1912 - Murder on a paddlewheeler


On a spring day 100 years ago, the Union Jack flew at half mast over buildings and hundreds of residents lined the streets of Penticton to pay their final respects to a police officer who died in the line of duty.

On Sunday, Sgt. Geoffrey  Aston’s life was again celebrated, as fellow freemasons, RCMP officers and others gathered to mark the 100th anniversary of his death at his gravesite in the historic Fairview Cemetery.

“I think it’s appropriate to bring his memory forward and to demonstrate our civic pride,” said Richard Porter, worshipful master of Orion Lodge No. 51, which organized the ceremony.  “And it’s an interesting bit of Penticton history.”

In March 1912, Aston, a recent transfer to Penticton, was notified by the British Columbia Provincial Police in Kelowna that two robbery suspects were headed south. Having notified local hotels of the situation, a Mr. Art “Lucky” Thompson informed the police the suspects were last seen in the BC Hotel on Front Street.

The men, Frank Wilson and Walter Byde James, were arrested there and Aston booked passage on the S.S. Okanagan to escort them back to Kelowna.

As the C.P.R. paddle wheeler made a scheduled stop in Peachland, James shot Aston in the head with a pistol, and he and Wilson escaped.  The two suspects were later captured by a posse, lashed to the mast of the Okanagan and taken to Kelowna to stand trial.

Aston could not be saved and died soon after. His loss was felt by many as he accomplished much in his 54 years. Born in Cheshire England, he went on to be a decorated Army veteran, a master mason in Greenwood Lodge No. 28 and member of the Northwest Mounted Police and the BCPP.

His murder and burial at Fairview, then St. Saviour’s  Anglican Church cemetery, were covered extensively in the Penticton Herald at the time.

On Sunday, the Masonic Funeral Rite in the old graveyard,  included  a procession of freemasons led by a bagpiper, while RCMP officers,  in traditional uniform, and firefighters stood near the gravesite.

“The possibility of this happening to any police officer is always there,” said Joe MacDonald, president of the South Okanagan RCMP Veterans.  “So we are here to show solidarity of all police officers.”

Following a recitation, Porter invited fellow masons to drop evergreen sprigs on Aston’s grave as an emblem of the immortality of the soul and led those in attendance in the Lord’s Prayer.  Bill Cave, most worshipful grand master of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, shared a few words and  the solemn ceremony ended with a RCMP bugler playing Taps.

As he made his way across the grassy cemetery, retired RCMP Sgt. William Biden shared his feelings about the ceremony.

“Loggers die, construction people die, firemen die and police officers die, and they all do it in serving the greater good,” he said “So I think it is important to pay tribute to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice serving their communities.”

Special thanks to Penticton Museum & Archives and Manager.Curator Peter Ord. Front Page Splash photo is a shot of the S.S. Okanagan docking near Penticton in the 1920s.


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