Fire destroys B.C. Anglican Church, as "suspicious" church fires reported in Tofino, Yellowknife, and more

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      An Anglican church has been destroyed by a “suspicious” fire in Northwestern B.C., as reports emerge of fires at several other churches in B.C. and across Canada over recent days.

      B.C. RCMP announced today (July 2) that New Hazleton RCMP received a report shortly after 10:30 p.m. on July 1 about a fire at the St. Paul’s Anglican Church at the corner of Bridge Street and Church Road in the village of Gitwangak.

      By the time officers arrived, the blaze had already engulfed most of the structure. In addition, B.C. RCMP stated that there was “a significant amount of damage” to the neighbouring community hall.

      This fire, which is being deemed suspicious, is the second fire at the location this week. The previous fire, which remains under investigation, occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 26. The church only sustained a limited amount of damage in that incident.

      “This church has been on the in the community for over 100 years and was previously used for marriages, baptisms, and funerals,” B.C. RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Chris Manseau stated in a news release. “However it was vacant and was not currently used by the community.”

      Terrace RCMP members are heading to Gitwangak to assist in the investigation.

      This is the fifth church in B.C. to be destroyed by fires deemed “suspicious” by RCMP.

      These photos show the limited damage caused by a fire at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Gitwangak on June 26 before it was destroyed on July 1.
      Gitwangak Band Office

      The other four churches were Catholic churches that burnt down in the B.C. Interior:

      • Sacred Heart Church on Green Mountain Road, located on Penticton Indian Band lands, on June 21;
      • Gregory’s Church on Nk’mip Road, located on Osoyoos Indian Band lands, on June 21;
      • Ann’s Catholic Church on Upper Similkameen Indian Band lands near Hedley, B.C., on June 26;
      • Chopaka Catholic Church on Lower Similkameen Indian Band lands at Chopaka on June 26.

      In addition, a fire was reported the St. Columba Church in Tofino around 4 a.m. this morning. The fire was contained at the Anglican church before it sustained any structural damage. RCMP and fire investigators have also deemed this fire as suspicious.   

      In the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife RCMP announced today that officers are investigating a suspicious fire that broke out at the St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral Catholic Church around 12:30 a.m. on July 1. The building sustained minor damage and no one was injured. 

      Fires also damaged Roman Catholic churches near Edmonton and Halifax—the St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alberta, and the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church in the Sipekne’katik First Nation, Nova Scotia—on June 30.

      APTN News reported that Indigenous leaders have said that there have been some community members who are upset by these fires.

      Upper Similkameen Indian Band Chief Bonnie Jacobsen was reported to have said that although she understands the anger and pain experienced from the recent residential school discoveries, she does not believe that violence and destruction is the way to address these issues.

      The fires at these churches occurred after the disturbing confirmation of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools in B.C., as well as other parts of Canada.

      Many cities and communities cancelled Canada Day celebrations, and several non-Indigenous communities in Canada, including South Asian and Japanese Canadian communities, are expressing solidarity with and support for Indigenous survivors of residential schools.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.