GROUARD, Alberta (LifeSiteNews) – A historic 122-year-old Catholic church in western Canada has sustained unrepairable heavy damage after being set ablaze in what police say was an act of arson that has led to two men being arrested and charged in connection to the fire.
On Monday, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assisted firefighters in putting out a blaze that engulfed most of St. Bernard Catholic Church, located in the northern Alberta community of Grouard. The fire appears to have been set in the afternoon.
The church was built in 1901 and serves the nearby indigenous community as well as residents of Grouard.
RCMP announced Tuesday that two men were charged with arson in connection to the fire, which it said was “suspicious” in nature.
“As these matters are before the courts, no further updates or details surrounding the incident will be provided,” the RCMP said in a media statement.
“No injuries are reported at this time.”
Kenneth Ferguson, 56, of High Prairie, Alberta was charged with breaking and entering to commit theft and arson. Another individual, Gerald Capot, 50, of High Prairie was charged with breaking and entering to commit theft along with arson.
Both men were arrested and held in jail for a judicial hearing and were then remanded to appear before a Judge in High Prairie on May 29.
The blaze mostly destroyed the historic church, with only the walls standing, which Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of the Diocese of Grouard-McLennan said is a tragedy.
“They have lost something very valuable to them,” he said in comments to the media, adding that as a “whole diocese” it has “lost a treasure.”
Monsignor Charles Lavoie noted the historical value of the church, such as “paintings on the wall in the sanctuary” that was painted by the archbishop himself.
“We’re not going to be able to replace that in any way, shape or form,” he said.
According to Lavoie, the four communities affected by the fire have already been suffering from local wildfires.
Since the spring of 2021, well over 100 churches, most of them Catholic, have either been burned or vandalized across Canada. The attacks on the churches came shortly after the discovery of unmarked graves at now-closed residential schools once run by the Church in parts of Canada in the spring of last year.
In January, another historic Canadian church, St. Joseph Lutheran Church, located in Hay Lakes, Alberta, was diminished to ashes in what police said was an intentional act of arson on New Year’s Eve.
Last August, LifeSiteNews reported about the destruction by fire of one of the oldest standing Catholic churches in Alberta. Police said that the fire was a “suspicious” incident.
The fire saw the 113-year-old Catholic church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in the remote northern Alberta town of Fort Chipewyan reduced to nothing but its burned-out foundation. The church was built by the Oblate missionaries in 1909.
In 2021 and 2022, the mainstream media ran with inflammatory and dubious claims that hundreds of children were buried and disregarded by Catholic priests and nuns who ran some of the schools. This resulted in mass church burnings across Canada.
According to a local resident of Grouard, Lorrie Anderson, the destruction of the church serves only to hurt the local indigenous community.
Anderson noted how it’s a “really big loss” and like “losing a family member, because everybody was so attached to this church one way or another.”
The RCMP are asking that anyone with information about the fire contact them at 780-523-3378. Anonymous tips can be sent to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8377, or online at www.p3tips.com.