Island.
The community of Potlotek will mark the return of this altar, following a 200-year absence, with ceremonies on Chapel Island on Monday.