Reg. # 0.298, Surgeon Maurice POWERS, B.A., M.D., C.M.
October 20, 1943, near Red Pheasant, Saskatchewan Age: 38 years
While many young members of the RCMP were being killed overseas, a tragic death of great significance occurred in Canada. RCMP Surgeon Dr. Maurice POWERS was killed in the fall of 1943, and, with his death, the Mounted Police lost one of its most accomplished and respected members. His contribution to the Force, and to the entire nation, is incalculable. He was Canada’s leading medico-legal expert and the man responsible for planning and organizing Canada’s first crime laboratories in Regina and Ottawa.
Maurice POWERS was the son of a country doctor from Rockland, Ontario, in the Ottawa Valley. He earned a bilingual Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Ottawa in 1927 and a Master of Surgery from McGill in 1934. During his university days, he was an avid athlete who starred on the track team and was a stand-out goalie and captain of the McGill intercollegiate hockey team.
After graduating from McGill, he was engaged as a Special Constable with the RCMP and, in January 1937, he registered as a post-graduate student at New York University College of Medicine, where he specialized in forensic medicine (medicine as it applies to the law). Upon being appointed to the position of Surgeon with the RCMP in August 1937, he established the crime laboratories in Canada and went about the country lending his expertise. He gave lectures to various police departments on forensic medicine, toxicology, plaster casts and moulage. He also appeared at inquests and trials and made identifications in many difficult cases across the country.
In June of 1939, Dr. POWERS was the first person to receive from New York University the new degree of Doctor of Medical Science in Forensic Medicine. This expertise, combined with his unbounded energy and enthusiasm and his outgoing personality, soon elevated Dr. POWERS to the status of medico-legal expert of international renown. He was of extraordinary value to the RCMP and was rapidly promoted to the position of Staff Officer, rank equal to that of Superintendent. Tragically, his service to the Force lasted only a few short years.
On Wednesday, October 20, 1943, Dr. POWERS was in North Battleford, Sask. to give evidence before a coroner’s jury about the deaths of two local people, one an RCAF corporal. The hearing was adjourned at 9:30 pm and Dr. POWERS was offered a flight from North Battleford to Saskatoon in an RCAF plane. The aircraft would be flown by RCAF pilot A.A. Green. Another passenger, Cpl. B.J. Ford-Smith would fly along with them.
When the three men arrived at the airstrip, visibility was limited. The weather had been unfavourable for flying all day due to a low ceiling of dark clouds. Conditions had not improved very much by the time the aircraft left the runway of the Training Station at 10:30 pm. The plane never arrived in Saskatoon.
The next morning, a search was organized by the RCAF aircraft from North Battleford and the wreckage of the missing plane was sighted on the Stoney Indian Reserve about four miles north of the village of Red Pheasant, Sask. Debris from the plane was strewn for hundreds of feet over the poplar bluffs of the Eagle Hills and the airplane was totally demolished. When ground searchers arrived at the crash site, it was obvious that all three occupants of the plane had been killed on impact.
An inquest revealed that several farmers in the area had heard the plane flying over at a very low altitude late on the night of October 19. Their testimony indicated that the plane had developed some kind of problem which had induced the pilot to turn around and head back to North Battleford. Poor visibility was a major contributing factor to the accident. Before crashing in the trees, the plane had sheared through telephone wires only 20 feet above the ground. Dr. POWERS died from severe head injuries.
When word of the famed doctor’s death was made public, letters of condolence came from every rank and quarter of the land, from thankful civilians to appreciative RCMP members to a shaken Louis St. Laurent, Minister of Justice. Notes of sympathy were received from the Medical Examiner of New York City and the Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.
Dr. POWERS was given a huge funeral at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Regina. His body was then brought to Ottawa for interment in Notre Dame Cemetery. He was survived by his widow, Marguerite, and two very young children.
The most appropriate eulogy for this honoured man comes from his service file: “He was only 38 years old and it would be a difficult task to replace this officer, not only because of his special ability and training, but also because of his genial personality and warm friendship.”
(Personnel File Reviewed – Photo available)