Ceremony honours century-old sacrifice
It was a cold, spring morning when Penticton police officer Geoffrey Aston boarded a Kelowna-bound paddle wheeler with two shackled prisoners in tow.
The three were given a private berth on the SS Okanagan for the 5:30 a.m. sailing. However, little did Aston know he would be lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life before the day was over.
Just over a week later, on this date (March 28) in 1912, the 52-year-old died from the single gunshot to the head fired by one of the two men.
Because Aston had no known family in the area, his small grave in the historic Fairview Cemetery has remained largely untended for the last century.
Until last Sunday.
A member of the Orion and Greenwood lodges of the Freemasons, Aston’s burial plot now has a new cement marker and is adorned with two bronze plaques commemorating his life and service thanks to the fraternal organization.
On the weekend, a graveside memorial concluding service was conducted in full regalia involving the Masons, current and past RCMP members and other special guests.
Aston was an officer with the North West Mounted Police before joining the B.C. Provincial Police where he was working at the time of his death.
During the service which included the playing of the last post by RCMP Cpl. Bryce Petersen, a bouquet of white flowers, the traditional Freemason apron and sprigs of evergreen representing the immortality of the soul were placed at the burial site.
After the ceremony, B.C. Freemason Grand Master Bill Cave explained the importance of remembering his departed brother.
“It’s a chance for us in a very small way to bring attention to the community and those who have fallen before us,” said Cave. “It’s for the rights and freedoms we have today. It’s all too easy for us to wake up every morning in our comfortable homes and forget the people who made it possible for us to have the life that we have, so this is just a small opportunity to say thank you.”
Retired RCMP officer Bill Biden agreed: “It’s your history that gives you your freedoms — and we started out a hundred years ago, and a hundred years later we’re still striving to keep our freedoms.”
In his 1958 report, Reg Atkinson, the city’s first museum curator, described Aston as a “large, well-proportioned man with fine features and a heavy black mustache, in all displaying a fine soldierly bearing.”
Although he had not been in town long, Aston’s outgoing personality and songs quickly earned him immense popularity.
Before coming to Canada he had served in several countries as a member of a crack British calvary unit. A fine horseman Aston first served with the North West Mounties before joining the provincial force locally.
Although never married, he brought with him a horse which was a constant companion, the pair being described as inseparable.
It was the night of March 16 the officer first learned of an armed robbery in south Kelowna by a man named Walter Boyd. On the lookout for the suspect, Aston arrested him and a male companion two days later at the B.C. Hotel on Front Street.
Plans were hastily made to return the men to the crime location the next morning, and just after midnight they boarded the CPR vessel.
Once underway, it’s believed the officer removed the handcuffs from Boyd, who pulled a previously undetected .22 calibre handgun from his shoulder holster and fired what would be the fatal shot.
Getting the keys, the pair freed themselves and walked off the boat during a scheduled stop in Peachland. They were seen leaving by a crew member, and during a subsequent check of the cabin Aston was found lying on the floor in a pool of blood. An intensive manhunt in the Valley eventually turned up the suspects.
Boyd was later convicted of murder and hung for his crime on Aug. 9, 1912 in Kamloops. For providing evidence against him his companion was released and ordered to leave the country.
Aston’s remains were returned to Penticton where he was given a full military send off.
His flag-draped coffin was carried through the streets on a horse-drawn wagon followed by his empty-saddled steed with its “masters boots and spurs in the stirrups at the reverse.”
A long line of Boer War and other veterans were also part of the procession which made its way slowly to the cemetery where he was interred
Now at his final resting place the words of the Masons simply read: “Our brother lived respected and died regretted.”