Ceremony remembers sacrifice of brave city police constable

Helen Lewis, daughter-in-law of the late Jack Lewis, stands with her daughter Heather Lewis before a new plaque honouring the Sarnia Police officer. Troy Shantz

Phil Egan

The moment was both magical and haunting.

On Sept. 30 in crowded downtown hall, Detective Const. Ken McLachlin sang a ballad he’d written in honour of a fallen brother officer.

It was National Police and Peace Officers Day and present were more than 100 of the fallen officer’s family.

‘The Ballad of Jack Lewis’ tells the story of Sarnia’s first police line-of-duty death. Lewis was shot and killed by gangster Norman J. (Red) Ryan during a botched liquor store robbery in Sarnia on Victoria Day weekend in 1936.

And McLachlin sang the lyrics just steps from where Const. Lewis was slain.

The ballad was part of a commemorative plaque unveiling at 140 Christina St., the one-time site of Liquor Store 46. It was the city’s only liquor store in 1936 and the intended target of Ryan and gang member Harry Checkley that fateful Saturday 82 years ago.

The event was organized by the Sarnia Historical Society, Mayor Mike Bradley and the Sarnia Police Services Board.

Bradley expressed his regret to the Lewis family that the public memorial had taken so long to accomplish.

Grandchildren Heather Lewis and John Harding, who helped spread word of the dedication to other family members, never had a chance to meet their grandfather. When Lewis was shot he left behind wife Vera, daughter Donna, 10, and son Jack, 8.

But four generations of the Lewis family were there to mark the special day. Nieces Audrey Lewis Garrison, 91, and Wilma Hardick, 89, have fond memories of the 32-year-old constable.

“He loved children,” Garrison said. “We used to have so much fun with him.”

Wilma Hardick remembers her Uncle Jack reaching down to swing her up and onto his shoulders.

They clearly recall the grief that wracked the family that awful Victoria Day Saturday.

“I remember my grandmother lying on the lawn crying,” Hardick said.

A wave of shock swept through the town of 18,000 when news of the officer’s death spread. It was a profound and shared tragedy during a time when crime was rare locally and violent crime even rarer.

Jack Lewis was the city’s first police fatality but he wouldn’t be the last.

And now, 82 years later, Sarnia has remembered one of its true heroes.