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Monday August 17, 2009

He saved some people and saw others off to die

Hero of Hurricane Hazel was the last to see Bill Barilko alive and witnessed the last hangings at the Don Jail

Special to The Globe and Mail

He saved people from drowning in two different circumstances, was the last person to see hockey hero Bill Barilko alive and witnessed the last hangings in Canada.

Jim Crawford's life was chock full of eye-openers.

Born in Toronto in 1930, Mr. Crawford sold newspapers in his teens. By 1950, he was seeking escape from a mundane job at Sangamo Electricity and noticed a help-wanted ad in The Globe and Mail.

"So believe it or not, I left a job that paid me $140 per week to take a job with the Hudson's Bay fur-trading department up on James Bay for $140 a month," Mr. Crawford told Kevin Shea, author of Barilko: Without a Trace.

While up north, he was given the Dow Award for saving a local boy and his dogsled team from drowning. The Crees nicknamed the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder "Moose" for his immense strength.

For a period of time, he was stationed at Moose Factory, Ont., and then was transferred to Rupert's House, Que.

Rupert's House was a regular stop for bush pilots to refuel before heading off into remote parts of the Canadian wilderness. One such plane that landed for fuelling on Aug. 24, 1951, carried Mr. Barilko and dentist Henry Hudson.

Just a few months earlier on April 21, the popular, impossibly handsome defenceman hit cult-hero status in Toronto and Canada when he scored an overtime goal to help the Leafs win the Stanley Cup in Game 5 of the final against the Montreal Canadiens.

"I went down to the dock to meet the incoming plane and its passengers and that's where I first met Bill Barilko," Mr. Crawford said.

"We're going to fish for Arctic char," Mr. Barilko told him. "When we come back to refuel again, we'll see to it that you get one of the Arctic char. We'll be gassing up at your place on the way back from Seal River."

The first part of the Barilko/Hudson expedition was successful and two days later, Mr. Barilko and Dr. Hudson were back at Rupert's House for more fuel. As Mr. Barilko had promised, he gave Mr. Crawford some char.

Minutes later, a storm was threatening and Mr. Crawford made a point of trying to pursuade the two men to stay overnight. Mr. Crawford had also noticed that the plane was a bit overweight because it included 150 pounds of fish.

"I didn't think they should fly in this weather," he said. But the dentist thought it was important to get the fish into cold storage before it spoiled.

As Mr. Crawford looked on, the plane experienced trouble gaining altitude. Hours later, it disappeared. Close to 11 years later, the wreckage was discovered 100 kilometres north of Cochrane, Ont.

Not long thereafter, Mr. Crawford returned to Toronto and pursued a career in policing. One onerous task came in 1954 in the midst of Hurricane Hazel when he once again saved people from drowning.

The storm claimed 81 lives but the head count would have been much higher had it not been for intervention of Mr. Crawford, off-duty at the time, and contractor Herb Jones.

With a small boat with an outboard motor that had a habit of sputtering, they saved dozens of people stranded in residences bordering the Humber River.

"We manoeuvred between houses, picking trapped tenants from rooftops, from porches, from garage roofs, and some who had even slid down the sides of their houses on rope-type threads of sheets from bedroom windows and into our boat," Mr. Crawford wrote in one of his journals.

Mr. Crawford was awarded a medal of merit by the police department. In time, Crawford-Jones Memorial Park was dedicated to honour the two men for their heroism.

Mr. Crawford had one of the highest success rates in solving baffling of murder cases as head of the homicide squad, and he was promoted to Staff Inspector.

On Dec. 11, 1962, just minutes after midnight, he was on hand at Toronto's Don Jail when Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas were hanged back to back from twin gallows in the last execution in Canada.


Jim Crawford was born June 25, 1930 in Toronto. He died June 9, 2009 in Mississauga. He was 78. He leaves his wife Helen, two brother and three children.

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