Sep 09 2011
The ashes lie between us in a little box wrapped in plain brown paper, corners perfectly folded, taped shut, by fingers nimble, unknown.
The label is from Ocean View Burial Park, in Burnaby, B.C., identifying in hand-written ink the cremated remains of No. 7761: Alexander N. Eames, Jan. 15, 1965.
"I would like to adopt him," says Joe Healy, ending a long story with a catchphrase. "I would like to adopt the dead."
Indeed, Healy has unearthed a forgotten mystery with an express purpose: to give it a proper burial, with red serge and bagpipes and suitably sad music.
If it is true the Mounties always get their man, then Healy finds their bones. As a retirement project, now all consuming, he started a website (www. rcmpgraves.com) in which he attempts to catalogue the final resting places of former RCMP members.
It began with a smattering of ones and twos. He is now up to 18,000 entries, which contain the names, dates, service milestones, gravesites and photos of departed Mounties.
Inasmuch as this is a colossal achievement - it consumes hours a day, seven days a week, and relies on a circle of at least 15 regular helpers - nothing in the fouryear compilation prepared him for the story of Assistant Commissioner A.N. Eames, now resting square on the coffee table in his Alta Vista home.
"A Magnificent, Monumental, Memorable Mystery," he has titled it in a website account.
Overwrought, possibly, but this is Healy. He is 67, perky as a sunflower, retired from the RCMP after 36 years of service at the rank of superintendent, dogged as they come, a New Brunswick native who, as a kid, dressed up and dreamed of being only one thing - a Mountie.
To back up, Eames is etched in RCMP history for his role in directing the hunt for the Mad Trapper of Rat River, a well-armed oddball who was the subject of an internationally famous manhunt in Yukon in 1932. He would kill a Mountie, wound two other peace officers and lead police on a 150-kilometre chase through the wilderness, in - 40C weather.
Eames, born in Wales in 1883, was then the inspector in charge of the western Arctic. The story was the stuff of movies: it involved dog teams and dynamite, multiple gunfire, the early use of aircraft for criminal work, all unfolding to a world enthralled with radio.
"I kind of see (Eames) as my grandfather," says Healy, who has read several books on the Mad Trapper and has scoured the official RCMP case file, including many entries by Eames himself.
During the compilation of the website, Healy received a note from a regular contributor, Reg Keatley of Calgary. They had the death certificate for Eames, but where was he buried?
So began the search. They knew, from newspaper clippings, he had a proper funeral and was cremated at Ocean View. What became of the remains?
His widow, Margaret, who survived him by 18 years, left no clue. They had no children.
Healy called the funeral home and connected with a sympathetic administrator. She checked the log. The remains were never signed out, which was curious.
"I was devastated," said Healy, of apparently reaching a dead end. Eames was one of his heroes; would he not take his rightful place on the website, with the other RCMP royalty?
It was possible, she explained, that the remains were in storage there, along with hundreds of others. It would be a time-consuming task. But Healy wouldn't give up.
Over the course of about seven months, he would call from his Ottawa home to ask if anything had turned up. No, no and still no. Finally, she asked some longtime groundcrew to get involved.
In January, the phone rang. It was the funeral home. "Guess what's sitting on my desk?" was the gist of the message. The remains of Alexander N. Eames, tucked away for 46 years, were again being held by warm hands; misfiled in a tower, it turns out.
Without hesitation, the funeral home shipped them to Healy the next day; he still shudders slightly at how the delivery man "tossed" the parcel at him from a lower step on the porch. Being a painstaking record-keeper, Healy photographed himself (in full uniform) with the remains, outdoors in a snowstorm, that very night.
Now what to do?
Healy saw three options for burial: in the Vancouver area, where he lived and worked; at the RCMP training centre in Regina; or at the RCMP's Memorial Cemetery at Beechwood in Ottawa, officially dedicated in 2004.
Healy is leaning toward the Ottawa option and has brought Commissioner William Elliott into the loop. He is already conceiving a tasteful ceremony, possibly in the spring of 2012, with an honour guard, piper, choir, a chaplain, guests of honour.
His next task, already underway, is to find an Eames descendant in Britain and determine whether there is any interest in attending the ceremony.
"He will have a distinctive resting place," says Healy. "He will have a distinguished marker."
In the 18 months it took to unravel this mystery, he has regularly thought about the unusual bond he formed with Eames.
His first posting in 1965, for instance, was in Burnaby. He would have driven by Ocean View hundreds of times during patrols - even attended services there - not knowing one of his idols was resting steps away in a small box.
And - who could know? - that 46 years later, the unofficial RCMP grave-finder would become the grave-maker; burying old ashes, bringing alive a piece of his own lore.