WHITNEY PIER, N.S. -- The chair of the St. Mary's Polish Church council says dozens of people gathered outside the Nova Scotia church Saturday and wept as the 101-year-old building was reduced to rubble after being ravaged by a fire.

Tom Urbaniak said the fire at the historic church in Whitney Pier broke out around 12:20 p.m. Saturday.

He said it was a sombre scene as parishioners and neighbours watched the wooden church with one steeple go up in flames.

"It was an incredibly emotional and devastating scene," he said on Sunday. "This was more than a building on fire. This was a sacred place. A place that contained one-of-a-kind numerous pieces of art that had been done by parishioners or ancestors of parishioners.

"It was simply irreplaceable."

No one was injured.

Firefighters were able to salvage two of the church's signs and officials will scour the rubble in the coming days for other salvageable mementoes, Urbaniak said.

"The firefighters... knew it was really important to save something," said Urbaniak. "As soon as they had a moment they actually extracted those signs and came up to the some of the parishioners who were gathered and presented the signs. It was very touching."

Urbaniak said parishioners have already decided to rebuild the church. He said the parish wants to stay together.

"It really is a base for serving the broader community in so many ways," said Urbaniak, adding that it was on the only Polish church in Atlantic Canada. "The community service is a huge, huge part of the ethic of the parish."

Urbaniak said the fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the blaze, which is believed to have started in the back of the church.