When Pope Francis visits Lac Ste. Anne later this month, the village of Alberta Beach is expected to swell from 1,000 people to up to 100,000 throughout the week.
That has the village preparing and businesses busy getting ready for the influx.
Cheryl DeMaere-Ellis is used to having the Alberta Beach Inn & Suites book up during the annual pilgrimage to Lac Ste. Anne.
The Alexis Nakota Sioux people call it Lake Wakamne — or ‘God’s Lake’ — and it’s said the holy waters have healing powers.
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“We have several return guests for the last five years, so I’m ready for them to bring me my presents of bannock and I bake them cookies,” the inn manager told Global News.
This year is even busier though. DeMaere-Ellis estimates she has been getting 40 phone calls a day from people right across North America looking for a room.
All 22 of the rooms at the inn are booked and there are another 120 people on the waitlist. Even the places DeMaere-Ellis has been sending people to are turning them away.
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“Onoway Inn and Suites is booked now from my cancellations and the [Alberta Beach] hotel is booked. So pretty much going right through, probably people are now booking in Edmonton,” DeMaere-Ellis guessed.
All of those visitors will need somewhere to eat which is keeping Kim Zackodnik busy.
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She owns Mama’s In The Kitchen, a local restaurant in Alberta Beach. Already, she’s having extra people pitch in.
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“My staff are all family to me anyway, but the extra biological children are coming and helping with the grandkids and stuff,” Zackodnik explained.
Stocking up on food will be crucial too, but Zackodnik’s husband is expected to make frequent trips to Edmonton for supplies even though most area highways will be at least partially closed.
“He has no choice,” Zackodnik said of the trips.
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“We have limited space to just store the supplies. And being that busy, we’re going to probably have to do a trip every day or two.”
Still, it’s worth it for the restaurant owner who never thought she would get an opportunity like this again.
“I was in the Alberta all girls drum and bugle band program. I started when I was six years old and was in it for about ten years, and 1977 was our tour to Europe.”
On that tour, Zackodnik and her bandmates met Pope Paul VI along with other dignitaries.
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Now that Pope Francis is coming to her community, Zackodnik sees opportunity knocking twice.
“I would like to go and actually see a second Pope, but definitely I’ve got I’ve got to be here for my staff, too.”
Free tickets are required to get on the pilgrimage site where the Pope will visit and those are expected to be in short supply.
Instead, some people appear happy to just be in the proximity of the lake the Pope is expected to bless.
The Alberta Beach Inn & Suites is fully booked the entire week after the papal visit.
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