Cel­e­bra­tion planned for re­turn of Chapel Is­land al­tar

‘It’s a his­toric time, to be bring­ing our al­tar back home’

Cape Breton Post - - NEWS - BY NANCY KING nk­ing@cb­post.com

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.

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