Never before had such a large crowd paraded through the streets of the Canadian capital. According to newspapers at the time, no fewer than one million visitors pass through Ottawa in June 1947 to participate in the Marian Congress commemorating the centenary of the Diocese of Bytown-Ottawa.
Msgr Alexandre Vachon is the mastermind behind this grandiose gathering. The Archbishop of Ottawa thinks big for the diocese and wants to put it on the world map. A skilled strategist, he decides to place the patron saint of the mother church of the Archdiocese at the centre of celebrations, thereby taking advantage of the growing international movement of Marian piety leading to the proclamation of the dogma of Mary’s Assumption by Pius XII a few years later, in 1950.
Religious ceremonies, processions, concerts, theatrical performances, exhibitions and other festivities take place from June 17 to 22. The faithful, numbering from 60,000 to 80,000, attend the Thursday Pontifical Mass at Lansdowne Park. The presiding apostolic delegate, Msgr Antoniutti, is assisted by a hundred priests at a gigantic altar of repose. The closing mass attracts some 125,000 faithful, with 200,000 people coming to see the evening torchlight Eucharistic procession featuring some thirty allegorical floats. A fireworks show, said to be the most impressive ever seen in the capital, ends the evening.
The event has a profound impact on Ottawa’s Francophone and Catholic memories. Only the centennial celebrations of Canadian Confederation in 1967 and the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1984 will attract such large crowds to the capital.