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NNSL Photo/graphic

The charred book in front of Rev. Ron McLean is the church register, detailing every birth, death, wedding, funeral and service since 1971. Some of the information is stored in other places, but some of it is lost forever. - Kent Driscoll/NNSL photo

Arson claims Iqaluit church

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 14/05) - The RCMP and the fire marshall have confirmed the worst fears of Anglican churchgoers in Iqaluit. The Nov. 5 fire that gutted St. Judes Cathedral was intentionally started.

RCMP have not arrested anyone for the arson, but the investigation continues.

"We are still reeling, but we are not letting it defeat us. Our members feel violated," said Rev. Captain Ron McLean.

Rev. Mike Gardner was the man in charge at the parish before McLean, and was shocked to hear the news.

"I went down immediately. I couldn't believe it. I thought it might be fire practice. (Firefighters) had been there the week before," said Gardner. "It's not the end of everything. We shall overcome this."

Sunday services are being held in the parish hall.

The Anglican youth revival is going on as planned. Many of the events were already planned for the school next to the church.

Damage to the church is extensive. Iqaluit firefighters arrived at the scene 9:23 p.m. and were on the scene until 12:50 a.m.

When they arrived, they were greeted by "large amounts of smoke coming out of the front entrance," said acting fire chief Greg Jewers.

Tapestries that decorate the church were consumed by flames. The Dean's chair - imported from Oxford, England - is a complete write-off. Choir robes are smoke damaged.

Some things fared better than others. The pulpit, altar and front rails of the church will be useable after some clean-up and repair.

One of the most irreplaceable items is the church register. It recorded births, deaths, weddings, funerals and attendance. It is heavily damaged, but some of the information was copied and stored in other locations.

It could have been much worse.

The plexiglass windows at the top of the dome started to melt. If they had melted completely, it would have created a chimney for smoke and oxygen, fuelling the fire, said Jewers.

The biggest remaining question is the church building itself. Giant support beams were burned and the church may have to be levelled.

An insurance adjustor was expected this week and will make a recommendation to the church

If forced to tear down the iglu-shaped dome, the church has a plan ready. They had been looking at expanding the building, and already have ambitious plans.

A consultant was hired to develop an expansion scheme that retains the iglu character of the building while giving it a more modern feel.

"It is something we weren't going to look at for another year or two," said McLean.

Donations have already started to pour in. A private citizen donated $1,000 toward re-building efforts very soon after the fire.

Nunavut Investment Group Inc. has come forward with $10,000 in-kind services.

"Were trying to help them out with their immediate needs, to provide storage and help restore some of the items," said the group's president and CEO Johnny Mike.

"As a human being, I have to do something and this company allows me to do more," added Mike.

The church was built by community volunteers in 1971 and officially opened its doors in 1972.

In 1970 Queen Elizabeth II turned over the ceremonial first sod, and the silver shovel she used stood in the back of the church.

There is no word on the fate of the shovel.

The church is the cathedral for the Anglican Arctic region. Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk is expected to tour the site early this week.