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Community consoles pastor after suspicious fire claims Chilcotin church

Art Joyce says ‘people are so, so good’

Long-time pastor Art Joyce said a big chunk of his life went up in flames when the Chilcotin Log Church burned down early Saturday, Feb. 10.

“It was only a building and no one got hurt,” said Joyce Monday, trying to look on the bright side. He and his late wife were part of the church community for 30 years.

The church was situated about 46 metres from his home in Hanceville about one hour west of Williams Lake on Highway 20.

Inside the log church there was a sanctuary, a kitchen, a storage room formerly used for Sunday school, and a free store.

Joyce’s late wife Diane ran the free store for many years.

Lately it had been looked after by three woman from the church and a woman from nearby Tl’etinqox First Nation.

The church was built about 50 years ago by an American, Joyce guessed and said when he and his wife arrived 30 years ago it had been abandoned and in rough shape.

While Joyce is licensed through a denomination to be a minister, he said the church is a free entity, not tied to any denomination and owned by a society.

“We had a little insurance, but out here the premiums are so high,” he said. “Our main expense was insurance.”

Their church destroyed, on Sunday, Feb. 11, the congregation met in a home. Joyce said the group has grown a bit lately and a home is not probably big enough so they are looking at some other options.

Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse said it was very unfortunate the church burned down.

“The old log church on Highway 20 has been there as long as I remember,” he said. “I hope they can get to the bottom of what happened.”

Adding it was good thing no one got hurt, Alphonse said the area has lost several structures to fires in recent years, including homes during the 2017 wildfires.

“We lost the buildings at Lee’s Corner as well. Art provided a service there and had good following of people that were always there. It’s a gathering place.”

The building will be missed, he added.

“It was a big part of the identity of that area. As time goes it seems as if we are losing a lot of places where our people in the Chilcotin would go to hang out and be. I don’t know what their long-term plans would be, but it is pretty difficult to replace it.”

Joyce, a retired forester, is not on social media, but said because news of the fire was initially shared on a Facebook post, he has received many phone calls.

“There are always good things that come from a disaster,” he said. “I have been inundated with good wishes and love.”

He received calls from people who never set foot in the church, but were concerned about him.

Praising his local community, he said he has incredible support here.

“People are so, so good.”

Investigation into the fire is continuing, according to the Alexis Creek RCMP.

READ MORE: String of incidents lead Alexis Creek RCMP to arrest fleeing man

Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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