OPINION: Two shot police officers share a remarkable connection

Helen Lewis, daughter-in-law of the late Const. Jack Lewis, stands with her daughter Heather Lewis before a new plaque honouring the Sarnia Police officer who was shot and killed by Norman “Red” Ryan. Troy Shantz

In the 160-year history of the Sarnia Police Service only two officers have ever been shot in the line of duty.

The shootings occurred 62 years apart. Yet they share an uncanny link.

In 1936, Const. Jack Lewis was shot and killed by the notorious gangster Red Ryan during a liquor store robbery on Christina Street.

And in 1998, Const. Laurie Griffin was injured by a shotgun blast during a struggle with the gunman on Stuart Street. Thankfully, it wasn’t fatal. His finger was damaged and he was off work five and a half weeks.

But here’s the remarkable thing. Jack Lewis was Laurie Griffin’s great uncle.

Sarnia Police Const. Laurie Griffin was shot and injured 62 years after his
great uncle, Const. Jack Lewis, was killed in a gun battle with gangster Red Ryan.
Submitted Photo

In other words, the only two officers ever shot in 160 years of Sarnia policing were members of the same family. Jack Lewis’ wife was Vera Hardick. Laurie Griffin’s mother, Thelda Hardick, was Jack’s niece.

In 1998, the Canadian Government officially proclaimed the last Sunday of September each year National Police and Peace Officers Memorial Day. Across the nation, flags fall to half-staff as we remember almost 900 fallen police officers across Canada, slain while on active service.

That same date, Sept. 29, is the religious feast day of St. Michael the Archangel. St. Michael is the patron saint of police officers and soldiers, and is regarded as the commanding general in God’s army against evil.

“St. Michael, protect us in battle,” is a prayer offered by believers facing danger.

The tragic story of Jack Lewis and the chilling tale of his grand nephew, Laurie Griffin, are striking reminders of the ever-present and often-unexpected dangers faced by men and women in policing.

Jack Lewis and Laurie Griffin are not the only officers ever fired upon, threatened or physically attacked. In the two years I’ve spent researching the history of Sarnia Police, I’ve been staggered by the perils officers routinely encounter — far more, I believe, than most citizens of this city imagine.

Sarnia has had two police officers killed in the line-of-duty, and we will remember them on Sept. 29. In addition to Jack Lewis, G. Roy Vanderveer, a motorcycle patrolman, died on a cold, miserable night in March of 1944 in a collision with a train at the Suncor curve while pursuing a fleeing motorist.

I regard these officers as heroes, and will honour and remember them on National Police and Peace Officers Memorial Day.

Editor’s Note: The stories of Jack Lewis, Laurie Griffin and many others will be featured in Phil Egan’s new book, Keeping the Peace: 160 Years of Policing the Imperial City, available soon.