Fire ravages church in heart of Listuguj, destroys historical documents

·3 min read
Fire ravages church in heart of Listuguj, destroys historical documents
Firefighters were alerted at around 10:30 p.m. on Monday.  (Roxanne Langlois/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Firefighters were alerted at around 10:30 p.m. on Monday. (Roxanne Langlois/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A fire has ripped through the century-old Saint Anne's Catholic Church in Listuguj First Nation, near Quebec's border with New Brunswick, resulting in significant damage to the building and the loss of several archival documents.

The fire has also forced the closure of a nearby elementary school.

Video posted to social media shows the building engulfed in flames.

At one point during the video, filmed by Sarah Lauretta Arsenault, the church's bell tower tumbles into the burning structure.

"When the first steeple fell and rolled off onto the ground in the back that was quite scary," Arsenault said.

She said only the stone walls are still standing this morning, but everything else has been destroyed.

"All the weddings, the baptisms, the celebrations, the places where we said goodbye to our loved ones, it's in the heart of our community for a reason," Arsenault said. "It meant a lot to a lot of people, whether they're religious or not."

Firefighters were alerted at around 10:30 p.m. on Monday.
Firefighters were alerted at around 10:30 p.m. on Monday. (Roxanne Langlois/Radio-Canada)

Firefighters were alerted at around 10:30 p.m. Monday and the fire was extinguished shortly before 8 a.m. Tuesday.

A post on the Listuguj Mi'gmaq Government website states there was also damage to the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat Headquarters and that the Mawiomi Treatment Center and Listuguj Powwow Headquarters were destroyed.

Listuguj Chief Darcy Gray said the little that remains of the church, situated right at the heart of the community, is an "eerie sight" today.

He said the church was the venue for everything from baptisms to graduations to weekly community meals and game nights.

"There's just so much that's happened there over the years and so many different reasons that people used the building and gathered in the building," Gray said. "We all have our stories and our connections beyond just the religious side of things."

He added everyone is feeling the loss of the historic building.

After the site's been secured and the cause of the fire determined, the next step is to go through the wreckage to see what can be salvaged of the archives and documents that were housed there.

"It's still a devastating lost, not just for the building, but the information and the historical documents that were contained throughout by the diocese, by the church, and the Mi'gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat," Gray said.

Local police say the fire started in the back of the building.
Local police say the fire started in the back of the building.(Facebook/Sarah Arsenault)

This is not the first time the Saint-Anne's Church — built right beside the Restigouche River — has burned down. There have been four other fires over the years but the building that was destroyed last night was constructed between 1912 and 1927.

The first church was built in 1771 and was instrumental in the development of the Catholic church in the region, said Michel Goudreau from the Machault Historical Society.

"It's quite an important loss for the region," he said, adding there were centuries of church registers and genealogical documents stored there, as well as a valuable model of a French ship.

There are also concerns that several artifacts belonging to the Mi'kmaq First Nations, which were kept in an adjoining building, may have been damaged by the water used to fight the fire.

Gray says the fire started in the kitchen, in the back of the building. No one was injured.

The local elementary school was closed for the day due to low water pressure. The Listiguj Mi'gmaq government closed its offices for the day.