In 1906, to rest and assess his situation, Abbé DeLamarre came to Lac-Bouchette where his brother Charles already lived. The surroundings allowed Abbé DeLamarre to meditate and pray. At the time, he felt the need to create a peaceful place for himself, far from where he had been doing ministry for a long time. In the previous few months, he had been put to the test in many ways, and needed to replenish his energy. That is why he bought the land in front of his brother's. He was then 52 years old.
Beginning in 1907, Abbé DeLamarre had a white and red house built with a small chapel that he named Ermitage San Tonio. The name Ermitage was given by the people from the region. Their thinking was that Abbé DeLamarre lived like a hermit, and so it was fitting.
When he began building on the site, Abbé DeLamarre wanted to live like a hermit and take advantage of the solitude and beauty of nature. He proposed the location to his fellow priests of the diocese.
He thought that it would be the ideal retreat and vacation place for the priests of the Chicoutimi Diocese.
Even if it was a disappointment for Abbé DeLamarre, we are happy that they chose Baie Sainte-Catherine, on the Saint Lawrence River. Mr. DeLamarre proceeded to reside there unaccompanied.
In fact, it was his family members, brothers, nieces and nephews (among them, the strongman Victor DeLamarre) who helped him build and maintain the Ermitage. With that, Abbé DeLamarre returned to family life.
Another famous person from the Lac-St-Jean region, Éva Bouchard (also known as Maria Chapdelaine), would act as his secretary.
In 1908, the small chapel was blessed and officially dedicated to Saint Anthony. Soon after, Abbé DeLamarre invited a friend of his, the famous painter Charles Huot, to come visit him at his hermitage. For ten years, the painter visited during the summer months and painted frescos and medallions about Saint Anthony's life.
This little chapel is adorned with a tiny bell tower and, before celebrating mass, Abbé DeLamarre used to ring it. The sound attracted the attention of the people from Lac-Bouchette and they began crossing Lake Ouiatchouan to hear him chant mass.
Time went by and, in 1912, our friend was walking on a little trail he had made towards the north. Three to four acres from his hermitage, he saw a grotto through the birches that reminded him of the one in Lourdes where he had gone in 1900. He saw it as a sign from the Blessed Mother of God. Abbé DeLamarre began to think that this place could become a sanctuary dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.
With this in mind and heart, he installed a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes on the grotto’s rock and went there every day to pray. Informed of this discovery, the people from Lac-Bouchette joined him in his devotion and prayed at the grotto.
The first real pilgrimage to the hermitage dates to 1915. About 20 young adults from the Saint-Louis parish of Chambord, after chanting the Month of Mary, arrived by train to venerate the Blessed Mother.
One year later, the grotto was blessed and recognized as a pilgrimage site. It was the faith of the regional population that prompted the bishop to answer Abbé DeLamarre's pleas. Over the summer, more and more pilgrims arrived in Lac-Bouchette. It was in 1918 that Mr. DeLamarre ordered a Calvary from the sculptor Louis Jobin. It was to be installed in 1922–23. The following year, Charles Huot painted it, his last work on this site. This Calvary is considered one of the most beautiful in all of Quebec because of the number of figures (6) and their expressions.
Meanwhile, in 1920, Abbé DeLamarre installed a Way of the Cross in the mountainside. It is distinguished by the Innus' traits of the figures . They recall the First Nation of the region. The same year that the Calvary was placed at the Sanctuary, the provincial government inaugurated the bridge that, from that day onward, would allow vehicle access to the Sanctuary.
Abbé Elzéar DeLamarre passed away in April 1925. Not long after, the Capuchins became the owners and keepers of the site and his works, as per his wishes. He is buried under the San Tonio chapel. Wishing to perpetuate the works of Abbé DeLamarre, the Capuchins erected the Scala Santa, the Holy Stairs, for which the founder of the hermitage already had the materials.
Between 1925 and 1948, the Capuchin fathers came to Lac-Bouchette during the summer and stayed in Abbé DeLamarre’s cottage. In 1948, the convent was built, and blessed the year after when they made it their residence. Later, the Marian Chapel was erected and the outdoor chapel was built.
The wooden statue of Saint Anthony above the devotional lights in the Marian Chapel comes from Italy. It was placed there in 1957. Behind it, you can see stained glass windows, the work of Friar Guy Bruneau, a Capuchin, who made all of the stained glass windows in the chapel in 1970.
In 2007, for the 100th anniversary of Ermitage Saint-Antoine’s founding, we received a great gift. The Notre-Dame-de-Pitié parish of Quebec City, closed to the cult, gave us its 18-stop pipe organ. It was installed and refurbished in the Marian Chapel in 2008.
In September 2008, a new bell tower was added to the Marian Chapel. Since then, four bells have been added to call the pilgrims to prayer, donated by the Saint-Joachim parish of Chicoutimi.
The wooden altar in the Marian Chapel was replaced in 2010 by a granite one. It was made by a local company – Les Granites Moreau, from Chicoutimi –, the same company that made the rosary that is found beside the Chapel and that Pope John Paul II blessed in 1984, as well as the stone representing Victor DeLamarre.
That same year, the 25-meter all-wood observation tower dedicated to Saint Anthony was erected on one of the two hills where the Sanctuary is located. At the same time, the hermit cottages and family cottages were built.
Before Easter 2011, a new Crucifix was installed in the Marian Chapel. It is a masterpiece from the architect Blaise Marchand. This artist also made the two bas reliefs that you can see on each side of it. Before being moved to Lac-Bouchette, they were located in Cacouna, at the former house of the Capuchins.
Today, after more than 100 years of existence, Ermitage Saint-Antoine has become the collaborative achievement of a large family comprised of Capuchins and lay people. Together, they make sure that this magnificent place, born out of the faith of a diocesan priest and inspired by Saint Anthony and the Virgin Mary, is one God's known addresses.
Everyone is welcome!