Two Catholic churches in the South Okanagan region of British Columbia were destroyed early Monday morning in fires being treated by RCMP as suspicious.
Sacred Hearts Church on Penticton Indian Band land went up in flames around 1:20 a.m. St. Gregory’s Church on Osoyoos Indian Band land was reported to be on fire at 3:10 a.m. Both churches burned to the ground, and are approximately 40 minutes apart.
According to the Globe and Mail, which points out that the churches were “built more than a century ago on First Nations land”:
Although the RCMP is not saying the two blazes were arsons, Bob Graham, chief of the Oliver Fire Department, whose crews stamped out the St. Gregory’s fire, says liquid accelerants were found outside the burned-down building.
..St. Gregory’s Church was in disrepair and only opened for the odd baptism or wedding ceremony, Mr. Graham of the Oliver Fire Department said.
Penticton Indian Band (PIB) Chief Greg Gabriel called Sacred Hearts Church a “fixture in our community” and said that the council “doesn't condone burning the church down”:
“Many in our community were members and involved in services. Some of our elders are attached to the church and have come here today very sad. They are hurting but also they understand.”
A statement released by the PIB asked the public to stay away from the site due to safety reasons, and urged people to “not approach our Indigenous Members and ask how we feel about it.”
Both wooden churches are under the Roman Catholic Diocese of Nelson.
Monday marked National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada.
Last week, an Anglican church on Six Nations of the Grand River southwest of Hamilton, Ontario was burned in an alleged arson.