Missing Lunenburg RCMP officer remembered and honoured after 93 years

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Elizabeth Frank spoke about her uncle Ian MacDonald at a ceremony for the RCMP officer who was lost in the Arctic in 1924.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Doreen Larsen Riedel, daughter of explorer Henry Larsen, shared exerpts from her father&#8217;s journal about the incident.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>The new plaque, given to the family by the RCMP, now rests in front of the tombstone dedicated to MacDonald&#8217;s parents and siblings.</p>

It's a mystery that may never be completely solved, but at least there is some closure in the loss of a Lunenburg Mountie who disappeared in the north 93 years ago.

Constable Ian Mor MacDonald is thought to have fallen off a ship and drowned in the Arctic on August 18, 1924. His death was considered suspicious and although an inquiry took place, no evidence was found incriminating any of the passengers on board the vessel at the time.

Because of the circumstances at the time MacDonald was never given a tombstone. That is, until August 18, 2017 when a plaque was placed in Hillcrest Cemetery in Lunenburg to honour the fallen Mountie.

Tom Lowe, an RCMP veteran, has taken on the task of making sure every fallen or retired RCMP member's grave in the province is identified and maintained. In 2012, Lowe sought the help of the media to search for the relatives of RCMP officers so that each grave site could be logged and receive an RCMP emblem if the family desired.

Elizabeth Frank, niece of MacDonald and a resident of Mason's Beach, approached Lowe about her uncle after seeing a story on Lowe's initiative.

"He had never been recognized, ever," Frank told LighthouseNOW.

Lowe spoke at the ceremony on August 18.

"I was struck by what happened to this young fellow in the Arctic and I spent four years in the Arctic so I was touched by anyone going up to the Arctic and it's so easy to lose your life up there," Lowe told LighthouseNOW after the service.

At the ceremony, Frank told the story of how her uncle was stationed on Baillie Island in the Arctic and later called to record goods delivered by the Maid of Orleans to its captain's family.

MacDonald, a man in his early 20s and a notably strong swimmer, was lost from the vessel under unknown circumstances, with only his parka and notebook found floating in the water - something that haunted his family for years.

But the ceremony also shed a bit more light on MacDonald's story. Doreen Larsen Riedel is writing the memoirs of her father, famous Arctic explorer Henry Larsen, who was skipper of the first ship to traverse the Northwest Passage from west to east, and the first ship to circumnavigate North America, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

While going through her father's journal, she found an account of the missing Mountie. Larsen was MacDonald's bunk mate during the journey, though he was asleep at the time MacDonald went missing.

Frank and Larsen Riedel met for the first time at the ceremony, and Frank listened with great interest to the story of how their family members were friends, even going so far as to talk about buying a schooner and fishing off the Grand Banks after returning from the Arctic.

Those hopes were dashed when MacDonald went to the bow of the Maid of Orleans one night, a spot on the ship that was not visible from the ship's wheel. He disappeared from the deck and it was thought that he must have slipped overboard. At the time MacDonald would have been wearing seal skin boots and the deck was likely icy.

"There was no guard or fencing around there," said Larsen Riedel. "And you couldn't see anything from the steering wheel, and it was night, and you couldn't hear him yell."

Christian Klengenberg captained the Maid of Orleans. He was a man who had once been charged and acquitted of murdering a crew mate. Klengenberg was at the centre of an inquest into MacDonald's death, but was eventually vindicated after the incident was determined to be an accident.

It was because of Klengenberg's notariety that Larsen Riedel pulled the story out of her father's journals and started to write something separately. She believes that her father wouldn't have continued to sail with Klengenberg if he wasn't a fairly trustworthy person, and the story of the incident piqued her interest.

Coincidentally, someone sent Larsen Riedel's brother a clipping regarding MacDonald from a Halifax newspaper, and that's how she became involved, coming all the way from Ottawa for the ceremony that took place in Lunenburg.

"Of course we wouldn't miss it ... somebody has to set the record straight," said Larsen Riedel.

Frank has gained more knowledge about her uncle from Lowe's connections over the past few years and it's brought her family members together, many of whom attended the ceremony from out of province. Two cousins even carry the name Ian MacDonald in honour of the fallen constable.

The plaque given to the MacDonald family now sits in front of a large tombstone dedicated to MacDonald's parents and two of his sisters.

"Uncle Ian was always like a person up [north] who they were waiting to come home and this kind of puts a closure to the whole story that's been with us all our lives," said Frank.

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