I am saddened to report that St. Paul's church, in my hometown of Aylmer, Quebec, was completely gutted by fire last night. The flames raged for hours and eventually brought down the roof and the iconic steeple.
St. Paul's was erected in 1862 by the French Catholic parish and was the landmark structure of Aylmer. You could see its steeple for miles. In fact, on a clear day you could pick it out as you drove north towards Ottawa on the 416--in the distance, across the Ottawa River, you could always see the steeple rising above the valley.
Generations of Aylmer's citizenry were baptized, married, and eulogized at St. Paul's. Right across the street is St. Paul's School, where my dad went to primary school. Aylmer (pop. 41,000) has always been a small community and despite its forced amalgamation in 2002 with Hull and Gatineau to form a new City of Gatineau, Aylmer retained its own identity and civic pride. The loss of St. Paul's Church will be deeply felt across the city.
Update: “There is some evidence that it may have been a criminal act,” police spokeswoman Isabelle Poirier told reporters Thursday morning.