Police investigating fire that destroyed Catholic church in Janvier

Police say witnesses reported a silver sedan driving away from the church at the time of the fire.

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Wood Buffalo RCMP are investigating the destruction of one of the Catholic churches in Janvier on Friday. Janvier is roughly 120 kilometres south of Fort McMurray.

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Police say that at 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 15, officers arriving at the scene found the church completely engulfed in flames. Police say witnesses reported a silver sedan driving away from the church at the time of the fire.

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Bishop Gary Franken of the diocese of St. Paul, which includes Janvier, confirmed in a Saturday evening email that the building was the community’s older Catholic church. The church is adjacent to a newer building, St. Gabriel Catholic Church, which was unharmed. No injuries were reported.

Councillor Shane Janvier of the Chipewyan Prairie Dene First Nation condemned the destruction in a video he posted to his Facebook account. The cause of the fire is still being investigated, but Janvier said early indications point to arson.

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“The significance of this old church in the community—lots of celebrations at this church over the years, lots of weddings, lots of baptisms, this is a place where we’ve come to say our last respects to our loved ones and our ancestors… enough’s enough. We’ve gotta start looking out for one another as a community,” said Janvier.

“If we’re going to make statements that this is our land and we’re going to fight for this land, then we damn well better learn to respect our land. That’s not respecting our community.”

This is the second church destroyed in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region in recent years. Fort Chipewyan’s Catholic church was destroyed in Aug. 2022. Two men have been charged with arson and are scheduled to begin trial in April.

The Fort Chipewyan residence that housed priests and nuns was also destroyed in a fire on Oct. 30. No charges have been issued related to that fire. That building had been abandoned for decades.

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