A group of Capuchin brothers will bring their vision of nature and spirituality to visitors of the Ermitage Saint-Antoine with a new $3.1 million multimedia show and revamp of the site.
The federal government has committed about $1.5 million and the Quebec government is contributing $890,000 to the project. The rest of the $3.1 million will come from the Ermitage's fundraising.
The pilgrimage and tourist site is located on the shores of Lake Ouiatchouan in Lac-Bouchette, about 300 kilometres north of Quebec City.
"The project will generate real spinoffs for the region," Georges Arseneau, director general for Canada Economic Development (CED) in Quebec told CBC.
CED predicts the Ermitage's proposed multimedia show and new screening room will boost tourism by more than 20 per cent and will create eight jobs in the otherwise devitalized community.
According to the federal government, the investment will also help position Quebec and Canada as a major tourist destination.
A spiritual show
The site is maintained by Capuchin brothers who follow the values of St. Francis of Assisi, a saint known for his strong connection to nature, and penchant for preaching to birds.
True to form, birds sing on the line to anyone who calls the site. And many do call — the Ermitage had about 85,000 visitors in 2016.
Visitors come from Quebec, Canada, the United States and Europe. Guy Thibeault, spokesperson for the site, says tourists are starting to come from China as well.
The site is popular with tourists, thanks to its natural surroundings, and pilgrims, because of its Catholic credentials.
It is one of Quebec's five national sanctuaries, joining a list which includes Montreal's St. Joseph's Oratory. It was also recognized as a sanctuary by Pope John Paul II.
Despite its remote location, the Ermitage manages to reach tourists with its healthy online presence, complete with social media videos.
The multimedia show the Ermitage has received funding for is still in the works. Thibeault said visitors can expect it to include spirituality, Franciscan values and the natural beauty and history of the site.
110 years of history
The Ermitage Saint-Antoine was founded by priest Elzéar DeLamarre in 1907 as he sought a place where he could live like a hermit in nature.
He chose a sparsely populated area in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region and began building the sanctuary.
"He just wanted to create a place to relax for himself, his monk friends and his family," said Thibeault.
Of course, the site included a chapel and when he rang its bell the sound carried across Lake Ouiatchouan. Curious church-goers started streaming in by boat to see why there was a bell.
DeLamarre invited them to stay and pray. The site has been welcoming visitors ever since.
When DeLamarre died in 1925 maintaining the site was taken up by the Capuchins, in accordance with the priest's wishes.