Catholic Quebecers up before dawn to collect Easter water

Hundreds of Quebecers woke up before dawn on Easter Sunday to harvest water they believe will protect their homes and heal their bodies.

Annual Catholic tradition starts before dawn

Easter water is usually collected by children before dawn and needs to come from streams that don't freeze or stagnate. (Radio-Canada)

Millions of Catholics put on their Sunday best this morning to attend Easter Masses around the world, while a group of Quebecers picked up their old plastic containers and bundled up.

Before dawn, they made their pilgrimage into the brush to find Catholic-approved streams and collect "Easter water." 

They believe it has the power to protect their homes and heal their bodies.

The Easter tradition is practiced in many countries and believers will typically have the water blessed by a priest.

In a small wooded area in Neufchâtel, on the outskirts of Quebec City, people cited tradition a major motivator for making the trek — some had been collecting the water every Easter for decades.

They brought mason jars and improvised containers, like cleaned ice cream tubs, to the stream. 

They knelt to harvest the water at the small creek lit by candles and torches.
The water needs to be collected against the current. (Radio-Canada)

Some collected it for themselves, and others, for a larger community.

"I'm doing my Easter distribution in the morning," said Johanne Richard, who has been collecting Easter water since she was 18 years old.

"It is not eggs, but it is water that I distribute to people who are unable to come, the elderly."

She offers it to several people who can't physically collect it — including her mother, who likes to apply it on her skin.

Catholic tradition

Jacques Gagné came to collect the water with his grandchildren. (Radio-Canada)
Quebec is noted as having a unique take on the Easter water tradition.

Most believers think it helps with skin ailments. Quebecers however have expanded its benefits to include: protection for their home against the elements, healing stomach ailments and general protection against misfortune.

Jacques Gagné was at the stream around 5 a.m. with his grandchildren.

"For me, it's protection," he said. 

"It protects the house, it protects the members of the family. I use it for small sores too!"

Discovered by Catholic group

The small stream in Neufchâtel meets the criteria needed to produce Easter water: it doesn't freeze or stagnate.

It was discovered about 20 years ago by the Quebec branch of the Knights of Columbus — a global organization for Catholics.

A path to the water source was cleared by the local members of the group.
The Knights of Columbus cleared a path to the stream and offered spare mason jars to believers. (Radio-Canada)

Grand knight of the Charles-Neuf's council, Jean Desroches, said he was happy to see so many people come out to take part in the tradition.

He said the healing properties of the stream haven't been proven, but that doesn't stop people from coming.

"It's true, right? We don't know, but we all come anyway," Desroches said.

With files from Radio-Canada