Preparing for the Pope: First Nations, city, police rush to prepare for Edmonton papal visit

The City of Edmonton is covering up to $1 million in expenses related to Pope Francis’s visit, a city spokesperson said.

EPS, RCMP will shoulder security costs

The pope sitting in his wheelchair and waving.
Pope Francis will be in Canada from July 24 to July 29 and is expected to make an apology for the harm caused to Indigenous people by the Catholic Church. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

With Pope Francis set to visit the Edmonton region in less than two weeks, preparations are ramping up for the first visit from the pontiff in nearly 40 years. 

The City of Edmonton is covering up to $1 million in expenses related to the Pope's visit, a city spokesperson said.

The city is not in charge of any of the events planned for the July 24-27 papal visit, but spokesperson Carol Hurst said it will provide in-kind support that will cover many of the costs of the mass being held at Commonwealth Stadium, including the cost of the venue rental, security, free transit for attendees and road closures.

The city will also cover several other costs:

  • Road closures, traffic and  transit tours for the Pope's visit to Sacred Heart Catholic Church of the First Peoples.
  • Contributions to Indigenous-led events happening across the city, and allowing free admission to the Indigenous Peoples Experience at Fort Edmonton Park July 25-26.
  • Partnering to create culturally safe spaces.
  • Creating additional access to social workers and other mental health services.

A total of 65,000 people can attend the mass at the football stadium. Tickets, which are being booked in blocks, have been in hot demand. 

The Pope will also be visiting Maskwacis, Alta., and Lac Ste. Anne, Alta. He is expected to make an apology to Indigenous people for harm caused to them by the Roman Catholic Church.

RCMP and Edmonton Police Service will each be responsible for costs related to papal security. Alberta RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff said a breakdown of planned operational information can't be provided for security reasons.

"Once costs are finalized at the end, we'll be able to provide additional information about what those costs were in a more fulsome manner," Savinkoff said. "But the RCMP will be engaged in around-the-clock protection of His Holiness during his time in Canada."

An Edmonton police spokesperson said EPS is still working through what the costs will be.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken the lead on plans for the visit, but the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations is also helping with co-ordination.

The confederation's Grand Chief George Arcand, Jr. said Tuesday that while discussions and preparations have been happening for a while, it wasn't until just over a week ago that it was confirmed that the Pope would be coming.

Without much time to firm up details and given the limited amount of time the Pope will be on the ground in each community, Arcand said it's been challenging as they've tried to ensure that ceremonies and other elements important to First Nations are incorporated into the events.

Arcand said there has been pushback from all parties involved in the planning, but he said he thinks everyone is keen to resolve the issues.

"I believe that the committees and the co-ordinating groups are in place to try to make the visit to Alberta as memorable and commemorative as we can, because we think and believe that this is an important time for the Pope to come and visit the survivors that are going to be present," he said.

Arcand said ensuring access, safety and support for residential school survivors during the events is a priority.   

The grand chief said they are planning for 15,000 attendees at events in both Maskwacis and Lac Ste. Anne but that only about 10,000 people are expected to attend.

The confederation is working with First Nations to arrange buses to transport people from their communities to the Maskwacis and Lac Ste. Anne events. He said some attendees will stay in hotels while others are planning to camp.

Following the mass at Commonwealth Stadium on July 26th, the Pope will spend an hour at the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage, which is being held at the lake from July 26-29. Thousands of visitors attend the pilgrimage which has been held for 123 years.

The Pope's visit caused some logistical challenges, Lac Ste. Anne County Reeve Joe Blakeman said in a report published Sunday.

"Council and administration had no prior knowledge of the papal visit, nor the authority to say no to its occurrence," Blakeman said. 

He added that an event of this magnitude takes two years to properly plan, rather than the two months they were given.

"Regardless, the county is committed to making this event as safe and memorable as possible while minimizing any negative impacts on our communities," Blakeman said. 

Pope Francis will also make stops in Iqaluit and Quebec on his visit to Canada.


Paige Parsons is a reporter with CBC Edmonton. She has specialized in justice issues and city hall, but now covers anything from politics to rural culture. She previously worked for the Edmonton Journal. She can be reached at paige.parsons@cbc.ca.


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