The historic and iconic Old McDougall Church near Morley, Alta., was destroyed by fire Saturday night.
In a post on the church’s Facebook page, the church said the fire is a suspected case of arson.
“McDougall Church fire update: Arson is the suspected cause of the fire. The church is absolutely destroyed. This is a tough time for the volunteers, family and friends,” the post reads.
The church was built in 1875, according to the website historicplaces.ca. It was formally recognized as a historic place in 1979.
“I am heartbroken,” chair of the McDougall Stoney Mission Society Ann McDougall told Global News in a phone interview Monday.
“It’s been very popular for the last five or six years, especially for weddings and baptisms, the odd funeral for the people in the district.
“We’ve had a great deal of visitors. I think people have really enjoyed the location of the church, because the mountains are clear and the river is there, and we have a huge amount of the … original grass of the area.”
“I just couldn’t believe it,” McDougall said when describing her reaction to hearing the news of the fire from the RCMP.
“I just thought, it stood there for all these years and to have someone, or somehow — I guess you can’t blame anyone because we don’t know who could have possibly started the — but to have that destroyed, because it’s the whole history of the area.”
Cochrane RCMP said in a release Monday afternoon they were called to the scene at about 4 a.m. Monday, and found the church “fully engulfed in flames.”
“Sadly the historic church could not be saved,” police said in the statement.
The lead fire investigator working on the scene said Tuesday there is probable cause for a set fire, due to the inappropriate use or disposal of an unknown combustible material.
The entire investigation could take months, and the RCMP is heavily involved in trying to determine what caused the blaze.
The Gothic-style church featured a central steeple, shingled, front-gabled roof and pointed arch windows and front door, the heritage website says. It also had stained glass windows and its original bell and other artifacts.
The character-filled church was a popular destination for weddings. In a post on Friday, May 19, the church said there were still openings for 2017 weddings.
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