EMSDALE – A photo of a smiling man playing horseshoes leans against the fence behind the marker a small monument at an intersection near Highways 11 and 518.
It was Chester Blackmore, a 50-year-old father of three, who was putting in a day’s work at the Ultramar gas station on Jan. 2, 1981 when he was shot and killed by two youths on a crime spree.
The rain let up long enough on Saturday for family and friends to remember a man who was described as generous, loving and kind, a gentle giant.
“It was 31 years ago that a life was taken from us,” said Anglican Church Reverend Jeffery Hooper during the small service on Oct. 6. “Today we get a chance to recognize him.”
Hooper stated from the marker placed in Blackmore’s honour, comes the hope for “a day when justice and peace rein and violence is no more.”
However, peace did not reign on that January morning when Windsor youths Gary Fitzgerald, then 18, and Joseph Shoenberger, 17, began their reign of terror by stealing guns from a hunt camp in Mattawa and a car from a relative.
According the Jan. 7, 1981 edition of the Almaguin News, Fitzgerald fatally shot and killed Blackmore after he filled the vehicle with $14 in gas.
It was a death that friends and family still call senseless. Several people at the Saturday service echoed the same sentiment. He would have given them the gas if they didn’t have the money to pay for it.
“He was nice man. Friendly. He’d give you the shirt off his back,” said son Tim Blackmore who was with his sister Susan at the service. There were also grandchildren and great grandchildren that Chester Blackmore never had the opportunity to meet and friends and other family members who would never forget him.
Saturday’s service is not the first memorial for the reign of carnage that cold morning more than 30 years ago.
After leaving Blackmore in cold blood, the vehicle was pulled over by police at the side of Highway 141 and as Const. Richard Verdecchia approached the car, he was fatally shot, his body later discovered in a snow bank.
The vehicle was pulled over by police again, this time Const. Neil Hurtubise approached the car from the driver’s side.
He was shot several times with a 22-calibre rifle, this time managing to reach his patrol car to radio for help.
Hurtubise survived and later received the Police Medal for Bravery from the Province of Ontario.
According to Orillia Today, both Fitzgerald and Schoenburger were found guilty of the murders of Blackmore and Verdecchia and the attempted murder of Hurtubise and both have since been paroled. Fitzgerald again made headlines in 1999 when he walked away from a minimum-security prison.
In 2008, a bridge on Highway 11, at the north entrance to Utterson/Port Sydney was dedicated to Verdecchia.
It is Blackmore’s sister-in-law Mae and her husband Clarke White that family thanks for their dedication to bring this memorial for Chester to fruition.
Mae is the sister for Chester’s late wife Merle and says they had often thought about memorializing Chester in some way and each time they drove across the Const. Richard Verdecchia Bridge on Highway 11, it reaffirmed the need.
Mae says they appealed to a number of people to get permission for the memorial. It began with a chance meeting with Parry Sound/Muskoka MP Tony Clement, conversations with MPP Norm Miller and other levels of government until they appealed to Perry Township council who agreed to write a letter to the Ministry of Transportation and the family was granted a meeting.
They had requested that a similar dedication to the bridge in Verdeccia’s name be made to Blackmore, however were told by Ministry of Transportation officials that particular honour is reserved for police officers.
“We thought it would be nice to do this for Chester,” said Mae. “The best we could do was a stone.”
Despite that, Mae was both surprised and delighted that they were able to give pay tribute to a family member who, in his own way, died in the duty of his profession.