Slain Vancouver transit officer remembered 102 years later
A Transit Police officer researching the history of special constables in B.C. stumbled upon the on-duty death of a “forgotten” officer in 1915.
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Call it good old-fashioned police work.
Charles Painter, a special constable shot and killed while on duty in Vancouver in 1915, is now immortalized at British Columbia’s police memorial thanks to the sleuthing of Transit Police Const. Graham Walker.
Walker stumbled upon the forgotten death 102 years ago while researching the history of special constables in B.C. to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of his department last year.
His research included a deep dive into century-old archives at the Vancouver Police Museum, University of British Columbia Library and the Vancouver Public Library that revealed a long and colourful history of police officers tasked to protect streetcars, railways, buses and other public transit further back than most people realize.
It also led him to the shooting death of Const. Painter, who was killed while on duty by a suspected wire thief on March 21, 1915 but has since been forgotten.
“I went down to the Vancouver Police Museum and a curator was flipping through the annual reports for me and it was in the annual report for 1915 that a small paragraph said special constable Painter was killed on duty,” said Walker. “So right away I knew we had this missing piece of history.”
Walker said he wasn’t surprised Painter’s death was never officially recognized by the province.
Unlike long-standing departments like Vancouver, New Westminster and Victoria police, the records for special constables assigned to transit are scattered among a number of different organizations and held in various archives.
Before there was a Transit Police department in Metro Vancouver, special constables would be employed by BC Transit, BC Hydro before that and BC Electric even before that.
“[Painter] wasn’t part of a police force, per se, he was one of very few constables that was appointed at the time and he also had no family that lives in Vancouver with him,” said Walker. “So those two factors were likely why he was forgotten, more or less. For [transit police] there was too much of a gap between law enforcement agencies and that’s where the disconnect and lack of remembrance comes from.”
When Walker learned of Painter’s death, he immediately knew he had to right historic wrong.
Using the documents he discovered, Walker put together a report to have Painter added to the provincial memorial for fallen police officers, proving – as required – that he was a sworn police officer who was acting in good faith when he died on the job.
Painter’s name was added to the memorial last year, and Walker’s police union paid for a headstone for Painter’s previously unmarked grave.
He is forgotten no more.
“Having Painter [on the memorial] to go back to and look at allows us to connect as a group and reminds of the risk we face every day,” said Walker. “It’s obviously a sad thing that happened, but now that we know about it, we can honour him and look at ourselves and reflect on what our duty and obligation is. We’ve been around a lot longer than we thought.”