Vet of the Month: February 2009
A Memorial dedicated to
Reg. # 4279 S/Sgt. S. G. Clay & Mrs. Agnes Clay
by J. J. (Buffalo Joe) Healy
Many, many stories of the earliest days of RCMP history are particularly sad because of the harsh conditions under which members of the Force lived and worked.
This is a short story in which cruel events in the history of the Force played out in the life of Reg. #4279 S/Sgt. Sidney Gaisford Clay RNWMP and RCMP and his wife Agnes Clay.
In those days, greater was the probability of harm or death to a member serving in the north due to unexpected weather conditions, the uncertainty of food and water and the distance of medical help or police backup.
The same hazardous conditions of life around the Detachment were also felt by the member's spouse and family. Looking back, it's a fair statement to say that the role of a member's wife in the affairs of the Detachment was as critical as the role of her husband-police officer. Whenever he was called away, she remained at the Detachment as the sole and unpaid officer-in-charge.
As a high school student in New Brunswick preparing to join the Force in 1964, I too recall watching wives of members at nearby Detachments fulfilling police related chores; taking complaints at the counter, using the police radio, cooking for and feeding the prisoners, cleaning the Detachment, raising the flag, mowing the lawns and helping with administrative work.
S/Sgt. Clay joined the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) on October 22, 1904. His police service began in 'K' Division (Alberta). Between the years 1905 to 1907, he worked on the Peace/Yukon Trail under the leadership of Reg. # O.79 Superintendent Constantine building a wagon road to the Yukon.
He was then posted to the North. Money could not have been a motivational factor when considering a police career. In 1914, S/Sgt. Clay received 25c extra pay per day for 43 days while building the police barracks at Fort MacPherson. Later, he established and then was the first NCO to be appointed as police officer in-charge at Tree River Detachment.
Unfortunately, during September, 1919 all his personal effects which had been buried in a cache were lost to fire while he was on dog patrol with Reg. # 5369 Cpl. Eric Cornelius.
Sadly, much worse was about to befall he and his wife. While S/Sgt. Clay was away on patrol on September 20, 1924, his wife, Agnes was attacked and mauled by sled dogs at Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut. It is recorded through Jack White's research notes that Reg. #6316 Cst. Henry Stallworthy and the local Catholic priest did an excellent job of amputating her leg, but they could not control the shock which she suffered to her system. She died at age 32.
Mrs. Clay was buried at Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut.
Two unique Canadian land marks have been named for the sacrifices which S/Sgt. Clay and Mrs. Clay made to the development of the Yukon and to Canada. Clay Point, Nunavut on the west side of Baffin Island and west of Barnes Ice Cap is justly named after Reg. #4279 Staff Sergeant Sidney Gaisford Clay, RNWMP and RCMP.
On March 13, 1961, the Dominion Hydrographer named Clay Island, Nunavut off Baker Foreland west shore of Hudson Bay in the memory of Mrs. Agnes Clay.
After the death of his wife, S/Sgt. Clay spent the last years of his RCMP service in Alberta. He retired from the Force on February 4, 1926 and returned to Grimsby, Ontario. He died on November 1, 1947 and he is buried in St. Andrew's Anglican Churchyard.
Writing this Vet of the Month story required the help of several persons; Vet Jack White provided the career information on S/Sgt. Clay through his historical research. More often than not, Jack also gives me the story line idea for Vet of the Month.
Vet Jack O'Reilly and the Toronto Vets located and maintain S/Sgt. Clay's gravesite.
Corporal Keith Derksen of RCMP 'HQ' Ottawa and Cpl. Pete Garvey, presently the NCO i/c Chesterfield Inlet Detachment collaborated on the photograph of Agnes Clay's grave which they kindly sent to me.
Cpl. Garvey says: "...for the interest of your readers, I have attached a picture of Mrs. Agnes Clay's gravesite. I recently have had Agnes Clay's grave site cleaned up this past summer (2008) and the fence around her gravesite has also been freshly painted."
I wish to thank each of the contributors to this memorable story. We need to be mindful of the hardships endured not only by members of the Force, but also by their spouses and their families.