A Tofino church is the latest victim of vandals and arsonists who have been targeting religious institutions across Canada. Residents of this small coastal, tourism-based community woke Friday morning to learn of a fire at the St. Columba Anglican Church. Members of the small congregation say they’re heartbroken.
The church is nearly a century old and has been closed during the pandemic. Though firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze before the church sustained major structural damage, it will take even longer for its doors to reopen.
“It definitely hurts, and it hurts so many of the members of our community,” said Willa Bradshaw in a CHEK News report.
She was married at the church and said it has been an important part of her life and that of the entire community.
The fire comes just weeks after the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Similar fires took place at other churches this week, including St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Nanaimo on Canada Day.
The Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in Tofino says violence isn’t the answer to the past injustices and abuses of the residential school system.
“We don’t condone what took place in residential schools. People part of the church now are not directly responsible for what took place in the past,” the Tla-o-qui-aht said in a statement sent to CHEK News, “We don’t believe in retribution in this way. We are peace-loving people.”
The investigation into the fire is ongoing, and Tofino RCMP is asking anyone with information to contact them.
“This church has been in Tofino for over 100 years and is of significant historical importance to the community,” said B.C. RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Chris Manseau in a statement Friday.