North Bay Police Service Constable Fred Lefebvre made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life in the line of duty on May 18th, 1923. He was trying to apprehend one of Northern Ontario’s most dangerous criminals ever, Leo Rogers, who shot him dead. The fugitive went on to kill another officer, Sgt. John URQUHART of the Cobalt OPP, during a two-week reign of terror like nothing else North Bay has ever seen. At the time, Lefebvre, was never suitably recognized. Today, we are righting that by holding this memorial service in his honour.
Fred Lefebvre was one of a family of 12 children born in 1877 in the little village of Alice near Pembroke. He grew up in that area and started his work career in the lumber business. At age 19, he moved to North Bay and took on his first policing duties. The following year, he married Matilda St. Michael, his teenage sweetheart from Pembroke. They lived in several different locations over the years, including Sault Ste. Marie, Cache Bay, Haileybury and Sturgeon Falls, before he returned to North Bay to become a Provincial Police Officer and then later joining the North Bay Police Service, living here with his wife and four children. At the time of his slaying, he headed the small force’s Criminal Investigations Unit.
Just prior to his 15th birthday, Leo Rogers was found guilty of a series of break and enters. The Judge sentenced him to seven years at one of the most feared facilities in the country, Kingston Penitentiary. There, he attacked guards on several occasions.
“I believe you are dealing with a criminal too dangerous to be at large,” one time Police Chief William Raynor, wrote in a letter to the Parole Board. Even as a teenager, “He was the worst man I ever had to deal with.” He returned to North Bay after seven years and was soon in custody for robbery. Rogers escaped from the North Bay Courthouse May 17th, 1923. Police suggested a loaded gun had somehow been slipped to him amid the lax security of a crowded 1920’s courtroom. That night, the fugitive himself phoned police and invited them down into an ambush near the waterfront in West Ferris. In the ensuing gun battle, one officer was shot in the thigh. By midnight, a posse of 20 men was formed to spend the night guarding the area and looking out for the fugitive.
Surprisingly, Rogers stood his ground, remaining motionless throughout the bug-infested night. As the next day dawned, he began firing again from his position behind a clump of trees. The posse rushed him, but he was able to run to the safety of a nearby barn. Within minutes, it was riddled with bullets, but Rogers escaped. Then he ran another 500 yards to the point where Mosquito Creek (now Parks Creek) meets Lake Nipissing. Members of the posse let him have it with all the firepower they had – 200 rounds of ammunition. Still, he managed to zigzag through the hail of bullets and was not hit.
As the morning sun began to rise in the east at 5:30 a.m., Rogers cut down to the lakefront where he faced a standoff with Lefebvre – the 45 year old plainclothes detective who had arrested him during a fierce struggle years before.
The two men were roughly 100 metres apart. Rogers, brandishing a Winchester Savage rifle, had the cover of a tree, while the officer, with just his revolver, was out in the open. Lefebvre was felled by a bullet in his abdomen as they fired simultaneously. Rogers ran off into the bush and police lost his trail. “I’m done for. Rogers got me at last,” Lefebvre said as he lay dying. “My poor children; kiss my children for me.” Fred Lefebvre had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Rogers remained at large. At midnight May 30th, Sgt. John URQUHART, of the Ontario Provincial Police, saw an unknown figure enter Rogers’ parents’ home on Worthington Street. With the home surrounded, he knocked at the door. Rogers fired at the door, hitting the officer square in the chest, killing him instantly. Though the house was surrounded, somehow Rogers escaped again.
After being on the loose for two weeks after Lefebvre’s shooting, Rogers made his last stand at what is now the site of the Waltonian Inn on the south side of Lake Nipissing. A posse surrounded him. When he noticed them and got up to reach for his weapon, he was shot down in a volley of bullets.
Today we honour Fred Lefebvre and remember all our brothers and sisters who have given their life in the protection of our communities and their citizens.