May 28th, 2024

Police honour officers lost in the line of duty

By Dale Woodard on September 28, 2021.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard - Members of the Lethbridge Police Service and dignitaries take part in a ceremony for National Police and Peace Officer Memorial Day held over the weekend at the police firing range.

On Sunday, a nation took time to remember the fallen on National Police and Peace Officer Memorial Day.
Locally, the Lethbridge Police Service not only recognized two of their own, but also the 101 officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty in Alberta over the years at a special ceremony Sunday afternoon at the police firing range in the city’s river bottom.
Both national and provincial memorials are held annually, with the events also recognizing families, friends and colleagues who have suffered the loss of a loved one.
That included honouring Acting Sgt. Paul Smith and Const. Cal Byam, who died exactly 51 years apart on June 10 of 1913 and 1964, respectively.
“One of the reasons we did it locally was because of COVID,” said Const. Shawn Davis, who serves as LPS Regimental Sergeant Major. “Restrictions in Edmonton are limited and we had limited officers. We’ve done it in years past, last year we had to deal with COVID. Some members here wanted a way to be able to express their sorrow and mourn also. So we decided to do it locally and invite some local agencies. It’s to be able to see people and show them we still remember our fallen 101 officers and our local officers also.”
The ceremony featured a parade of officers and a reading of the names of the 101 fallen police and peace officers in Alberta since 1876.
That included Const. Rick Sonnenberg of Coaldale and a member of the Calgary Police Service, who died Oct. 8, 1993 when he was struck by a stolen vehicle as he attempted to lay down a spike belt.
“It’s extremely important,” said Davis of honouring those lost. “I’m ex-military, so I compare this to Remembrance Day. When we go through the names personally I (say) ‘I remember that one.’ The people who are here today representing our services, we are all known to each other very well and attend a lot of the funerals and we attend the memorial every year in Edmonton. It’s a way for us to get together, mourn and to remember and celebrate the great things they did also.”
Police Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh led a Lethbridge Police contingent at the provincial memorial to be held on the grounds of the Alberta legislature in Edmonton on Sunday. The number of event participants this year has been reduced to help with physical distancing and other COVID restrictions.
“We also had a memorial (Sunday) morning in Ottawa and we had one of our members be able to be there because he was there on course already,” said Davis. “So he went in uniform to represent our service in our nation’s capital. It’s an important event for all of us to be able to hold these things close to our hearts. Like the speeches said, this could have been any of us and it’s certainly true. It could be any of us and it could be our families who are remembering us. We are a family and we want to continue to remember.”
Acting Sgt. Smith died at the intersection of Stafford Drive and 3rd Avenue South after coming into contact with the exposed wire of an electric light on June 10, 1913.
The newly installed light had gone out and Acting Sgt. Smith was electrocuted when he attempted to shake the chain to turn it back on. He was the first Municipal Police Officer to die in the line of duty in Alberta.
Exactly 51 years later in 1964 there was severe flooding in the river valley when Const. Byam was dispatched to assist in evacuating a small island where several people were living in a hut.
He attempted to cross the river on horseback, but was swept away and drowned.
The family of Const. Byam couldn’t be at Sunday’s ceremony due to other committments.
However, a wreath made by a member of the Byam family sat on a table between two police hats at Sunday’s ceremony.
“It has been almost 60 years since Cal passed away and we have a memorial every year to remember Cal and Paul Smith,” said Davis. “They made the wreath for us and presented it to us, so I thought it would be an honour to have that on display because the family made that.”
On either side of the wreath sat an old, bobby-style hat and the newer-style cap to represent the more recent officers.
Davis, who still talks to Const. Byam’s children, Barry and Monta, said there weren’t any markers for either officer when they passed away.
“So our association and our service got together and we located the spots where they were both killed and put a monument up displaying what happened and every year we go to those monuments on June 10, our police service, our police honour guard, our veterans and family of the fallen go there and we remember them on their day,” he said. “Since then, it has grown a connection. We talk about the police family, when Cal passed away his children were very young, three-years-old was the youngest. We do remember the family and we want to be part of them and we’re trying our best to connect with that. They’re very grateful and I’m honoured to know them.”
Though it has been over 100 years since Acting Sgt. Smith’s death, the search continues to find living relatives.
“We’ve tried geneological records and we cannot locate a living member of Paul Smith’s family,” said Davis. “We’re trying everything we can.”
One of the reports is Smith’s father was in St. Thomas, Ont. and that he also had a brother and sister out west.
“We don’t know names, but we’re hoping to find, some day, a living niece or nephew,” said Davis. “We have a Canada flag that was flown at Parliament Hill on the Peace Tower when we renamed his grave. We have that in a treasure box that if we ever find a living relative we’ll be able to present that flag to their family. We hold the Byam’s very close to us and we’re praying one day we can meet the Smith family, too. It’s been over 100 years, but we can still keep trying.”

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