History & Museum Historical Stories
THE DEATH OF CONSTABLE JOHN BEATTIE
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Researched & written by Staff Sergeant Jack Templeman (retired)
For those history buffs
on the department, who was John Beattie?
Don't feel bad if you can't answer this question as I am
sure very few know the answer.
John Beattie had the
distinction of being the first Winnipeg Police Officer killed on
Most people think
Bernard Snowden was the first officer killed on duty and they are
correct if you only consider the deaths caused at the hands of
criminals. There are
plaques in the Public Safety Building and in the St. Boniface
Station honouring those seven.
There is nothing to remember John Beattie but he died
performing his duty as surely as the others.
John Beattie was born on
the 20th of August 1882, in Newcastle-On-Tyne, England.
He came to Canada about 1908 and after working at several
jobs on the 18th of March 1911, he joined the Police Force along
with a chum Bill Greengrove.
Beattie became Constable #141 and Greengrove was #142.
Only twenty seven days
later John Beattie was electrocuted at the scene of a fire on Main
St. at Water Avenue. He
was 28 years of age when he died.
At that time officers
worked twelve-hour shifts and Beattie began at 7:00 p.m. on the
10th of April. About
2:00 a.m. on the 11th, fire broke out in the building at Main and
Water in the area used by Wilson & Labelle Painters.
The building also housed J.E. Alton, Tea Merchant and a
Stationery Shop owned by Mr. M. Keroack who also owned the
fought the fire almost two hours & the building was badly
About 4:00 a.m.
Constables Beattie and John Rogers #144 were guarding the scene
along with Firemen Grant, Sinclair and Barber.
Firemen Grant and Sinclair entered the ruins with Constable
Beattie following. Suddenly Beattie screamed and the firemen saw that he had
grabbed a wire which had the insulation burned off but was still
Beattie's clothing was wet from rain and he was standing on the
wet floor setting up a deadly combination.
Fireman Grant knocked the wire from Beattie's hand and
Beattie collapsed. Beattie
was quickly carried out and across the street to a doctor's
office but he was pronounced D.O.A.
The death obviously
stunned the City as the Police Commission ordered a public funeral
similar to a military funeral.
The officer in charge of the Salvation Army Band offered
its service at the funeral that was the first time ever offered
for a Non-Salvationist. On
April 15th, the funeral took place from Thomson's Undertakers.
The casket had Beattie's helmet and baton laid on top.
Over 500 people crowded into the funeral home and several
thousand more lined the streets when the cortege moved off to the
Elmwood Cemetery. Thirty-six uniformed officers led the procession
and Chief Constable J.C. McRae and Deputy Chief Chris Newton led
the official party of mourners.
Pallbearers were fellow Constables David Dickie, George
Headon, William Morrison, Hector McNeill, William Smith and
William Webster. Reverend F.S. Lewis conducted the service.
John Beattie's next of
kin, his widowed mother, was advised of the death by cable.
Beattie's grave in Elmwood Cemetery is unmarked and
forgotten along with many others.
Other facts I found of
interest regarding this occurrence were that the building was one
of the oldest in Winnipeg at that time having been built in 1868
by Dr. John Christian Schultz.
Dr. Schultz served in the senate and was arrested in this
building by Riel who imprisoned him. Schultz managed to escape and survived to become the 5th
Lieutenant Governor of this province from 1888 - 1895.
Constable John Rogers
who was also at the fire scene didn't last too long after as he
was 'dismissed' for 'insubordination' on the 19th of June
Greengrove who joined with Beattie didn't do much better as he
was 'permitted to resign' on 13th of February 1912 for
'conduct unbecoming an officer'.
Sergeant Templeman wrote this article in August 1989.
The loss of Constable Beattie had been forgotten for many
years and not recorded in previous history books.
Since Staff Sergeant Templeman's research and article,
the unmarked grave of Constable John Beattie has been identified.
In 1994, on Friday, October 7th, the department finally
recognized this loss with a memorial service at the cemetery
during which a headstone was dedicated by Police Chaplain Const.
Day assisted by Salvation Army Chaplains.
A guard of honour dressed in the uniform style of that era
was present along with a police piper.
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