Community Population: Watson Lake 1,474 (2013 Yukon Bureau of Statistics) First Nation Population: Liard First Nation (Waston Lake & Upper Liard) 504 Daylu Dena Council (Lower Post) 300 Catholic Population: Unknown Regular Church attendees: Watson Lake 10-25 Lower Post 5-6 Mailing Address: 5119 5th Ave, Whitehorse YT Y1A 1LS Rectory: Lot 1053 Plan # 92-48 Watson Lake, YT
Fr. Deva Kumar helping with renovations in 2017
History of the Missions: The history of the missions at Watson Lake, Lower Post and Upper Liard is connected. The two communities north (Lower Post) and south (Upper Liard) of Watson Lake became the stepping stone for the mission in Watson Lake. In 1926 Father Allard, OMI, established a mission at Telegraph Creek and then pushed into the interior to Dease Lake, McDame, Liard Post, and Iskut. It’s during this trip that he made contact with people in Lower Post. On hearing the Good News many people asked to be baptized. In 1937, Lower Post mission was started by Father Drean, OMI.
The first rectory and church were built by Fr. A. Drean, OMI. In the fall he was replaced by Father Poullet. In 1944, Father Poullet OMI from Holy Family Mission, Lower Post established St. Peter’s mission at Watson Lake airport. When the population moved into Watson Lake, St. Peter’s mission building was sold. It is presently owned by McIImoyle’s. In 1950 Lower Post residential school was built. Brother Soucy was the director of the residential school at Lower Post – ’51 to ’76 (residential school closed). In 1955, Father Joseph Guilbaud, OMI, built Our Lady of the Yukon mission in Upper Liard. Initially, it was a mission served from Lower Post, BC. On the outside of the church building there is a unique aluminum cast Madonna that was made in Belgium at the commissioning of Bishop Coudert. The rectory has a-50 feet hand dug water well done by Fr. J. Guilbaud, OMI. In the summer of 1994, Fr. Guilbaud repainted the garage, outside and inside of the rectory and re-tiled the complete rectory floor. This made the buildings look very tidy and fresh.
This church serves primarily the people of the Upper Liard Native village. These people are part of the Kaska People who used to live in Pelly Lakes. Fr. Guilbaud had been their priest since his arrival in 1949 except for his years in Carmacks. While with them at Pelly Banks, he learned much of their language, songs and dances. During a protest in Upper Liard in the summer of 1994 against a sawmill that was moving in dangerously close to the native village, Fr. Guilbaud did the bear victory dance with all the singing, dancing and waving of arms. Some of their own people had forgotten how to do it. Fr. Guilbaud developed and wrote a special catechism for the young people of this village. He had worked on this program for many years to create the pedagogy, the course and lesson outlines, instruction sheets, and with his own hand drawn illustrations. It was a monumental work that has received the appreciation from Bishop Lobsinger and the admiration of the catechetical teachers in the diocese. A copy of all the catechism material was donated to the Diocesan Archives.
In 1956, St. Ann’s mission was established in Watson Lake – the church and rectory all in one building. Father Joseph Guilbaud served the three missions from the 1950s to 1990s. In 1961, the new church was built at Watson Lake. The former church was transformed into the priest’s residence. Next to the rectory is a small cemetery that was used by the Catholic and the Native people. Fr. Jim Bleackley gave great efforts to maintain this holy spot. He had a plan made of the plots and named as many plots as possible. He had metal crosses made and had the names inscribed for as many plots as possible. This grave yard does not belong to the Diocese. It is registered in Victoria under the Provincial Register of Graveyards.
Fr. Jim Bleackley, OMI was the last resident pastor. During Fr. Jim’s time he was assisted by Religious Sisters. Fr. Jim left the area in 1989 for a sabbatical. He was replaced by two sisters of the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception of St. John, New Brunswick, Sr. Monica Plante and Sr. Monica Guest who stayed for three years. They resided at Lower Post. In 1963, a separate school was approved for Watson Lake. It was during this time that a convent for the Sister’s of Mission Service was built. The Sisters of Mission Service were teachers at the Catholic elementary School. This school was closed in 1972. These Sisters left about that time. In 1994, the church was completely rewired and sanctuary was redone. Some of the priests who have lived in these missions are Frs. M. Bobillier, OMI, H. Huybers, OMI, J-P. Tanguay, OMI, P. Smith, OMI, J. Bleackley, OMI.
RESOURCE: Official websites of local First Nation and the Town; “As Time Goes On” by H. Spruyt, OMI; Questionnaire Survey; Interview with active church members