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Service Park - a living, breathing reminder of two slain Prince Rupeert police officers

May 23 marked the 150 anniversary of the RCMP
RCMP officers Const. Brody Hemrich and Const. Bryce Saunders stand in Service Park, which honours two Prince Rupert police officers slain in the line of duty. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

May 23 is the 150 anniversary of the RCMP across the country. Every day thousands of police officers risk danger to willingly give service to the communities in which they work and live. Too many officers give far more than service — they give their lives.

While most of our nation is geographically thousands of miles away from our coastal city, Prince Rupert is not immune or isolated from violence that can affect its people. Nor are its law enforcement officers that rush into danger while others run from it.

For the families of officers who die in the line of duty, the grief weighs heavier and the memories remain longer than for those who have no connection. It’s just a cold fact of life that after a couple of generations, those who have died become names on paper, brass plaques or etched in marble headstones. The threads that tied them to the living have weakened and frayed. The broken strings hang loose with a cavern of emptiness and lost memories in between two pieces of string.

As members of humanity, efforts are needed to keep memories alive and to offer thanks even if the events are historic and there is no firsthand accounting left to retell the tales. Whatever the happenings were, they helped shape the city’s population and the landscape in which we live.

Prince Rupert remembers with Service Park, a living memorial to two officers who lost their lives over a mere parking ticket. It is a breathing, fructifying reminder of the sacrifice individuals contribute to the safety of their families, friends and neighbours.

The grounds bloom each springtime with new life and are used daily by inhabitants of the community. The park is noted by a brown wooden sign, standing on the Fulton St. terraced hillside, overlooking the harbour and current-day city hall. A bronze plaque was installed in 1991 to commemorate the life of 45-year-old police Inspector William Service, husband and father of five. The Gibsons Walkway sloped curvature that pedestrians meander through each day was named in memory of his chief clerk, 50-year-old Bob Gibson, husband and father of two.

It was reportedly a scorcher of a summer day on July 4, 1938. The city streets were crowded with pedestrians and sailors from the U.S. destroyer Hopkins were complaining about the lack of celebration, fanfare and fireworks for Independence Day. Down at the docks, people waited for an incoming cruise liner to bring more tourists to the city.

That’s where local taxi driver, 24-year-old Mike Gurvich, had been illegally parking after previously receiving warnings not to do so. With competitive taxis all trying to secure the most tourist dollars, Gurvich’s disregard for the parking rules at the Canadian National Wharf hooked him summons issued by Const. George Clark.

The summons was served in the morning at the taxi office operated by Gurvich and his two brothers. It was waiting for Gurvich when he got there.

Perhaps he felt he was being persecuted, or maybe flouting the law bolstered his defiance to those who upheld it. Maybe his anxieties were heightened from five years earlier being a patient in Essondale mental hospital. Nevertheless, he was ticked and continued to hold the mindset he had been served incorrectly — even after being told by his lawyer to suck it up, he’d be served regardless at some point. The more he thought about it, the more his temper festered.

Documents provided by the Prince Rupert City and Regional Archives report the taxi driver drove to McNulty’s Hardware Store and purchased a box of ammunition for a “.38-special”.

Just before 2:30 p.m. Gurvich walked into the B.C Provincial Police detachment, which is the forerunner of today’s RCMP, housed in the basement of the courthouse. He took out his gun and killed Sgt. Bob Gibson at almost point-blank range while he was sitting at his desk. Inspector William Service was also shot. Gibson was shot in the head from behind and Service was shot directly in the forehead.

Witnesses reported Gurvich walked out of the building, got into his taxi and drove to the Royal Hotel, where he exited his cab with the gun still in hand, entered the beer parlour and ordered a drink. He told those around him, “I got ‘em. Service and Gibson … I got ‘em both.”

After quickly downing two beers, Gurvich peered over the net curtains of the parlour, looking out of the window. Leaving the building, as he walked across the street, a car swerved around the corner with Const. Clark and Corp. Harold Raybone leaping out, meeting Officer Terry Stewart, who was walking down the street on his day off.

Clark shouted at Gurvich to drop his gun. The responding answer was a bullet fired.

Gunshots rang out with an exchange of bullets, mostly shot high, by the police and Gurvich.

The suspected killer backed up into the beer parlour. As he peered around the corner of the building, both officers made the split-second decision to shoot their weapons, firing simultaneously. Gurvich was shot in the forehead and died among the sailors in the bar who had earlier complained there was no action in Prince Rupert.

At a coroner’s inquest, ballistic evidence linked Gurvich’s gun with the double murder of the two police officers and it was reported that the bullet killing Gurvich came from Clark’s gun, who had earlier in the day served the traffic ticket.

Insp. Service, dressed in plain clothes, died instantly on the floor of the police office. He and his family had moved to Prince Rupert just one week before. Gibson was taken to Prince Rupert Regional Hospital. Newspapers from the day report that as of 3:45 p.m. on July 4th, 1938, he was in surgery and not expected to live. Gibson died the next day, having never regained consciousness. It is noted by the position he was found, under a toppled chair, that he had been typing at his desk. His Sam Browne belt with holstered gun hung on a peg nearby. He is buried in Fairview Cemetery overlooking the harbour.

Neither police officer could have anticipated the actions that led to their deaths that day.

The bravery and fast action of Stewart, Clark and Raybone were recognized a month later when all three received service promotions.

Stewart rose in policing rank after the provincial police merged with the RCMP in 1950. Raybone served in the RCAF during WW2, but did not return to police work. Instead he became the skipper of a whaling vessel and later was in command of the Navy’s ship Esquimalt. Clark, who had won the Military Cross medal for his actions during WW1, rose in rank and was one of the 500 officers who amalgamated with the RCMP. He took his pension soon after and became a magistrate in Edmonton.

Service Park, tucked in behind the downtown core of the city, offers its own type of service, continuing to live as a reminder of the black day in Prince Rupert’s policing history. Its annual rebirth and blooms offer a reminder of what the community’s police officers give every day.

K-J Millar | Editor and Multimedia Journalist
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