Historic Tribute to Fallen

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 1:54 p.m. May 4, 2015
Updated: 3:36 p.m. May 4, 2015

While trying to make an arrest in June 1908, Constable John Acton was severely beaten by a gang of thugs behind the Majestic Hotel on Queen St. W.

Members in uniform saluting
Members of the Toronto Police Service Salute.

He never recovered from his injuries and died a few months later, in hospital, of complications from pneumonia, which was common with rib injuries and the inability to breathe deeply.

On the job for just four years, Acton was single at the time of his death.

Just over a decade ago, it dawned on John Acton – who was named after his great uncle – that his relative’s name wasn’t inscribed on the granite wall at the Queen’s Park memorial site that honours Ontario police officers who have died in the line of duty.

“We are happy that situation is rectified and John is getting the honour he truly deserves,” said Acton, who attended last Sunday’s Ontario Police Memorial ceremony with several family members. “This is a real special day for his family. I have gone to the area where he was beaten up and I have his billy stick and some of his other memorabilia from the job.”

Acton joined Thunder Bay police officer Joseph Prevett, who suffered a heart attack a year ago while participating in a joint training exercise at the Ontario Provincial Police K-9 training centre in Gravenhurst, and Canadian Forces Corporal Matthew Dinning – he was assigned to the military police – who was killed in 2006 while deployed in Afghanistan, as the new additions to the memorial wall.

Three officers walking, the middle one carrying a wreath.
Officers from Thunder Bay Police Services lay a wreath on behalf of police members from Ontario's Police Services and the RCMP.

“John Acton’s contributions are no less significant though he lived more than 100 years ago,” said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. “He served faithfully for four years and, although he died in 1908, time does not diminish his accomplishments or his sacrifice, just as it will not diminish our gratitude for the achievements and sacrifices of the other two officers we are adding to the wall. The legacy of these three extraordinary individuals is a humbling reminder of the courage and sacrifice on which our prosperity is built, and of all that our police officers and their families give of themselves now and in the past.”

Wynne noted that it takes an extraordinary act of courage for individuals to enlist to become police officers.

“Every day, in every town and city, the men and women of our police forces are put on the sharp edge of our society’s most complex challenges, violence and crime, of course, but also our more widespread challenges such as poverty, inequality, mental health, social inclusion,” she said. “It takes an extraordinary combination of bravery, selflessness and compassion to rise to these challenges but, when our police officers do, they embody the greatest ideals of a society that for generations has thrived to better understand one another, better care for and protect one another and live alongside one another in harmony.”

Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the province’s 29th Lieutenant Governor, said mourning every police officer who had made the ultimate sacrifice with their life is important.

“It’s critical that we honour courageous men and women for whom public security and community safety were not only a career, but a way of life,” she said. “Through the course of fulfilling their duties, these officers lost their lives...I could imagine the times in which John Acton lived. Toronto in 1908 could have been a dangerous and chaotic place, but he kept us safe.”

Ontario Police Memorial Foundation Chair Mike Abbott said the annual memorial is a reminder of the dangers that officers face every time they put on the uniform.

“Today, we honour our heroes in life, not death and we will never forget them,” said Abbott. “They stand for all that every one of us should aspire to be. They were prepared to lay down their lives in the service of the people of Ontario. We should be forever grateful.”

Mark Saunders attended the ceremony for the first time in his new capacity as acting Toronto Police Chief.

“This memorial is a sober reminder of what we do and are willing to do to keep others safe,” he said.

Saunders has attended the last three memorials with his son, Graham.

“He has gravitated to this event,” added Saunders. “He understands the importance of remembering those who have sacrificed their lives and he looks forward to accompanying me.”

This year’s memorial was special for Toronto Police chaplain Walter Kelly, who retired on April 30.

“I am honoured that Mike (Abbott) asked me to come here today to do the opening prayer and benediction,” said Kelly, who has also been invited by Saunders to officiate at his swearing-in ceremony later this month. “This has always been a special day for me to march with the officers or say prayers.”

Christine Russell brought her parents and young son Nolan along with her late husband Ryan Russell’s grandfather – 91-year-old Harold Russell -- to the memorial.

In January 2011, The 35-year-old, 11-year police officer succumbed to his injuries on January 12, after being struck by a snowplow after it was allegedly stolen at a downtown intersection. Sergeant Russell succumbed to his injuries after being struck by a snow plow that had been stolen at a downtown intersection.

“While today is a sad reminder, it’s also a day that celebrates those who have made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Russell.

The names of the 257 police officers who have died on the job are inscribed on a granite wall at the Queen’s Park memorial site.

Of the 41 city officers who made the ultimate sacrifice, Constable Laura Ellis is the only female to have died on the job.

She and her partner were responding to an emergency call on February 18, 2002, when they collided with another vehicle at Brimley Rd. & Huntingwood Dr., on her last shift before joining Durham Regional Police Service. She died at the scene.

a woman with a rose in her hands.
A woman holds a rose during the memorial ceremony at Queen's Park.

Sergeant David Shaw, who worked with Ellis, attended the memorial.

“Because of work and other commitments, this is only the second time I have been here since I joined the Service 24 years ago,” he said. “Laura was a great colleague and it’s important for me to remember her and the other officers who have died on the job.”

Prior to attending the memorial, about 50 officers from 13 Division had an early-morning breakfast at their station.

“Several weeks ago, we approached a few of the local businesses,” said Superintendent Scott Baptist, the unit commander. “The response was overwhelming and we really appreciate it. We had breakfast before jumping on the bus to come here. It’s important that we all take a moment to reflect on the importance of our careers and our duty and the fact that there are some of us who died while serving. We must never forget those fallen officers’ sacrifices.”

Inspector Richard Hegedus, of 33 Division, agreed. 

“We should never forget those officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty to keep our communities safe,” he said. “They put themselves out there to help people they don’t know, out of a sense of duty and responsibility.”

Detective Mike Catlin represented the New York Police Department at the memorial.

“This is about honouring our brethren and it doesn’t matter if it’s small force or a large force,” said Catlin, who has been on secondment for the last four years with the Toronto Police Service Intelligence Unit. “The NYPD lost 23 members in 9/11 which was my first year on the job.”

In the last 16 months, 164 American police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Constable William Boyd was the first Toronto officer to die in the line of duty in 1901.  While transporting prisoners, he was fatally shot by an escapee.

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