One of two High Prairie men charged in connection with a fire that heavily damaged an historic Catholic Church in Grouard one year ago has pleaded guilty to a charge of arson.

Gerald Kenneth Capot pleaded guilty to arson to property of others when he appeared in Court of King’s Bench in Peace River during a trial that started May 21, according to information provided by the court May 31.

Capot was 50 when he was charged with arson and one count of break and enter to commit theft after fire damaged the St. Bernard Mission Church on May 22, 2023. The church was eventually torn down.

Capot is scheduled to appear in the same court Aug. 30 to set a date for sentencing.

A charge of break-and-enter to commit theft against him will be withdrawn by the Crown at sentencing, the court official states.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Randy Ferguson was sentenced to 90 days after pleading guilty to break-and-enter May 21, Alberta Justice Court Checks says.

Ferguson was 56 at the time he was charged.

Ferguson was given credit for time served and immediately released.

A charge of arson to property of others was withdrawn on May 21, Court Checks states.

Ferguson was also placed on probation for 12 months. During probation, he has been ordered to engage with the priest of St. Bernard Church either by writing a letter or engaging a dialogue to express remorse for the incident. In-person dialogue must have prior consent from the priest.

Ferguson is also required to take assessment, counselling or treatment as recommended by his probation officer. He must also keep the peace, be of good behaviour, and appear before the court when required to do so by the court.

An RCMP news release says police responded to a report of a fire at the 121-year-old building around 3:30 p.m.

“Preliminary investigation indicates it is suspicious in nature,” said Const. Julie-Ann Strilaiff, Media Relations Officer, Peace Regional RCMP.

Big Lakes County Fires Services responded to the call with crews from Grouard, Enilda and Joussard. High Prairie Fire Department also responded.

The church contained many historical and unique items, including paintings by the first missionary bishop of the region, Bishop Emile Grouard.

The church at Grouard was completed in 1902. It was a shining example of Bishop Grouard’s dedication to God, his love of nature and respect for the local people.

Capot and Ferguson were charged May 23.

by Richard Froese

June 6, 2024

This item copyrighted by / South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

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