Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says he is troubled after a fire — which RCMP say was suspicious — burned down a Roman Catholic church near Redberry Lake, Sask.
On Thursday, local people noticed smoke coming from the direction of Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, a historic landmark in the community.
When they arrived, fire was shooting out of the building's roof.
RCMP said in a statement Friday that the cause of the fire had not yet been determined, but that investigation had found it was suspicious.
The church is located inside Moe's constituency of Rosthern-Shellbrook. In a statement Friday, Moe noted the church had been maintained for generations of volunteers.
WATCH | Lynn Swystun captured this footage of the fire burning:
The statement made a link between the fire and other recent church burnings across the country. Many of those events have been linked to the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves near residential schools.
"I am saddened and deeply concerned by the destruction of the Polish Roman Catholic church near Redberry Lake," he wrote.
"While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, the burning of this church is suspicious without question in the midst of other arson attacks on churches across Canada."
Moe said that if the fire was deliberately set, he wants the perpetrators found.
"In the last number of weeks, I have seen Saskatchewan people come together in the wake of tragic discoveries to build hope for the future while recognizing the harmful actions of the past," read the statement.
"Acts of division do nothing to further this purpose, nor do they represent the collective heart of Saskatchewan people. The individuals responsible for such destructive and hate-driven acts must be held accountable."
RCMP confirmed no one was harmed in the fire and said it appeared the fire had been burning for some time before police were called.
In a statement, Prince Albert Roman Catholic Bishop Stephen Hero said that Holy Trinity Church, also known as the 'Polish Church,' had been sold to a local family in 2020, who were taking care of the building and land.
"It's a terrible, shocking thing when a church burns," Hero said in an interview with CBC.
"For many people there are a lot of good memories there, a lot of important celebrations happened there, community gathers there. So even if the church hasn't been used as a parish for a long time, or for worship, it still has a lot of associations."
He acknowledged that not everyone's associations with the church are positive, but said violence isn't an answer to healing.
"You don't right a wrong by doing another wrong."
Hero said he "understands" the memories that are being brought up right now because of the discoveries of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools and that the church has been trying to create better relationships with Indigenous peoples.
'Shocking and senseless'
Lynn Swystun was one of the first people on the scene of the fire. She said it was soon clear the building would be a complete loss.
"It is shocking, it's surreal, it's senseless," she said.
"It was not doing anybody any harm."
Swystun's family owns the land the church sat on and worked to maintain the building. A plaque on the church read 1909 to 1985.
She has lived in the area for 40 years and had never seen the church used as a religious building. Its doors were always open to curious passersby as a historic building. She said there was no grass on fire around the building when she arrived and it was regularly cut by the family.
Swystun said she's not sure if the fire is connected to the other recent fires at churches across the country.
"We don't know," she said. "I mean, it's the first thing that came to my mind. But we don't know. It's being investigated."
As for now, the community is picking up the pieces of the burned building. Swystun doesn't believe the church will be rebuilt.