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1984 Papal Visit: Fog prevents Fort Simpson stop

It was one of the biggest events in Canadian history. On Sept. 9, 1984 Pope John Paul II kissed the tarmac in Quebec City to kick off the first Canadian papal visit. In the frenzied atmosphere of a rock concert, Canadians flocked for a fleeting glimpse of the Holy Father. Over the next 12 days the Pope stirred millions with his condemnation of injustice and poverty, along with his traditional stance on birth control and divorce.

The disappointment is as palpable as the thick fog that hangs over Fort Simpson, N.W.T. This picturesque Dene village on the bank of the Mackenzie River has been preparing for the Pope's visit for six months. But just hours before the papal plane is to land, a fog bank nearly 200 metres thick forces the Pope's craft to divert to Yellowknife. The poor conditions make it too dangerous to land.

All-night prayers and dancing to the tribal drums fail to change the weather. It's still dark and foggy when Fort Simpson Chief Jim Antoine breaks the news to the 3000 Native people gathered. The Pope won't be coming to Fort Simpson after all. Excitement quickly turns to disappointment, anger and even bitterness. The Pope promises to return to Fort Simpson as soon as his schedule allows.
• Canada's Native leaders chose Fort Simpson when the Pope expressed his wish to visit a native community. Dene organizers prepared for the Pope's visit for six months at a cost of $250,000.

• In the end, the Pope delivered his message intended for Fort Simpson in Yellowknife, stressing themes of forgiveness and righting past injustices. This unexpected visit to the Northwest Territories capital led to traffic jams as residents rushed to the airport to see the Pope.

• To make up for the cancelled trip, the leaders of Inuit, Indian and Métis organizations were invited to a private audience with the Pope in Ottawa. They declined because they felt it wouldn't be fair to the elders who had made such an effort to come to Fort Simpson.

• The Pope kept his promise and visited Fort Simpson in 1987.
Medium: Radio
Program: Our Native Land
Broadcast Date: Sept. 22, 1984
Guests: David Ahenakew, Jim Antoine, Fr. Rene Fumoleau, Simon Lucas
Host: Brian Maracle
Reporter: Doug Earle
Duration: 9:54

Last updated: January 29, 2014

Page consulted on January 29, 2014

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