Constable Ken Ellis: From the historic Badger Riot to the night that changed his life
As a young man, the only thing Ken Ellis wanted to be was an RCMP officer. That dream came true on May 05th, 1958 when he went to Edmonton, Alberta and joined Canada’s national police Force. Ellis, a native of Red Deer, was sent to the training center in Ottawa.
Upon completion of his training, he was sent to his first posting in Newfoundland. Ellis and a fellow Mountie, Jim Swim, drove from Ottawa to Swim’s home in Nova Scotia, then on to North Sydney where he boarded the M/V William Carson and sailed through rough seas. On March 4th, 1959 Ellis, and Swim arrived in Port Aux Basque.
They took the train in Port Aux Basque wearing their red serge and boots eager to begin their careers in the RCMP. But a March snowstorm left them stranded for three days in Gaff Topsail, which is now an abandoned railway settlement located between the communities of Millertown Junction to the east and Kitty's Brook to the west. They finally arrived in St. John’s at RCMP Headquarters on March 07th only to be told they were getting back on the train to go to Grand Falls for strike duty.
Ellis was sent with a contingent of other RCMP Members as well as Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) Officers to the Badger strike.
At only twenty years old, his first introduction to real policing would stay with him for life. He thinks back to the first day driving into the strike area. “Several of us were in the police car and the loggers gathered around it and shook the car.”
A picket line of over two hundred loggers lined off the Main Road and the Buchans Road intent on blocking any cars trying to bring replacement loggers into the camps. Ellis says, “The next day we were all on a bus, and the loggers gathered around it and tried to tip it over.”
The strike had dragged on since December 31, 1958 and tempers were at an all time high. “To me, just after coming out of training, it was very scary.”
On March 10th, 1959 approximately two hundred and fifty striking loggers were in Badger with approximately sixty RCMP and RNC trying to keep the peace when replacement workers were brought in. The car carrying the replacement workers was allegedly picked up and turned around by the loggers. As a result, a battle broke out as strikers armed with pulpwood clubs, bottles, peaveys and an axe clashed with police who only had RCMP short riding crops and RNC nightsticks to defend themselves with.
“The RNC and RCMP officers were lined up and told to march through the loggers to disperse them.” Ellis was six days into his policing career. “Our riding crops were not very effective against the loggers. We didn’t have any shields or any other ways to protect ourselves. It became a very wild and frightening scene.”
Constable Ellis was about ten feet away from twenty-four-year-old RNC Constable William Moss when Moss was hit in the head by a striking logger. When the melee ended both sides were bloodied. Moss was rushed to the Hospital in Grand Falls where he died on March 12th. The “Badger Riot” became a dark day in Newfoundland’s history.
Ellis was at the strike for about three weeks then he was sent back to St. John’s where he served on Detachment and highway patrol.
On Sunday, August 18, 1962 Constable Ken Ellis was on highway patrol when he was brutally, and viciously assaulted by two men. Ellis stopped to check on two cars parked near the junction of Horse Cove Line and Topsail Road. The cars were driven by two brothers, who were construction workers. One of the vehicles had some defects. Constable Ellis asked the driver to accompany him back to the patrol car where he had planned to give him a warning slip to ensure he had the repairs done to the vehicle.
They walked toward the patrol car. “Without warning, the man grabbed me by the shirt, and we begin to fight.” Ellis still gets emotional talking about it. “I was doing ok and about to put the handcuffs on him when the other brother got out of his car and jumped me.”
The brothers were able to push Ellis’s body down into a roadside ditch where they continued their assault. One brother picked up a rock and tried to bash in Ellis’s head. Traffic was starting to slow down or pull over and watch the fight and Ellis screamed out for help, but no one came to his assistance.
“I was able to get away and crawl out of the ditch. I made it to the bonnet of the police car.”
The two brothers caught up with him and continued the savage attack. “I eventually had to give up.” The two brothers left the young constable badly injured on the road.
After they drove away, Ellis was able to get to the driver’s side of the police car and call for help.
The brothers were found, charged and released on five-hundred-dollars bail. Constable Ellis had three cracked ribs, a torn cartilage in his knee, head injuries, multiple bruises and abrasions from the sadistic beating. He was off work for six weeks.
“It dampened my spirits for policing,” he admits. “I didn’t get much support.”
In 1962, there was no assistance offered to an officer who went through an assault like that. He was ordered back to work as soon as his physical wounds healed.
Seven years into his career he was transferred to Harbour Grace. His wife, who was an operating nurse, was making more money than he was as a constable. He decided to hang up his spurs and left the Force after seven years. He went on to have successful fifty-one-year career in life insurance. Ken and his wife Jean have been married for fifty-nine-years.
“I had mixed feelings about leaving.” Ellis, now in his eighties, is proud of his career with the RCMP. “But I’m glad I joined.”
Constable Ken Ellis is one of the founding members of the RCMP NL Veterans’ Association. He is not only a past President of the Association, Ellis is a charter member.
Constable Ellis and his wife, Jean, live in St. John’s and have two sons.
Cst. Ellis' story as well as other stories are available in the historical book from Flanker Press "In Search of Adventure" Buy it and Escott’s other novels at: Chapters, and Coles. Also, online at indigo.ca Apple – iTunes, Nook – (Barnes & Noble), Amazon, and Kobo. National and international orders can be placed by calling 1-866-739-4420 ext. #22 or you can send e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or at https://www.helencescott.com/books