Fire at Catholic church could be part of wave of arson attacks

While an inspection has failed to determine what caused the blaze that destroyed a roughly century-old church northwest of Saskatoon this week, RCMP say the fire is considered “suspicious.”

Flames sparked in a historic Catholic church near Redberry Lake around noon on Thursday, engulfing the entire building in roughly half an hour.

article continues below

The church was no longer in use and no was injured, RCMP said.

Premier Scott Moe said he was “saddened and deeply concerned” by the loss of the church in his home constituency.

“While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, the burning of this church is suspicious without question in the midst of other arson attacks on churches across Canada,” he said in a prepared statement.

The Redberry Lake fire comes during a wave of arson and vandalism at Catholic churches in the wake of various First Nations identifying unmarked graves on the grounds of former church-run residential schools using ground-penetrating radar.

Last month, the Cowessess First Nation in southeast Saskatchewan revealed it had identified 751 unmarked graves on the grounds of the former Marieval residential school.

Moe spoke against acts of vandalism, saying they set back efforts by “Saskatchewan people (to) come together in the wake of tragic discoveries to build hope for the future while recognizing the harmful actions of the past.

“Acts of division do nothing to further this purpose, nor do they represent the collective heart of Saskatchewan people. The individuals responsible for such destructive and hate-driven acts must be held accountable.”

Douglas and Lynn Swystun, who own the property with other family members, said there were no sign of lightning or other such fire starters on the day of the blaze.

Lynn was mowing the lawn on Thursday when she saw smoke billowing. She drove to the nearby church to find it in flames.

The fire reduced the community landmark to ashes, which the Swystuns say is a difficult loss. On Thursday, some of their neighbours drove by to visit the remains of the building, fondly recalling the Polish Catholic church’s services for family members. A plaque near the church says it ran from 1909 to 1985.

The Swystuns donated money to Douglas’s brother Rodney when he refurbished the church roughly 10 years ago, costing between $15,000 and $20,000, Lynn said.

“The absence is horrible,” Douglas said.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist