Thursday, March 10, 2005

Thousands remember slain Mounties
10,000 officers from throughout Canada, continent gather in Edmonton for memorial service


EDMONTON — They turned out in the thousands today: a sea of RCMP officers, police from across North America, dignitaries, schoolchildren, everyday citizens, all of them filling up a cavernous pavilion to honour four young Mounties shot dead a week ago.

They came to remember RCMP constables Peter Schiemann, 25, Leo Johnston, 32, Anthony Gordon, 28, and Brock Myrol, 29, in an unprecedented police memorial service that transformed Edmonton into the setting for a national day of mourning that seemed destined for the history books.

“They have fallen in service to us,” Prime Minister Paul Martin told the sombre crowd of at least 10,000 crammed into the pavilion, known as the Butterdome because of its yellow-panelled exterior. ``The people of Canada owe an untold debt to these four officers and their families.”

Thousands more listened to the service outside under sunny skies as Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson offered words of comfort to the families of the slain Mounties during the service.

“What must never leave you is the gratitude of a nation,” she said. “These men so cared about the public good that they were willing to die to serve it. As we have always known, true honour is not for those who have received, but to those who have given.”

Singers Ian Tyson and Susan Aglukark performed at the service: Tyson a mournful rendition of his melancholy song Four Strong Winds, Aglukark a 1970s Fleetwood Mac song called Songbird.

But the day was dominated by the RCMP and its traditions.

Seat after seat and row upon row in the pavilion was occupied by hundreds of the Mounties’ in their world-famous red serge tunics. A group of four Mounties placed black pillows with the slain officers’ Stetsons on top of a traditional horse blanket used by the RCMP on their well-known musical rides just before the service started.

“Let there be no mistake that our strength is found in the morality of our cause and we will prevail in this test of faith,” said Bill Sweeney, the RCMP’s commanding officer of Alberta.

The service followed the stirring sight of a mass of Mounties, eight abreast in a scarlet ribbon that stretched for a kilometre, marching solemnly to the pavilion down a city thoroughfare.

People lined the parade route two-deep in bright morning sunshine, brushing away tears, sobbing or staring straight ahead.

The sombre mood was punctuated by the rhythmic clicking of boots on pavement, senior officers barking the cadence — “Left. Right. Left. Right!” — the steady thump of helicopters overhead and the mournful skirl of the bagpipes from the RCMP pipe band.

In the lead were Mounties on black horses, followed immediately by officers bearing the four Stetsons.

Behind came officers dressed in a rainbow of colours — the navy blue of the Edmonton police, the green of the U.S. border patrol, the sky blue of air ambulance pilots.

The badges proclaimed the U.S. Border Patrol, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the New Hampshire State Police, New Jersey State Police.

They came from Oregon, Minnesota and Alaska. They came from the Ontario Provincial Police along with forces in Waterloo, Durham, York, and Peel.

There were Parks Canada wardens, Calgary firefighters and Canadian Pacific Railway Police.

“We’ve got an extraordinary group of men and women who support us, protect us, and have a largely thankless job,” said parade-watcher Karin MacCarthy, waving a large flag.

“The least I could do is bring a Canadian flag to show we support them.”

Trina Johnson, 26, also of Edmonton, added, “I didn’t even know the people who died, but when you see this outpouring of love for one another, it just unites us. It helps us understand that these are real sacrifices that people make. We all need to be united and march together.”

Outside the pavilion, on the University of Alberta campus, hundreds of mourners lined up patiently and quietly.

Some arrived more than four hours early to gain one of the few seats reserved for the public in the pavilion.

The four RCMP officers were shot to death a week ago by James Roszko in a Quonset hut on Roszko’s farm near Mayerthorpe, 130 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

It marked the worst massacre of Mounties in Canadian history, surpassing even the deaths of three members of the Northwest Mounted Police at Duck Lake, Sask., during the Northwest Rebellion of 1885.

Inside the pavilion, portraits of each fallen Mountie were displayed. Underneath flickered white candles. The Maple Leaf hung at half-mast from two flag poles

The mourners wore suits and ties and spring dresses. There were seniors and families and children in baby carriages. Many wore red and white ribbons over their hearts to symbolize grief, sympathy and respect for the fallen officers.

“We wanted to show support for the families. When these tragedies happen they affect all of us,” said Lori Gossen from St. Albert, her voice breaking as she held the hand of her five-year-old daughter, Savannah.

It was being called the largest memorial in the RCMP’s history. Smaller services were being held as well across the country.

In Mayerthorpe, streets were quiet.

At the high school, the attendance policy was relaxed to accommodate parents who wanted to take children to the Edmonton tribute.

About 30 to 40 students watched the televised service projected onto a wall in the school gymnasium.

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