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Rural Alberta community group vows to restore historic church damaged by arson

St. Aidan's lost its front entrance and a portion of the roof in an arson on Dec. 7. The building also sustained smoke and water damage, said Brenda Baron, vice-president of the community church society. (Submitted by Brenda Baron - image credit)
St. Aidan's lost its front entrance and a portion of the roof in an arson on Dec. 7. The building also sustained smoke and water damage, said Brenda Baron, vice-president of the community church society. (Submitted by Brenda Baron - image credit)

A community group in the County of Barrhead, northwest of Edmonton, has committed to restoring a historic church after an arson attack in December left the building extensively damaged.

St. Aidan's Community Church of Glenreagh and Bloomsbury Society, five kilometres northwest of the town of Barrhead, was damaged by fire on the evening of Dec. 7.

Pioneer Memorial Church, 20 km west of the town, burned to the ground the same night.

RCMP said both fires were intentionally set.

A recent CBC investigation found 33 Canadian churches have been destroyed by fire since 2021. Of those, 24 were confirmed arsons; two were ruled accidental.
A recent CBC investigation found 33 Canadian churches have been destroyed by fire since 2021. Of those, 24 were confirmed arsons; two were ruled accidental.

A recent CBC investigation found 33 Canadian churches have been destroyed by fire since 2021. Of those, 24 were confirmed arsons; two were ruled accidental. (Submitted by RCMP Alberta)

A recent CBC investigation found 33 Canadian churches have been destroyed by fire since 2021. Of those, 24 were confirmed arsons; two were ruled accidental. Dozens more churches have been vandalized.

A researcher and some community leaders suggested Canada's colonial history and recent discoveries of potential burial sites at former residential schools may have been at play in the arsons.

St. Aidan's lost its front entrance and a portion of the roof in the fire. The building also sustained smoke and water damage, said Brenda Baron, vice-president of the community church society.

At a meeting Dec. 19, members of the society voted unanimously to restore St. Aidan's.

The group estimates it will cost about $30,000 to fix the exterior, and more will be needed for the interior restoration.

"What we're doing right now is applying to become a charitable organization so we can receive donations and give tax receipts," Baron told CBC's Edmonton AM.

"We may also be able to apply for some grants."

An online fundraising campaign has raised about $2,600 of its $100,000 goal.

The church was established in 1911 and became a community church in 1975. A small group of volunteers looks after the building and its cemetery.

A small group of volunteers looks after the building and its cemetery. 
A small group of volunteers looks after the building and its cemetery.

A small group of volunteers looks after the building and its cemetery.  (Submitted by Brenda Baron)

Baron said the arson at St. Aidan's was upsetting to her and others in the church community.

"I got the call that same evening, so I was very shocked," she said. "It's sadness, it's disappointment that someone would choose to set that building on fire."

Baron's connection to the church is rooted deep. Her grandfather immigrated to the area from England in 1909, and was likely involved in building St. Aidan's, she said.

Baron was baptized in the church where her mother had been baptized, confirmed and married.

"And 18 months ago, we had her funeral service on the steps of that church, so it's a very close family connection," Baron said.

'Living pieces of history'

Doug Drozd, reeve of the County of Barrhead, said he isn't surprised that members of the St. Aidan's community have decided to restore their church.

"The group is still a fairly active group," Drozd said in an interview.

"They have a younger and more dynamic membership and I believe that they would come together to repair, replace what needs to be done."

Drozd said both churches served the community as historical landmarks where people would come in to pay respects to their loved ones.

"They were like antiques, living pieces of history for people."