By Woodard, Dale on August 11, 2020.
The Crowsnest Pass was the site of a history lesson last Friday.
A centennial lesson, in fact.
The Crowsnest Heritage Initiative hosted a private memorial service and wreath laying at the Police Memorial at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre in honour of RCMP Corporal Ernest Usher and APP Constable Fred Bailey and Special Constable Nick Kyslik.
The three officers lost their lives 100 years ago in the line of duty on Aug. 7 and 8, 1920, after a shootout at the Bellevue Café following the manhunt for the bandits who robbed CPR Train #63 at Sentinel on Aug. 2 that year.
Speaking on behalf of the municipality of the Crowsnest Pass, Deputy Mayor Marlene Anctil described the Crowsnest Pass” rich history as Alberta’s wild west.
“Disasters such as the Frank Slide, Bellevue Mine explosion, Hillcrest Mine disaster, murders, gambling and rum-running, this is truly a place of great history. Some events are great, some events are very tragic. It is this history that brings us here today, to remember the ongoing challenges of law enforcement of Crowsnest Pass,” said Anctil. “Any time we lose members of our law enforcement it is a tragedy. The loss of these brave officers has been somewhat forgotten over the years, thus the importance of this memorial. The lives of 26-year-old RCMP corporal Ernest Usher and 31-year-old Alberta provincial police constable Fred Bailey were taken in the line of duty. One day later APP police constable Nick Kyslik lost his life.”
On Aug 2, 1920 Alberta’s only armed train robbery occurred just west of Coleman, at a place called Sentry Siding.
Three Russians – George Arkoff, Alex Auloff and Tom Bassoff – boarded CPR #63 at Lethbridge but waited until the train was in the Crowsnest Pass and clear of Coleman before making their move, robbing the passengers of about $400 in cash and a collection of other valuable items, including conductor Sam Jones’ pocket watch. The three bandits hopped off the train at Sentinel and headed for the woods.
Police were alerted at the train’s next stop, the station at Crow’s Nest, and the manhunt began.
Auloff headed for the United States, but Arkoff and Bassoff remained in the area and on Aug. 7 the pair was seen entering the Bellevue Café.
A team consisting of Alberta Provincial Police Constables James Frewin and Bailey and RCMP Corporal Usher planned an arrest in the café.
In a flurry of gunfire, Bailey, Usher and Arkoff were killed, but, a wounded Bassoff – shot in his right leg – limped away down Front Street and out of town.
On the evening of Aug, 8 in the ensuing manhunt, a mixup between APP Constable Hidson and his partner Special Constable Kyslik resulted in Hidson fatally shooting Kyslik in a case of mistaken identity.
Bassoff eluded capture until Aug, 11 when he was apprehended by CPR detectives at the eastern end of Crowsnest Pass, the same day of a double funeral for Bailey and Usher in Fort Macleod.
Bassoff was convicted of Bailey’s murder and was hanged in December 1920.
After a three-year search, Auloff was arrested without incident in Butte, Mont.
He was sentenced to seven years for his part in the train robbery and died of sickness in the Prince Albert penitentiary.
“Crowsnest Pass bears some deep scars from our province’s past,” said Leela Aheer, Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and the Status of Women in a statement. “Three of Alberta’s worst disasters occurred within sight of Frank’s Slide Interpretive Centre, the rock slide that bears the name, the Hillcrest Mine disaster and the Bellevue Mine explosion. It’s fitting that the memorial for the fallen officers on the 100th anniversary of the Bellevue CafŽ shootout could be hosted at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre. This event gives us a glimpse into the lives of these extraordinary men and the sacrifice they made to protect Albertans.
“I am so glad the representatives from the RCMP could join the commemoration of these fallen officers. This story is not only a unique piece of our province’s history. It’s a shining example of how members of our police services put their lives on the line to protect Albertans every single day.”
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