CAWSTON, B.C. — Mounties are investigating after they say two more Catholic churches in British Columbia’s southern Interior were destroyed in early-morning fires.
RCMP say the Princeton detachment got a report at 3:52 a.m. that St. Ann’s Catholic Church on Upper Similkameen Indian Band land, near Hedley, B.C., was on fire.
Another report came in to the Keremeos detachment at 4:45 a.m. that a Catholic church on Lower Similkameen land at Chopaka, near the U.S. border, was ablaze.
The Mounties say they’re treating both fires as suspicious and looking for possible connection to fires that destroyed two other Catholic churches in the region.
Sgt. Jason Bayda with the Penticton South Okanagan RCMP says in a statement that police investigations into the fires early last week on First Nations lands around Osoyoos and Oliver are ongoing, with no arrests or charges so far.
The fires come less than a month after the discovery of what’s believed to be the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops.
Lower Similkameen Chief Keith Crow says Catholic community members were devastated by the fires and by the discovery of the graves.
“If you’re hurting at this time, please reach out to somebody and make the call. There is a lot of upset people and it’s … heartbreaking,” he said in a phone interview.
The small church in Chopaka was built more than 100 years ago and hosted a service a couple of weeks ago, Crow added.
The fire at that church had spread to nearby brush before being extinguished by crews with the B.C. Wildfire Services, the RCMP statement said.
Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced Thursday that ground-penetrating radar indicated 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School. The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation said last month the discovery in Kamloops was made using the same technology.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2021.
The Canadian Press