Southeast Calgary church fire has been ruled suspicious by police
DISCLAIMER: This story contains distressing details.
Police are investigating a church fire that broke out in southeast Calgary on Sunday evening as a suspect, but say it is still too early to know if it was started on purpose.
The fire department responded to several calls reporting a fire at the House of Prayer Alliance Church, located in the 4900 block of Forego Avenue SE, around 7:20 p.m. Sunday.
Batt. Chief Keith Stahl told CBC News that crews found heavy smoke and flames that they were able to extinguish and determined that no one was inside.
He said the fire was mostly contained and confined to the exterior of the building with some exterior burns.
“At the moment, we are determining whether or not this is arson, and teams are working with investigators to determine the cause of the fire,” Stahl said.
Canada counts with the Catholic Church and the residential school system
The incident occurred as churches across the province and country were vandalized or damaged by suspected arson.
On July 30, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste parish of Morinville, about 40 kilometers north of Edmonton, was destroyed by fire.
Meanwhile, at least 11 Calgary churches have been smeared with red paint following a national judgment on the role of the Catholic Church in the residential school system.
The House of Prayer is not affiliated with the Catholic Church.
In recent weeks, it is estimated that over 1,000 unmarked burial sites have been located in former residential schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
The Catholic Church operated over half of all residential schools in Canada between 1831 and 1996, as well as many day schools.
“We ask people … to be patient”
Police said detectives investigating the recent Calgary church vandalism will also be involved in the House of Prayer Alliance church fire investigation to determine if there are any links to the other cases.
“We are very aware of the current tensions in the community around the residential schools and the acts of vandalism and arson that have occurred,” Calgary police said in a press release.
“We will examine if there is a connection in this matter, but we ask people in the meantime to be patient as we work to understand what exactly happened.
“Our service recognizes the trauma, hurt and anger felt by many members of the community following the recent news of graves found in former residential schools.”
Calgary churches that have recently been vandalized include:
- Saint-Bonaventure Catholic Church at 1600 Acadia Dr. SE
- St. Elisabeth Catholic Church of Hungary at 819 13 Ave. SW
- Sainte-Marie Cathedral at 219 18 Ave. SW
- Church of the Sacred Heart and Columbarium at 1307 14th Street SW
- Grace Presbyterian Church at 1009 15 Ave. SW
- Saint Luke Parish at 1566 Northmount Dr. NW
- Holy Trinity Church at 1525 45 St. SE
- Saint-Antoine Catholic Parish at 5340 4 St. SW
- All Nations Full Gospel Church at 1403 8 Ave. SE
- Saint-Joseph Catholic Church at 640 19 Ave. NW
- Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church at 704 6 St. NE
Support is available for anyone affected by their residential school experience and for those triggered by the latest reports.
A National Residential Schools Crisis Line has been set up to provide support to survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.