British Columbia

Minimal damage as suspicious fire probed at abandoned church in northwestern B.C.

New Hazelton RCMP say the fire was reported early Saturday morning on the Gitwangak First Nation and was quickly extinguished with minimal damage and no injuries.

St Paul's in New Hazelton is the fifth church in B.C. to be set aflame in recent weeks

RCMP are investigating a suspicious fire at St Paul's Anglican Church in northwestern British Columbia. (Gitwangak Band Office/Facebook)

The Mounties say they are investigating a suspicious fire at an abandoned church in northwestern British Columbia.

New Hazelton RCMP say the fire was reported early Saturday morning at St. Paul's Anglican Church on the Gitwangak First Nation and was quickly extinguished with minimal damage and no injuries.

Staff Sgt. Darren Durnin says in a statement that police want to know if the blaze could be linked to four recent fires at churches within Indigenous communities in the south Okanagan.

A social media post from the Gitwangak Band says the former Anglican Church in that community is no longer used and it is in "no way affiliated'' with residential schools.

Two tiny Catholic churches, one outside Hedley and the other at Chopaka, were destroyed by fires early Saturday, just days after separate fires near Osoyoos and Oliver levelled Catholic churches on band land there.

The fires come less than a month after preliminary findings from a ground-penetrating radar survey of the remains of as many as 215 children buried at a former residential school site in Kamloops.

The Cowessess First Nation in southeastern Saskatchewan is also investigating after ground-penetrating radar indicated 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School.

Tension and anger running deep

Gitwangak elected chief Sandra Larin says tensions in the wake of the discoveries are running deep in the community. 

"I think somebody just decided they were angry enough. They wanted to burn it down."

However, Larin says many members of the community find comfort from their Christian religion and the church.

"The church, since it has been here since the late 1800s built by the hands of our people and was a place of worship where people got married and babies were baptized and funerals were had," she explained. "It's tough for them to see that part of our history that wasn't directly involved with residential school be so callously vandalized."

But Larin says she also understands that the younger members of her band may not have developed the same positive connections with St Paul's.

With files from CBC News

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