The remains of heavily-damaged St. Bernard Mission Church after it was extinguished May 22 looking toward the northeast.

Two men are facing arson charges after burning a historic church at Grouard in broad daylight.

RCMP report on May 22 at 3:30 p.m., police responded to a fire at St. Bernard Mission Church at Grouard. Fire departments from Grouard, Enilda, Joussard and High Prairie responded.

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

It did not take police long to lay charges. The next day two men were charged with break and enter and commit theft, as well as arson, including Kenneth Ferguson, 56, and Gerald Capot, 50, both of High Prairie.

Ferguson and Capot were held for a judicial hearing and were remanded to appear in Alberta Court of Justice in High Prairie May 29 to enter pleas to charges.

The Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan issued a statement shortly after the disaster saying it was “deeply saddened” by the loss of the 121-year-old church – one of the oldest in the diocese.

“Our prayers are with the people of Grouard and surrounding communities, who have lost not only their place of worship, but a landmark of their community. Many weddings, funerals and cherished memories were honoured there.”

The church contained many historical and unique items, including paintings by the first missionary bishop of the region, Bishop Emile Grouard. It has been described as a treasure trove of ecclesiastic objects, wood working, detailed hand stenciling and original artwork.

Bishop Grouard was a French Catholic missionary who lived and worked in northern Alberta until the end of his life. During his time, he built three churches of similar styles. Grouard’s was completed in 1902. It was shining example of Bishop Grouard’s dedication to God, his love of nature and respect for local people.

Upon entering, people were mesmerized by the unique building design and drawn to its artwork. Priceless one-of-a-kind altar paintings by Bishop Grouard himself, coupled with its architectural wonders, made the church a treasure.

Before and after. . .

By Chris Clegg

May 25 2023

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

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