Judge, Others Dead After Gunshots Ring in Port Arthur Courtroom

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(THUNDER BAY, ON) – Three people are dead after a shooting took place in a Thunder Bay courtroom at around 10:15 am on June 21, 1949. The Honourable Justice Bruce J. McKitrick was fatally shot by ex Ontario Provincial Police Officer, 48-year-old William Gray.

The incident unfolded at the Port Arthur juvenile and family court. Gray had been separated from his wife for the previous two years and was charged in court with non-support of her and their three small children. Sources indicate that Gray had stood up in court, pulled out an automatic pistol, and then opened fire. He first shot his ex-wife, then shot His Honour, McKitrick. It was at this point that he pointed the gun at his own lawyer and said: “Get the f— out of here.” His lawyer, S. H. Davis, rushed out of the courtroom and fled into the Port Arthur Police Station screaming “MURDER”.

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The courtroom stenographer, Mrs. Frances Hodgson was at her desk at the time of the incident. Fearing for her life once the shooting started, ducked under her desk. She would remain hiding there until Gray ultimately turned the gun on himself which resulted in him slumping lifelessly to the floor. Gray ended up shooting himself twice, as the first bullet did not finish the job. He had to reload the pistol, before taking a second shot at suicide, then a third. His first two attempts were unsuccessful. The third shot he took at himself ended his life.

Officers with the Port Arthur Police Service responded to the scene along with Dr. R. B. Coulson, who was the medical officer of health for Port Arthur and had an office in the same building located at 242 Arthur Street (now known as Red River Road). Coulson ordered an ambulance immediately and all three victims were rushed to the St. Joseph’s emergency department.

Then Chief of Police George Taylor, rushed to the scene when Grays lawyer, Davis, reported the crime at the police department. Taylor had told the press after the incident that Gray was in court facing charges of neglect and non-support. Gray lived at 243 Cameron Street in Port Arthur. Court had started around 10:00 am that day and some testimony had taken place before Gray suddenly opened fire in court. His ex-wife was shot in the left breast at close range just before Judge McKitrick was also shot in the left breast. The ex-wife and Judge McKitrick were sitting beside each other as Mrs. Gray was giving the court evidence against Mr. Gray.

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Chief Taylor stated that the gun used in the triple shooting was of European make and a 32-calibre. The magazine used held seven rounds. Police could not determine the exact number of shots that had taken place as various witnesses recalled differing numbers. The Gray’s were married for about 12 years before this incident.

Former Ontario Provincial Police constable William Gray served in the Sudbury and Port Arthur districts. Insp. P.T. Hake and Sgt. J. S. McBain said: “as far as we know he was a good police officer.”. Gray had served a year on the Sudbury city police before joining the OPP. He served for the OPP for 14 years between May 1928 and February 1941. His last post was in Hudson, Ontario. Gray worked as a doorman at the Odeon Theatre in Port Arthur.

Judge McKitrick was very active in various types of sports. He was a member of several championship teams which included curling, baseball and hockey. He lived at 16 Prospect Ave with his wife and three children. His Honour Bruce J. McKitrick was appointed Judge of the juvenile and family court in Port Arthur in 1945. He had a number of years where he was devoted to the work of the Y.M.C.A., and later on, both he and his wife, who also a graduate in social services from the University of Toronto, were interested in establishing a Y.W.C.A. in Port Arthur.

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Judge McKitrick was also active in a number of welfare and social agencies in and around Port Arthur. He was president of both the John Howard Society, Thunder Bay Council of Social Agencies and past president of the local chapter of Professional Social Workers. The John Howard Society works with ex-convicts and helps them rehabilitate themselves.

As a member of St. Paul’s United Church in Port Arthur, Judge McKitrick was devoted to the work of the church and served in numerous capacities including on the church board and in the social service work.

Judge McKitrick was survived by his widow and three children, one girl and two boys:

  • 16-year-old Ronald,
  • 14-year-old Allan,
  • 6-year-old Lucille.

He married Florence Goddard of Toronto in 1931 in southern Ontario. Judge McKitrick was born in 1905. The Bruce J. McKitrick Centre was named after JudgeMcKitrick.

The Bruce J. McKitrick Centre is an 8 bed open/detention facility, which provides services to female youth between the ages of 12-18, in a residential setting.

The facility is part of the youth justice system, and is funded by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. The McKitrick Centre is one of several open/detention facilities that service Northwestern Ontario.

SERVICES

The McKitrick Centre is a Trauma-informed facility, which focusses on the youth’s strengths in making positive changes in their lives. The facility staff provides programming, counselling, advocacy, and most important a therapeutic environment/relationship in order to support the youth in making change.

PROGRAMMING

  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Social Skills
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Healthy living
  • Anger Management
  • Education
  • Substance Abuse
  • Recreation
  • Drug/Alcohol Awareness
  • Spirituality
  • Life Skills
  • Tele psychiatry- with Toronto Sick Kids

CULTURAL

The McKitrick Centre is a culturally diverse facility, which provides and supports Cultural traditions, celebrations, and ceremonies. The Youth have the opportunity to attend community events as well as the Centre brings in community members to provide teachings for the staff and youth.

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Such as;

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  • Sweat lodge ceremonies/teachings                       
  • Medicine walks/teachings
  • Seasonal feasts                                                         
  • Crafts, i.e. moccasins, medicine pouches
  • Birchbark baskets                                                   
  • Regalia making

EDUCATION

The McKitrick Centre has an onsite classroom that is operated by the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board.

Youth attend daily and have one month of summer school in July. Each youth has their own individual learning plan, with support from the facility teacher.

with files from the Fort William Daily Times Journal

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11 Replies to “Judge, Others Dead After Gunshots Ring in Port Arthur Courtroom”

  1. Its unfortunate, but something like this would have to happen again in order for the judges to begin getting a clue as to whats going on.

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  2. Had my attention for a minute there until I read “1949”.

    Can you imagine shooting yourself three times to commit suicide? Must not have been aiming for his head. At least he was determined. Have to give him that.

    Sorry for the family of the victim having to live through this tragedy.

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  3. Interesting story. I did a lot of research a number of years ago on the murder of two union organizers at Onion Lake in 1929.. Which is north of Port Arthur. The shooting in the court room and the murder of the two Union organizers have a direct link with those individuals in the court room at that time period. Ex Police Chief O. Harty during my research informed me that police constables were not allowed to have firearms while on duty in courtrooms. When I asked what he did during the shootings his response was ” I ran like hell”. No one was charged with the murders of the two men at Onion Lake. Until this day there are still those who believe they drowned in a creek and were not murdered. Even though one of the organizers had a bullet hole in his forehead and the other had his arm broken.

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