A moment in history: Feb. 14, 1984

A moment in history: Feb. 14, 1984

· The Pulse

On this day in 1984, planning for Pope John Paul II's three-day visit to Edmonton was in full swing.

The Pope's journey to Canada in September 1984 marked the first time the head of the Catholic Church had set foot in the country. His 12-day Canadian tour started with him kissing the airport tarmac in Quebec City and continued with stops in 12 other cities, including Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, Yellowknife, and Edmonton.

By the time the Pope's plane landed at CFB Edmonton the city was experiencing Pope-mania. A crowd of more than 100,000 people stood along the recently widened 97 Street to catch a glimpse of the popemobile as it zipped towards downtown. Among the crowd was a sizeable security presence, as the Pope had survived two assassination attempts in the previous three years.

The Pope and his entourage arrived at St. Joseph's Cathedral for a gathering of religious leaders before heading to the Grey Nuns Centre where he stayed during his visit.

The next day, it was back north to CFB Edmonton, where the Pope hosted a mass in a farmer's field beside the base. Crowds of up to 200,000 were expected for the service. Preparations included renting a gigantic TV screen from a Micheal Jackson tour to broadcast the speech. The crowd was smaller than anticipated — estimated at 125,000 — possibly due to the blustery weather. (The smaller crowd apparently left organizers with a lot of leftover communion wafers on their hands.) The Pope mentioned Alberta's famously unpredictable weather in his opening remarks, before giving a fiery speech that touched on the dangers of nuclear weapons and the growing inequality between wealthy and poor countries.

During the Pope's final day in the Edmonton area, he visited Elk Island National Park. A photo of John Paul II walking down one of the park's pathways while holding a rosary became one of the most famous images from his time heading the Catholic Church.

The weather wasn't done messing with the Pope's Canadian plans. After three days in Edmonton, the Pope intended to travel to Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories to meet with Indigenous leaders. Heavy fog forced his plane to return to Yellowknife, however, and the visit was cancelled. John Paul II would return to Canada in 1988 to visit Fort Simpson.

The excitement of the Pope's visit to Edmonton led to all kinds of mementos and souvenirs. Collectible cards and tickets were produced, businesses held special papal sales, and the city's transit system even sold commemorative maps. While many of those have been lost to time, there are still reminders of the visit around the city, if one knows where to look.

During his visit, the Pope promoted St. Joseph's Cathedral to a minor basilica, which remains to this day. And the metal structure that protected the altar during his farmers' field mass now stands in Gallagher Park as the Peace Dove. The sculpture even has a time capsule buried underneath, placed there by Edmonton's Catholic school district, and set to be opened up in 2088.

The Peace Dove got a major makeover a couple of years ago in preparation for another papal visit, when Pope Francis stopped in Edmonton in 2022. The most recent tour included an address in Maskwacis, where Pope Francis formally apologized for the Church's role in the residential school system. Despite the apology, many say they are still waiting for more concrete action more than a year after Francis's visit. There are currently plans for improvements to Gallagher Park, which might involve expanding the paths network around the Peace Dove or even relocating the sculpture.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.