On Mar. 11, 1947, a fire broke out at the St. Francis of Assisi Parish church in Edmonton, which was next door to St. Francis Friary and St. Anthony’s College. The fire completely destroyed the church building and everything inside, including a Casavant pipe organ newly installed in 1944.
An excerpt from the St. Francis Friary chronicles gives a firsthand account of the fire:
About 1:15 AM. Fr Raymond Pennafort, Fr. Columban, and Br. Casimir and Br. Damian were awakened by explosions. St. Francis church was on fire. The flames were coming out the back windows. Fr. Columban and Br. Damian called the firemen. Br. Damian had Fr. Canisius phone. This brother had a great deal of difficulty getting to Fr. Canisius’ room, which is near the church.
The community was wakened as well as the students; all went outside. Br. Joseph Rheaume got out of his room by way of a fireman’s ladder.
It was impossible to save anything, not even the Blessed Sacrament. About 4 AM the fire was under control. The church was completely razed. The basement was more or less damaged by water and smoke. The bell rang while falling. The case of the fire is not determined yet, criminally set or short circuit.
Fr. Raymond Pennafort […] telephoned, or sent telegrams, to several superiors, including V.R. Fr. Provincial. Fr. Alphonse arrived from the East the morning of the fire. Messages of sympathy were received from several places.
Despite the huge blow from losing their church building, parishioners came together immediately. In 1949, a basement church was constructed and blessed by Archbishop MacDonald on 2 Oct 1949.
The Franciscan Archives of Western Canada preserves and provides access to the history and heritage of the Franciscan Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit of Canada. The Archives contains records from Western Canada, including British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. To learn more, visit us at archives.franciscanfriars.ca or email the archivist at ofm.archives[at]gmail.com.