Residents in a small town south of Morin Heights are devastated after their tiny, ancestral church was burnt to the ground.

For years, the community of Gore fought to preserve St. John's Shrewsbury Anglican Church, built in the 1830s. Due to rumours the tiny church was haunted, it was vandalized repeatedly over the years, but no one imagined it would be destroyed by arson.

Once the heart of a vibrant community, the church was a powerful symbol, said local resident Jason Morrison, who serves as one of the town’s municipal inspectors.

“My family was one of the first families that came here in the 1830s. My family helped build it in the 1850s. My son is the 8th generation of Morrisons to live here, so for me it’s a connection to our past,” he said.

Morrison said he was devastated when he got the call from a neighbour last week and found the church reduced to ashes.

“It was completely gut wrenching,” he said. “People have been talking about it for years saying someday someone's going to burn it down, but in my heart of hearts, I never thought it would actually happen. It takes a very depraved person to do that.”

For years, the church's remote location made it a target for vandals.

There was a rash of break-ins in 2008. At that time, the bottom of the steeple was kicked in and locals were especially angered to find their ancestors headstones knocked over in the cemetery.

The town erected signs and even cameras, which were promptly stolen.

Nothing seemed to keep intruders at bay

YouTube videos depicting the church as a ‘ghost church’ didn’t help any.

“There are six or seven websites about how the place is haunted. There's a high school in Saint-Jerome where it’s a rite of passage to come here and hunt the ghosts,” said Morrison. “I guess people didn't realize there are some of us here who actually care about this place.”

After local families united to restore the church to its former glory, the vandalism died down – until now.

“I cried like a schoolgirl,” said Gore Mayor Scott Pearce. “I don't know how else to put it. My secretary called and said, ‘Shrewsbury is gone.’ So it was tough.”

Police say it's arson but admit they don't have much to go on.

“The investigators are still on the case trying to find out what happened exactly,” said Surete du Quebec spokesperson Audrey-Anne Bilodeau.

Mayor Pearce said a $5,000 reward is being offered for any information that leads to an arrest.

“You have to send a message when this happens. You can't just let it go, because eventually the bad guys will win,” he said.

Many in Gore are determined to rebuild St. John's Church by talking to security companies to come up with solutions for a new church.

“It's our history, we can't lose it,” said Morrison.