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Arson suspected in fire that damaged historic Anglican church on Six Nations

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The Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office and police are investigating as arson a fire Saturday that damaged a historic church on Six Nations of the Grand River.

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The fire at St. John’s Tuscaroras, an Anglican church, has left community members reeling.

“I felt sick when I heard about it,” Don Lynch, a church trustee, said Monday. “I”m still feeling sick about and so are a lot of others.

“There are families, including mine, who have a connection to the church that goes back several generations.”

Lynch said the church is home to historical artifacts and stained glass windows. Those who died in the Second World War are also honoured in the church, he said.

Lynch’s grandfather, Samuel Anderson, rang the church bell to acknowledge a death in the community during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 to 1920.

Established in 1817, the church is now designated a “chapel of ease” under the Anglican Church Huron Diocese. The designation means that, while the building no longer functions as a regular church, it is opened for special services throughout the year.

Six Nations firefighters were called to the church at Tuscarora Road and Fifth Line shortly after 3 a.m. Saturday. Upon arrival, they found flames at the church entrance, which were moving upwards through the steeple.

Firefighters, with assistance from a crew from Brant County, were able to bring the fire under control within minutes of arrival.

The building suffered heavy fire and water damage in the entrance and steeple but a second set of doors and the work of firefighters helped limit damage to the church’s interior.

An investigator from fire marshal’s office was on scene Saturday and is working with Six Nations police.

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But Lynch said there’s no doubt the fire was arson.

He said he walked around the building Saturday and saw there had been several attempts to start a fire at various spots with gasoline.

Lynch said he believes the attempt to burn down the building is directly connected to the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Lynch and others with connections to the church met with officials from the Huron Diocese to consider next steps. Artifacts from the church have been removed for protection.

Noting the building wasn’t insured, Lynch said plans call for it to be evaluated for structural integrity to determine if it can be saved

“It has been an important part of our community for more than 200 years,” Lynch said.

He said that, at one time, the church was a hub of the community, with weddings and funerals held there.

“There are a lot of families with strong connections to that church.”

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