Fire that destroyed Catholic Church in Fort Chipewyan deemed suspicious

Community also lost fire truck that was heading to the fire.

A Catholic Church in the remote hamlet of Fort Chipewyan, Alta., has been destroyed in a fire that the RCMP says is suspicious.

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation got a call at 3 a.m. on Thursday that the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Church was engulfed in flames.

After arriving at the church, he livestreamed crews struggling to battle the blaze.

“The church is on fire, completely destroyed,” Adam can be heard saying in the video. “One hundred years in history gone up on flames. This was uncalled for.”

In a phone interview with APTN News, Adam said the fly-in community is now down a fire truck because one of the few in the community flipped over on its way to the fire and is now out of commission.

“That church was very important. It had significant history,” Adam told APTN. He added that while the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Church is complicated, the loss of the building is devasting.

Fort Chipewyan fire
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Church in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. Photo: supplied

It was a historic building for the Dene, Cree and Métis who reside in Fort Chipewyan.

“It was uncalled for, it was unnecessary. You don’t take your frustration and anger and disappointment (out) on the house of the Lord,” said Adam. “A lot of history went through there, a lot of our elders’ memories are in my head will only be there now because every time I walk across there won’t be a church standing there.

“A lot of fond memories that are running through my head right now.”

No injuries were reported. RCMP said the cause of the fire in unknown, but is being investigated as suspicious.

The church was on the site of the Holy Angels Indian Residential School, where Adam said a search for unmarked graves is being organized.

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