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Lest we forget: identifying and remembering fallen officers


March 5, 2020
By John Burchill

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At Manitoba’s annual police memorial for fallen officers in 2019, supported in part by the Manitoba Association of Chiefs of Police, the name John William Clarkson was read into the rolls for the first time. Const. Clarkson had been shot twice at close range with a shotgun while awaiting service of a court order on a farm outside of Treherne, Man.

The murder of Const. Clarkson may not resonate with any of you as it happened 115 years ago.

In 1905, almost every town or municipality in Manitoba had its own constable. Gradually, policing in small towns was taken over by provincial or regional policing. The Winnipeg Police Service itself is a combination of 13 different municipal or town police departments. Treherne is now policed by the RCMP.

Manitoba is no different from other provinces. Over the last 60 years, regionalized policing has become a priority for many provincial governments. From 1962 to 1996, 153 police services in Ontario were amalgamated by the provincial government into 11 regional police services and from 1988 to 2014 the number of municipal police service contracts entered into by the OPP increased from 16 to 145.

In Quebec, the number of municipal police services dropped by 72 per cent from 109 to 30 in just over 10 years after the introduction of amendments to the Quebec Police Act in 2000.

All this is to say that with amalgamation or regionalization of policing services, tragic incidents involving small municipal or town police officers may be forgotten with time — just as it was with John William Clarkson.

Clarkson was born in Manchester, England, on Nov.16, 1883. He came to Canada in May 1904 after serving in the 1st Life Guards in England for four years. He originally joined the Winnipeg Police in December 1904, however, he moved to Treherne in the summer of 1905 where he became the town constable, deputy sheriff and deputy bailiff.

I discovered Clarkson’s murder by accident while doing research on another matter. There were no records left in the Town of Treherne about the murder but the details were covered closely in the local media. He had gone to Eli Grobb’s farm on Nov. 17, 1905 to serve court documents and seize goods under the Seed Grain Mortgage Act.

Grobb was not home so Clarkson waited for him. When Grobb returned, he wasn’t happy to see Clarkson and shot him twice at close range. Grobb cleaned his gun, cleaned up the scene and then loaded Clarkson’s body face down into a wheelbarrow, depositing him and the wheelbarrow in the yard near the granary. Grobb then went to Treherne and gave himself up.

Grobb was arrested, taken to Portage la Prairie and held for trial. On Nov. 2, 1906, after hearing all the evidence and all the experts, the jury found that Grobb was not guilty by reason of insanity. He was spared the death penalty and was sentenced by Justice Perdue to an indefinite period to be served at the pleasure of the Crown.

Any time you come across a reference to a police officer killed in the line of duty, especially if it was more than 60 years ago, I would recommend checking it against the national police and peace officer memorial in Ottawa to make sure it has not been forgotten. This is the second time I have added a fallen officer to the police memorial from a forgotten police department. The last was about 20 years ago. So, I do wonder how many more there might be out there.

Lest we forget.