Credit: My Grande Prairie Now

Police have charged two men with arson after a fire engulfed an over 120-year-old church in Grouard, Alberta on May 22, 2023.

The St. Bernard Catholic Church, which was built in 1901 and designated as a provincial historical site, was badly damaged by the blaze, which authorities believe was intentionally set.

The RCMP were called to assist the local firefighters at the church approximately at 3:30 p.m. After spending six hours battling the flames, most of the structure and its contents were irrecoverable. 

The two suspects were arrested on Tuesday and charged with break and enter to commit theft and arson. They are scheduled to appear in court in High Prairie on May 29.

Both 56-year-old Kenneth Ferguson and 50-year-old Gerald Capot are believed to be from High Prairie. 

“They have lost something very valuable to them,” said Archbishop Gerard Pettipas. 

“I think we, the whole diocese, have lost a treasure.”

The church’s contents included paintings done by the church’s founder, Bishop Emile Grourard, along with additional artwork. 

“The historical value of that church – like the paintings on the wall in the sanctuary were painted by bishop Grouard himself,” said Monsignor Charles Lavoie. 

“We’re not going to be able to replace that in any way, shape or form.”

The church was a landmark in Grouard, a hamlet of about 160 residents that borders the Kapawe’no First Nation. Grouard was also in charge of the St. Bernard Mission residential school. 

One local woman, Lorrie Anderson, said that despite her family having a history with the residential school, she doesn’t understand why anybody would set the church on fire. 

“I just can’t see any reason for somebody to set that church on fire. All they did was break the people. All for what, a little bit of fun?” said Anderson. 

“This community, I don’t know how we’re ever going to get over this.”