On March 3, 2005, life ended for four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while performing their duties, and life changed for many others as a result of those deaths. The small northern Alberta farming community of Mayerthorpe could have become known simply as the nearest community to the site of those murders, but instead, residents rallied and built an organization and a memorial park that honours dedication and sacrifice in a positive way.
Last night, I had the honour of attending the 9th annual candelight vigil at the Fallen Four Memorial Park in Mayerthorpe. This is an event I’ve thought about a few times, but never thought that I would be able to attend – this year, the stars all aligned, and I made the 420-kilometer round trip.
The officers directly honoured at the Fallen Four Memorial Park are:
- Constable Anthony Gordon: 28 years old, he was born in Alberta, had been with the Force since October 2002, and was a member of the Whitecourt detachment;
- Constable Lionide (Leo) Johnston: 32 years old, he was born in Alberta, had been with the Force since 2001, and was a member of the Mayerthorpe detachment;
- Constable Brock Myrol: 29 years old, he was born in Saskatchewan, had only been with the Force for three weeks, and was a member of the Mayerthorpe detachment;
- Constable Peter Schiemann: 25 years old, he was born in Ontario, had been with the Force since November 2000, and was a member of the Mayerthorpe detachment.
I left Hinton at 3:00 pm to give myself plenty of time to take photos in Mayerthorpe before the 6:30 sunset, but heavy, snow-laden skies made the light very bad for shooting.
| Mayerthorpe is a typical northern-Prairies farming town, with a population of about 1,400. |
| The memorial park is located beside the Mayerthorpe RCMP detachment. In this photo, the park is in the distance on the left, the detachment on the right. |
| Behind the detachment can be seen some of the wide variety of vehicles needed to police a region like this. |
| An overall view of Fallen Four Memorial Park as most visitors will first see it (though I’m sure that it’s a much nicer view in the summer!). |
| As most of the park is deep in snow, only distant views were available for some features. The park cost $1.5 million to construct, and includes a picnic area, playground, a gazebo, gardens with walkways and benches, the memorial centre and the memorial sculptures. |
| The original plan for the memorial was to have bronze sculptures of each of the slain officers, placed in a circle to represent the circle of life. The 24-foot-high obelisk in the centre, capped by a rush of doves, was a late addition. |
| The plaque near the base of the obelisk reads: “Honouring ALL peace officers who have died in the line of duty. May their brave spirits soar. We give thanks for them, and for all who still protect and serve.” |
| By over-exposing this photo, you can see the wonderful detail in the sculptures which were created by Don Begg of Studio West Bronze Foundry & Art Gallery in Cochrane, Alberta. The sculptures are 10% larger than life, and correct right down to the uniform buttons and boot laces. The families of the officers worked with Begg to ensure that even postures and facial expressions were right. |
| I had no idea what to expect from the centre, and was immediately impressed by the size and quality of it. There are 2 main rooms, this one being the primary memorial room. The other room, about the same size, is primarily a gift shop, with a small area used as the Mayerthorpe Visitor Information Centre. |
| I was invited to watch a 20-minute video that describes the planning and construction of the park. It does an excellent job of showing how the community came together to make it a reality, with support from across the country and around the world. |
| Margaret Thibault, seen here in the video, has been the volunteer president of the Mayerthorpe Fallen Four Memorial Society since its formation in May 2005, and I spent a while talking with her about the project. To hear her passion for it is very moving. |
| Each of the fallen officers has an area with personal items of many varieties donated by family and friends. Among Brock Myrol’s items in the case are a pair of tiny leather shoes. |
| By 7:00 pm, about 30 people had gathered, a number that surprised me given the nasty weather – the temperature was -19°C but a moderate snowfall was being driven by a strong wind that dropped the wind chill into the -30s. While many of us were prepared for that sort of condition, the red serge dress uniforms that 3 of the Mounties were wearing are definitely not cold-weather wear. |
| Five large candles had been burning in the memorial centre, and participants had the choice of lighting a candle from them, or using small electric candles. Those with real candles unfortunately found that the wind blew them out immediately once they stepped outside and had to replace them with the electric ones. |
The remembrance, read by Margaret Thibault, was humbling to listen to. She described the use of candles at such remembrances: “…candles represent the light of quiet faith, the light of courage, the light of memory, the light of hope for the future, and and the strongest of all, the light of love.” She went on to say that candles also help us to meditate and contemplate, “to still our busy minds.”
| Each of the officers was introduced, and his statue’s position described: Brock Myrol is in the “stand easy” position, ready to take instruction and direction from his superiors; Anthony Gordon is in the “at ease” position; Leo Johnston stands “at attention”; and Peter Schiemann, the youngest officer but the longest-serving in Mayerthorpe, was given the “salute” position of honour. |
Six more peace officers were also added to the Honour Roll in 2013, represented by the fifth candle and by the obelisk:
- Cst. John Zivcac 34 years old, served 7 years with the Toronto Police Service;
- Cst. Michael Pegg, 36 years old, served 10 years with the York Regional Police, his last position being in the Air Support Unit;
- Conservation Officer Justin Knackstedt, 23 years old, served briefly with the Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Division;
- Cst. Jennifer Kovach, 26 years old, served 4 years with the Guelph Police Service;
- Cst. Steve Dery, 27 years old, served 3 years with the Kativik Regional Police Force;
- and Conservation Officer Howard Lavers, a 30-year veteran of the Newfoundland and Labrador Fish and Wildlife Conservation Division.
A baby crying during the minute of silence prompted a comment by Ms. Thibault after the silence that it was good to hear that noise, to remind us at such a time that the circle of life does go on.
It was an evening of many emotions – of pride that a small Prairie community could accomplish such a significant project, trying to imagine the pain as I was talking to Anthony Gordon’s mother, the pleasure of seeing one of the red-serge Mounties carrying his new baby, and so many more.
With the snow falling heavier and building fast, I had to leave much sooner than I would have liked to. My furry charges, though, needed me home that night. While I had arrived in Mayerthorpe with no small amount of trepidation about how the event might go, I left with a deep admiration about how the entire memorial had been handled.