BY ANDREW SMITH
LISTOWEL – The courage and sacrifice of two Listowel heroes was recognized on Friday, with the dedication of the Elizabeth Street bridge in their honour.
OPP officers from across the province, local dignitaries and members of the public gathered at the North Perth municipal building on Oct. 12, paying tribute to Constable James Hamilton and Carl “Cully” Rocher, who lost their lives on Aug. 19, 1967, when responding to a domestic dispute. Derek Rogers, of OPP West Region Headquarters, said Hamilton was born in Aberfoyle, Ontario in 1929, the oldest of six children. Hamilton was active in sports and the proud owner of an Indian motorcycle, which Rogers said caused some brushes with the local law enforcement.
“It’s said that almost every time James would ride home to Aberfoyle from Guelph, the local OPP cruiser wasn’t far behind,” Rogers said. “Perhaps it was these friendly visits by the officers that inspired James to later join the police force.”
Hamilton left home at an early age, and in 1952, married his wife Helen and joined the OPP.
SeeDuring his 15-year police career, Hamilton worked in Sarnia, Grand Bend, Sault St. Marie, Guelph and Markdale before coming to Listowel.
Carl ‘Cully’ Rocher came to Listowel at the age of 10, as North Perth Police Services Board chair Ken Lawrence read. Lawrence said Rocher was an athlete and exceptional hockey player, and built cabinets in his spare time. In 1920, Rocher was hired as a night watchman in response to a string of robberies in town. Taking a break after two weeks, Rocher was asked to return to the position when the robberies flared back up.
“Cully went back to work and turned a two-week stint into a 39-year career,” Lawrence said.
Rocher retired as chief of police in 1959, and was immediately appointed Justice of the Peace, often accompanying officers on calls when an extra man was needed.
Such was the case when Rocher joined Hamilton on a domestic dispute call to an Elma Township residence on Aug. 19, 1967, where both men were fatally shot by a resident as they drove up to the house. Hamilton was survived by his wife Helen and five children, while Rocher was survived by his wife Gertrude.
Doug Kilpatrick owes his life to Hamilton, as the two officers had switched shifts on that tragic day, which is still fresh in his memory.
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” he said. “It’s 45 years ago, but it’s like it was yesterday.”
The dedication of the Const. James Hamilton Memorial Bridge was something Kilpatrick would have never missed, he said, and that it was well-deserved.
“He was a good friend, and a good officer,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m glad to see it happen, and honour a man who deserves it.”
OPP commissioner Chris Lewis commented on the crowd gathered for the ceremony, noting the amount of support for the OPP and Justice of the Peace despite the amount of time that has passed since the events.
“I look around the room and I see such a variety of community representation,” he said. “It shows you…what an important role they play in the community that they would have this much support on a day like today.”
The Highway Memorial for Fallen Police Officers Act was introduced in 2002, and since then 37 OPP officers have been honoured across the province, reminding communities of the service and sacrifice by police officers.
“It will be a stark reminder to the young officer that gave his life to protect his community, but also an honour and celebration of his service,” Lewis said. “Even after 45 years we haven’t forgotten Constable James Hamilton, and we never will.”
Tabitha Keffer, granddaughter of James Hamilton, said the dedication of the bridge is a fitting tribute to the grandfather she never had the chance to meet.
“Words will never be enough to express our heartfelt gratitude for what today means to us as a family,” Keffer said. “To us, he is and forever will be, a hero in life, not in death.”