156-year-old church destroyed in fire

St. James’ Anglican Church, which was built in 1863, burned down April 9 in a fire police have deemed ‘suspicious.’ Photo: Google Street View
Published April 11, 2019

Parishioners of St. James’ Anglican Church in Roseneath, Ont., are grieving the loss of their church after the historic building was destroyed by a fire the evening of April 9.

The Rev. Bryce Sangster, rector of the parish of Campbellford, Hastings and Roseneath, says the blaze started around 10:15 p.m. By the time he arrived on the scene close to 11:30 p.m., smoke was rising from the front of the church, the only part of the building left standing.

“It’s tough…I can’t shut off. I can’t read, I can’t do anything else,” says Sangster, when asked how he is feeling.

While the church was completely destroyed, Sangster says he hopes its bell may be salvageable. However, no one has been allowed at the scene, which is currently being preserved by police as part of an investigation.

The church is the third building in the area to be destroyed by fire in less than a month, and police are considering the fire “suspicious,” according to a Global News report.

About 15 people regularly attend the church, which was built in 1863. Many have been coming for years.

“One woman, I couldn’t talk to [her] because she was so distraught…. She [was] still ringing the bell, and she used to do that as a kid,” says Sangster.

The fire came on the heels of a dedication Sunday a few weeks previous, when the church paid tribute to a man who had done a good deal of work on the church building. The congregation also dedicated an altar cloth in memory of a woman who recently died.

“The altar cloth was in the church that day and then got taken home, and the person that had it forgot it last Sunday. So it’s still hanging in their house,” says Sangster. “I said, ‘Bring it on Sunday.’ That’s the one thing that we have left, that we know of, that will be the continuation from the old church.”

The congregation will meet this Sunday in the nearby Alnwick Civic Centre at 11 a.m.

Though details of where the church will meet after next Sunday are still being determined, Sangster says there is already talk of rebuilding the church.

An historic cemetery, with monuments dating back more than a century and an eco-friendly interment area, surrounds the site of the church. Hopes for rebuilding are twofold, he says: “a place for us to worship on Sunday morning and something to continue the cemetery, its presence in the community.”

Sangster says support has been pouring in since the fire. A Peterborough church has organized a “travelling communion set” for the church’s Eucharist this upcoming Sunday, and diocese of Toronto Area Bishop for Trent-Durham Riscylla Shaw visited April 10.

Still, for St. James’ parishioners, the pain remains fresh, Sangster says.

“We’re still grieving. In a sense, I don’t think the shock has even worn off yet.”


  • Joelle Kidd

    Joelle Kidd was a staff writer for the Anglican Journal from 2017 to 2021.

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