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Fire causes extensive damage to historic Usk Pioneer Chapel near Terrace

Investigation underway, authorities say no evidence of arson at this point
Extensive damage to the back wall and roof was reported.(Usk Pioneer Chapel/Facebook)

Extensive damage has been reported at the Usk Pioneer Chapel, a historic building located east of Terrace on Highway 16, after a fire broke broke out the morning of April 22.

A historic building, the chapel was built during Canada’s Centennial year in 1967 by members of the Terrace Christian Reformed Church (TCRC).

The Thornhill Fire Department responded to the fire at 6:38 a.m. April 22 after receiving a 911 call. Upon arrival, the fire crew found a passerby had knocked down the fire with an extinguisher they had in their car. The back wall of the building was damaged, the roof damaged and a cross hanging on the wall was charred.

The damages would have been more severe had it not been for the efforts of the passing motorist, said Rick Boehm, fire chief, Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine.

The fire crew was on scene for more than two hours and while the exact reason of what caused the fire is not known, the fire department and Terrace RCMP is investigating the case to determine its cause.

In a social media post, the Usk Pioneer Chapel has called the incident a “malicious act of vandalism.”

“The fire caused extensive damage but looks to be reparable,” read the Facebook post on April 22.

The building does not have electricity or water or utilities and the fire originated inside the building.

Authorities are urging caution against jumping to conclusions as to whether the fire was intentional.

“As of now, the cause of the fire is undetermined due to the lack of evidence,” said Boehm.

“There were a couple of church related fires in the province and we don’t want to create hysteria by jumping to conclusions.”

In a statement, Terrace RCMP spokesperson Cst. Kelly Cates said they are awaiting a final report from the Thornhill fire department but so far they have found no evidence of accelerants and there is no indication at this time that the fire was suspicious.

Due to its location fire insurance is not available and to help cover the cost of damages the Terrace Christian Reformed Church is welcoming donations. The cost is expected to be more than $5,000 with the roof and walls needing to be repaired.

The chapel was built at Usk, replacing a flood-damaged church named after Reverend Thomas Marsh from the early part of the 1900s. The inspiration for the chapel came from George Heimstra and it was Len VanderKwaak who proposed the small scale of 12 feet by 18 feet.

The chapel was built on a spare lot beside the VanderKwaak home on Sparks Street and moved by trailer to its present site. The steeple needed to be attached once it arrived because of the height. The land near where the Adams sawmill once stood was donated by Bill and Helene McRae.

Since placed at Usk, the chapel has maintained an open door policy and is available to the public for no charge. There have been many weddings at the chapel and stacks of guest books have names of visitors from around the world.

In July 2017 the Terrace Christian Reformed Church held a rededication ceremony which coincided with Canada’s 150th anniversary.

-With files from the Terrace Standard archives

READ MORE: Tiny Usk chapel to be rededicated near Terrace, B.C.