Edmonton, Alberta: Century old Catholic Church destroyed in fire

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Police consider suspicious a fire that destroyed a Catholic church north of Edmonton, AB, early Wednesday morning.

Newsdesk (30/06/2021 18:45 PM, Gaudium Press) Firefighters were called shortly after 3 AM on June 30 and three hours later were still extinguishing hot spots at St. Jean Baptiste Parish. Neighbouring community fire departments assisted in stopping the fire at the Roman Catholic church on Morinville’s main thoroughfare but to no avail.  

“The fire was already fully involved from the basement when the first fire crews got here. They entered the building but there was already collapse occurring on the inside of the church so they backed out and it’s been a defensive or exterior firefight ever since,” said Iain Bushell, the town’s general manager of infrastructure and community services. 

“It’s one of the largest buildings. It’s very old construction so an awful lot of wood, so it went very quickly and it was a very difficult fire to fight,” he said, thanking crews who came to help from Legal, Bon Accord, Gibbons, Sturgeon County, St. Albert and Edmonton.

In total, about 50 firefighters were on scene at the peak of the firefight. They rested in rotations during the exhaustive response in the morning and anticipation of high temperatures later in the day.

A century of history crumbled before their eyes.

Construction on the church was completed in 1907 and it hosted its first mass on Jan. 1, 1908. It was named after Father Jean Baptiste Morin, who led several Francophone families to the Morinville area from Quebec in 1891.

Morinville resident, Roger Morin, was married in the church 42 years ago on June 30. His wife passed away from cancer earlier in 2021.

“I’ve had a very important loss in my life already, and this is all part of it,” he said. “I really don’t know how to feel. I just feel sad. Sad as hell.”

“What’s happened is a terrible, terrible and tragic event for our community. One thing I know is that our community has amazing strength and resilience and banded together, numerous times, and will do so again. … And we will. We will rebuild, and we will recover.” the town’s mayor, Barry Turner, said during a noon news conference. 

Royal Canadian Mounted Police call the blaze ‘Suspicious’

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney visited the site Wednesday afternoon to condemn another appalling hate-motivated crime against the Catholic community. 

“I realized this morning that if a minority faith group had faced an apparent act of violence like this, I would absolutely have been on the spot immediately to show solidarity and so I felt it was necessary to do that,” he said, standing in front of the church’s rubble with Justice Minister Kayce Madu and the area’s MP and MLA.

Kenney said to “promoters of hatred and division” that recent acts of arson at churches across Canada “is not reconciliation.” 

Officials have not said how the fire was started but Mounties did call it suspicious, as did town officials. 

Across Canada, several Catholic churches have burned to the ground or been vandalized after unmarked graves were found at former residential school sites in B.C. and Saskatchewan. Thus far, five British Columbia churches have been set on fire, and one of two fires at churches in the Calgary area is believed by RCMP to have been deliberately set. A statue outside Edmonton’s Polish Catholic Church was vandalized with red paint.

“Certainly the timing is unfortunate given what is happening in the country at the moment and it being a Catholic church, but again, I’ll let the fire investigator get into that properly,” was all Bushell would say.

With CTV files

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