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Wood Buffalo reacts to Fort Chipewyan church fire

Last Updated Aug 25, 2022 at 4:06 pm MDT

An aerial view of Fort Chipewyan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Many people across Wood Buffalo are reacting to the destruction of a prominent church in Fort Chipewyan.

In the early hours of Aug. 25, 2022, a blaze severely damaged the Blessed Virgin Roman Catholic Church on Mackenzie Ave.

According to the RCMP, the church was a total loss.

In a statement, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) Chief and Council said the loss saddens them.

“The church, built in 1909, has been a part of the community for over one hundred years, and even though the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the Roman Catholic Church is complicated the loss of the church will be deeply felt in the community.”

Emergency crews arrived on the scene and contained the fire.

The fire damaged no other buildings.

“Over one hundred years of history in the community was lost, a history that included marriages, funerals, and hundreds of other significant moments in the community.”

Chief and Council said they thank the fire department for their quick response.

RMWB Mayor Sandy Bowman also thanked them for their commitment to the community and public safety.

“I also recognize that there is a wide range of understandable emotions that go along with something difficult like this. We are there to support the community every step of the way as we remain deeply committed to truth and reconciliation as a Municipality. I hope this can also be a time for healing, unity, and learning.”

According to the RMWB, one member of the volunteer firefighting service had been injured on the way to the fire.

Deputy Chief Roxanne Marcel of the Mikisew Cree First Nation also shared her thoughts.

“Mikisew Cree First Nation is saddened by the news of the fire that destroyed the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Roman Catholic Church. It is unfortunate timing that this happened just days after our Truth Scanning Gathering took pace. It leaves many with mixed emotions, however, our people are united and strong and will get through this together.”

A statement from President Kendrick Cardinal of the Fort Chipewyan M├ętis Nation said the church holds a different meaning for each of them.

“This church is used for worship, funerals and weddings, and it also has deep and complex history attached for residential school survivors and their families. We are deeply saddened for the people that still practice the Catholic faith, and who will no longer have this church to attend.”

Cardinal said they are strong people in Fort Chipewyan and will get through this time.

RCMP said an investigation into what caused the fire is underway, with assistance from Regional Emergency Services.