Three brothers made a pilgrimage to Toronto in search of a further connection to their father – Metropolitan Toronto Police Force Constable Leslie Maitland, who died in the line of duty in 1973.
John, David and Leslie Maitland travelled from Scotland and England to retrace the steps of their father, connect with the Service and former colleagues who worked alongside their father.
The Maitland brothers finally found the time, between work and family, to make the trip, reinforced by the passing of Brian McCullum in 2016, the rookie unarmed officer who had been with their father that day and been shot at himself.
“At that point, we realized a long time has passed and everyone’s getting on in years, including ourselves, and we knew it’s something we had to do, sooner rather than later,” says John, noting it was most important to connect with his fellow officers who had served alongside him.
He says they had all been to Toronto several times, visiting their father’s brother, Henry, who died in 2008, but never delved deeply into their father’s policing career.
On February 1, 1973, Constable Leslie Maitland noticed a speeding car after a bank robbery. He gave chase until it crashed into a garage. As he approached the vehicle, the driver shot Maitland four times. He died en route to hospital. He was 35, leaving behind his pregnant wife, Pauline, and two boys, John, 3, and David, 1, at the time. Leslie Jr. was born later that year in Toronto, shortly before the family moved back to Scotland.
Maitland’s death marked a stretch of violence directed at officers. Constable James Lothian was shot and killed weeks earlier, and Detectives Michael Irwin and Douglas Sinclair almost a year earlier. His death also strengthened the argument to build a tower for the radio system, which could only handle two calls at a time, which was jammed in the time after the shooting and eventual arrest of the suspect.
Maitland, Badge 2442, had been a Toronto cop for six years, recruited from the City of Glasgow Police in Scotland, where he served for nine years before joining hundreds of Scottish officers immigrating to Toronto.
David said learning about their father as a police officer, colleague and friend, was most important.
“We always knew the facts of what happened around our dad’s death. What was more important to us, in this visit, was to meet some of the former police officers and friends who worked with him. What was he like as a police officer? But, more importantly, what was he like as a person?” David says. “Without exception, all of our dad’s former friends and colleagues in the police told us that he was a quiet, humble and considered man, who enjoyed spending time with his young sons. He was a good police officer who was happiest liaising with the local community where he patrolled.”
They found great solace in the words of colleagues who joined them at Scotland Yard pub to share stories over a pint, where they heard about the gentleman constable who took pride in his family, work and Beaches community.
Living on Lee Avenue, he would be seen with his young sons or walking to work in uniform, smoking his pipe along the way.
“Every single person we met who knew him summed our Dad up as a lovely guy and they were pleased to call him a friend, as well as a colleague. That, for us, is the biggest compliment of all,” Les says. “It was very important. We’d like to think many of our Dad’s values have played a part in shaping our own personalities and, indeed, in his grandchildren.”
Retired officer John Bernard Berry said the more than a dozen retired officers who came to meet Maitland’s sons felt it was important to connect.
“I think it’s Important for them to know their father better and important for us to meet them,” he says.
Ian Leslie, an officer with whom Maitland played matchmaker and his best man at his wedding, says connecting was special.
“These boys have turned out nicely. They’ve been through a lot,” he says. “Les would have been very proud of them.”
He says the friend he lost to gun violence was a natural police officer, dedicated to his job and his Beaches community, where he preferred the local independent shops.
“We all lost, the police service, his friends, his family and the city,” says Leslie, of his death that brought so much sadness to all.
All remembered him as deliberate, in his deportment with his pressed uniforms and careful consideration of each question he was asked, and his willingness to listen to answers from both officers and those he was investigating.
"He was a real gentleman. He would never get upset at anyone. He had the patience and he listened to people. I never heard Les downgrade anybody,” says John Conroy, who was always impressed with Maitland’s ease on the job. “He was calm and easy-going.”
He showed respect to people he met on the beat and received it when he walked into the room for parade before his shift.
Jack Zeggil, who drove three hours to meet Maitland’s sons, said, “We just have nothing but praise for their father. I never saw that man lose his cool.”
Zeggil displayed the yellowed Toronto Sun from the day where 2,000 officers lined Queen St. E. in the bitter cold as an honour guard to the funeral procession.
“He had so much respect from everyone,” Zeggil says. “It was the saddest day of my policing career.”
Retired officer Colin Davies organized the Toronto Police Alumni and Constable Steve Hammond, of the Office of the Chief, arranged for a meeting with the Chief at headquarters, tour of the Toronto Police Museum with Norina D’Agostini, who researched Maitland’s service, tour of the Marine Unit and look at what modern-day policing looks like at their father’s former 55 Division, where they met with Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon and Superintendent Reuben Stroble.
“The hospitality shown from all of the Toronto Police Service, from Chief Saunders and his team, with special thanks to Steve Hammond, was amazing. We had the privilege of meeting Chief Saunders,” says Les, noting that Toronto has never been so impressive for a visitor and, as holders of Canadian passports, a place they wouldn’t mind calling home. “But, for us, the real highlight of the trip was meeting up with our dad’s former police colleagues and friends. There was certainly sadness looking back, but the overall mood was very positive, fun and a general agreement this was a great day to be a part of.”
Les says the meeting meant a great deal to his mother and they made plans for old friends to meet with her in Scotland later in the year.
Chief Mark Saunders presented the Maitlands with a shadow box containing a warrant card and badge of their father, and a binder with his personnel file.
“It’s so important to connect to our past, our traditions and our history,” the Chief told them, as they met in his seventh-floor office. “Talking to you here today emphasizes that for me.”