As it turned out, I chose an auspicious day to visit to the Ontario Police College in Aylmer, Ont.
The first thing noticed driving into town that cold March morning was all the police cruisers.
“This has to be the best protected little town in Ontario,” mused Ron RealeSmith, my driver. Ron, president of the Sarnia Historical Society, and I were visiting the college to research my soon-to-be-published history of policing in Sarnia.
The Ontario Police College provides basic training for every municipal police officer in the province, as well as RCMP, OPP and First Nations officers. More than 420 of them were on campus – 28% of them women.
Signing in we met Sgt. Major Jim Berney, who took us on an extended tour. First stop was the Wall of Honour, which contains memorial plaques dedicated to officers who gave their lives in the performance of police duties.
Each day, on the death anniversary of one fallen officers, the college conducts a brief ceremony at the Wall of Honour with a colour party of uniformed students. A memorial ribbon is attached to the plaque of that officer for the rest of the day.
Ron asked to see the plaques for Sarnia’s two line-of-duty deaths.
“What year was the first one?” Sgt. Major Berney asked.
We replied, “1936,” and the plaque was quickly found: “Constable Jack Lewis, killed by Canada’s Public Enemy Number One, Norman (Red) Ryan.”
“The second one?” Berney asked.
“1944,” I told him. “Constable Roy Vanderveer”
Birney looked at me in surprise. “Vanderveer,” he repeated. “He was the officer we honoured this morning.”
Incredibly, by sheer coincidence, we had visited the Ontario Police College on the 75th anniversary of Constable Roy Vanderveer’s death.
Just eight years after the shooting death of Const. Jack Lewis, and not long after the notable passing of Chief W.J. Lannin, one of its longest-serving chiefs, the Sarnia force was struck by another loss.
In March of 1944, while riding a motorcycle in pursuit of a speeding vehicle, Const. Roy Vanderveer collided with a train at a level crossing and was killed.
The city’s second line-of-duty death took an eight-year veteran of the force and a father of two. Roy Vanderveer’s tragic death was another reminder of the risks officers face in keeping the peace.
Last September, the Sarnia Historical Society erected a memorial plaque on the site of Const. Jack Lewis’ death. Similar plans are underway to honour Sarnia’s second police line-of-duty death.