S/Sgt. Fred Bodnaruk

 

Being a first generation Canadian, Fred Bodnaruk has contributed greatly to both the Force and to the community.

While in the Force, he was a keen investigator who used his linguistic skills to help crack the terrorist activities of the “Sons of Freedom” Doukhobors.  In addition, he led the original unsolved homicide section which travelled throughout the province and this section ended up solving 25 murders.

His latest achievement is the crafting of a violin from the old discarded teak wood from the St. Roch. This past summer, he donated one of these violins to the RCMP Heritage Center in Regina.

Fred Bodnaruk was born at Snowden Saskatchewan (60 miles east of Prince Albert) and his parents had immigrated to Canada from the Ukraine.  Prior to coming to Canada, his father was in a Russian Cossack Regiment.  The family settled in Saskatchewan as did many other new immigrants to Canada.

In growing up, Fred Bodnaruk became familiar with many different languages which he was exposed to in his culturally diverse community.  Consequently after graduating from high school, he could speak: English, Ukrainian, Russian and German.

As a young boy growing up in Saskatchewan, he and his parents admired and respected the members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Fred can recall seeing several movies about the Mounted Police and thought that this would be an interesting and rewarding career instead of being stuck on the farm.

He applied and was accepted in the Force on June 20, 1951.  His assigned regimental number was 17117.

After graduating from Depot, he was transferred to British Columbia.  In his first five years of service, he was stationed at: Vancouver Town Station, New Westminster, Maillardville and Powell River.

With his linguistic abilities, he was recruited to the RCMP’s Special Branch and assigned to the Russian Communist Section.  According to Fred, “the work was extremely boring.  All we were doing was determining who was attending which meetings.  In my opinion, our efforts were doing nothing constructive and there seemed to be no end in sight.  What I desired was to get back to doing criminal investigations.  Consequently in 1957,  I was transferred to the Nelson Subdivision and given the special assignment to dealing with terrorism being committed by the ‘Sons of Freedom’ Doukhobors.”

 

 

 

The Doukhobors are a religious group which were formed in the southern Georgia area of Russia in the 1600s.

 

 

 

 

 

Under Tsar Nicholas II, the Doukhobors were obligated to swear an oath of allegiance but they refused.  In defiance of this obligation, they refused to serve in the military and burned all the weapons they possessed.

Consequently, the Doukhobor community were deemed as traitors and received unwarranted attention from the Russian authorities.  To avoid this repression, members of the Doukhobor religion group immigrated to Canada in 1905.

With the help of the Canadian government, 7,500 Doukhobors were settled in Saskatchewan and lived in four different colonies. For many years, the Doukhobors kept to themselves and didn’t cause any serious problems.  At the outset, the only defiant action they under took was not to learn to speak English.

As the province of Saskatchewan established legislation to help organize the area, the Doukhobors refused to obey laws and practices which they didn’t like.  The bazaar behavior of these early Doukhobors became quite disturbing to other citizens in Saskatchewan.  The Doukhobors decided to take the bible literally.  In so doing, these members  decided it was no longer necessary to wear clothing.  Therefore, many Docukhabors would march nude through a town singing.

As these incidents were reported to the Force, members were dispatched to confront the Doukhobors and have them clothed.  As one can imagine, it probably wasn’t a pretty sight nor a desirable undertaking.

As this behavior persisted, the Doukhobor leaders were arrested and committed to an insane asylum.   In protest to these arrests, the Doukhobor women started a hunger strike and refused to give food to their children.  In an effort to protect the children, the Force members removed the children and placed them in protective care.  Eventually, the Doukhobors were convinced to eat again and many lost their religious fervor.

The Canadian government changed the homesteading regulations requiring individuals to claim title to land they occupied and obligated the land holders to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Canadian government.

As in Russia, many Doukhobors refused to sign this oath of allegiance.  Between 1908 and 1912, 8,000 moved to British Columbia and settled in Grand Forks, Slocan Valley and Castlegar.  Each Doukhobor community continued their communal living.

A division developed within the Doukhobor community.  Most of the moderate members decided to willingly blend into Canadian society.  While the other more radical group called themselves  the “Sons of Freedom.”  The latter group wanted to return to more traditional values and were willing to use civil disobedience and violence to achieve their goals.

As these two groups separated, the number of incidents of arsons and bombing began to increase.  For example, the “Sons of Freedom” would burn the communal  Doukhobors’ property, and organize nude parades.

In 1932, the Canadian government criminalized public nudity based on the activities of the Doukhobors.  Over the next decade, 300 “Sons of Freedom” members were arrested for public nudity and when convicted carried a sentence of three years in prison.

In 1948, a Royal Commission was conducted to investigate the causes for the numerous arsons and bombing attacks in British Columbia.  Many recommendations came out of this report which endeavoured to integrate Doukhobors into the Canadian society.  One of the controversial recommendations was that all the Doukhobor children were to attend public school.

By 1950, 400 “Sons of Freedom” members were in BC jails for a wide range of offences.   With their members in jail, “Sons of Freedom” families protested the arrests by burning their own houses and stripping off their clothes at court appearances.

With BC Social Credit Party forming the government in British Columbia in 1952, the  BC government decided to take stern measures against the Doukhobor problem to restore the peace.  Government’s first action was in 1953 when 200 “Sons of Freedom” children between the ages of 7 to 15 years were forcibly removed from their families and placed in residential school in nearby Denver, B.C.

Apparently, the government residential schools were more like a prison setting than a traditional school.

Moderate Doukhobors used nonviolent means to protest against the seizure of their children.  These protests consisted of: taking off all their clothes in public to express their opposition to various government controls or court judgements.

RCMP members had the responsibility of coordinating and supervising the visits between the Doukhobor parents and their children.

The more radical “Sons of Freedom” resorted to escalating levels of violence to achieve their desire to live in their own ways, without interference.  These radicals now commenced destroying the materialistic life of mainstream society such as railway lines, bridges, homes, sawmills, grain elevators, hotel, schools, Nelson Courthouse and government buildings.  One incident involved the bombing of a railway bridge in Nelson BC in 1961.  In 1962, radicals blew up a high power transmission tower which took out power for a good portion of the population in the area.  Total damage of all arsons and bombings was estimated at $20 million.

You can video a CBC audio clip of the “Sons of Freedom” bombing in Trail BC by going to this webpage below –

http://archives.cbc.ca/war_conflict/civil_unrest/clips/13097/

An excellent book on the “Sons of Freedom” was written by Simma Holt and was entitled “Terror in the Name of God: The Story of Freedom Doukhobors.”

To combat these terrorist activities, Commissioner Charles Edward Rivett-Carnac brought in 20 additional members to assist with the criminal investigations and intelligence gathering.

Fred Bodnaruk was one of these additional members.  According to Fred, “I served in this environment from 1957 to 1964 along with a number of outstanding members.  I was considered the ‘hell squad.’  No one volunteered for duty, you were simply assigned.  My main assignment was to de-activate bombs and gain intelligence and movements of the main terrorist elements.  It took me approximately 5 years to establish and understand the structure.  Throughout my time, serious bombing took place from Winfield, Kelowna, Osoyoos, Greenwood, Grand Forks, Castlegar, Trail, Nelson and Creston.  Also, the bombers suffered setbacks when two were killed and two seriously injured by a premature explosion.”

Fred further stated “our efforts paid off.  Cpl. Robert Carlson and I conducted a bombing investigation at Creston, BC and de-activating a 50 dynamite stick bomb.”  Based on this investigation, five “Sons of Freedom” members were charged.” 

According to Fred Bodnaruk, “one was considered the head terrorist.  They were denied bail, through ensuing months, and with some good luck for a change, I managed to turn the head terrorists, who revealed the main functioneries.  Eventually, 270 Freedomites were charged with serious bombing offences.  A special Agassiz Court was arranged to try the offenders which ranged on for approximately two years.  A special prison was built at Agassiz, BC for the numerous convicts, some serving 16 years.”

The successful actions and efforts of Fred Bodnaruk and other members of this ‘hell squad’ resulted in a quick decline in terrorist activities.  Based on their successful efforts, a “D” Squad was established in the Security & Intelligence Branch to combat other types of subversive activities.

With the decline of terrorist activities in southeast British Columbia, Fred Bodnaruk received two transfers: Vancouver Subdivision, NCO ic Kimberly Detachment, and NCO ic North Vancouver GIS.  His final transfer was to head the original ‘Unsolved Homicide Unit’ which consisted of 10 members.  The unit successfully solved 25 murders.

After completing 26 years of service in the Force and rising to the rank of Staff Sergeant, Fred Bodnaruk retired from the Force.  Upon retiring, Fred was hired by ICBC as a fraud investigator and worked with them for 10 years.

Even after retiring from ICBC, Fred Bodnaruk still had the energy and enthusiasm to create and setup a private investigating firm called FBI (F. Bodnaruk Investigations) and employed 52 employees.  This firm was later sold to five employees who expanded the firm across Canada and now employees over 200.

To combat the stress and strains of work, Fred Bodnaruk took up woodworking and discovered that he had a skill with woodcraft.  In 1972, he became friends with a new neighbour – Bob Cornish and his wife Ann.  He discovered that Bob Cornish was a diesel mechanic who was employed by Sterling Ship yard.  According to Bob, the RCMP St. Roch was brought into the Sterling Ship yard in 1958 for a major re-fit.  For this re-fit, the upper deck was altered, main cabin was literally torn out, door frames and steps were removed.  This remnant mainly fine quality teak wood was being burnt.  The foreman at ship yard told the crew they could take some teak as momento.  Bob Cornish brought some of this discarded teak home with the intention of building a teak table.  However, the wood laid around for years.

In 2007, Bob Cornish asked Fred to take the discarded teak and build something to commemorate the St. Roch.  At the time Fred was building musical instruments and decided to make a violin.  Everyone was surprised at the excellent tone generated from the salvaged teak that Fred built five more violins.

With the suggestion from Dan Lemieux, Fred decided to donate one of these violins to the RCMP Heritage Center in Regina.  The donation was to commemorate actions of Henry Larsen and other crew members of the St. Roch.  In addition to crafting the violin, Fred also created a wooden globe, hardwood table and a descriptive plaque.

In July 2011, Fred visited the RCMP Heritage Center in Regina and donated the violin.

Rhonda Lamb, Director, and Jodie Eskritt, Curator, were both pleased to accept the violin, plaque and stand.  These items would be displayed with other St. Roch mementos in the RCMP Heritage Center.

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