There were many surprises when Saskatchewan journalist Kate Kading began researching ‘On Scene’, an 87,000 word fictional story inspired by one of the longest manhunts in Canadian history, but the biggest was finding out how quickly the original story disappeared from the headlines.
Kading researched accounts of the 1970 hunt for Stanley Wilfred Robertson, a then 40-year-old trapper and woodsman, who shot RCMP officers Sgt. Robert Schrader and Const. Doug Anson at his farm near Macdowall and then escaped into the woods.
As the wife of an RCMP officer, Kading said the details were difficult to process, but she felt compelled to keep searching and writing.
“The FLQ crisis happened the exact same weekend, so this hit the papers for about a week, and then people really lost interest in it,” Kading said during a phone interview on Friday. “The FLQ crisis just splashed the pages internationally.”
Kading is careful not to call it the largest manhunt in Canadian history, but if it isn’t, it’s certainly close. The search involved almost every Saskatchewan RCMP detachment, along with army personnel from CFB Shilo in Manitoba, and cadets from the Regina RCMP training depot.
The ground and air search lasted until May the following year, when Robertson’s body was discovered with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
“The thing that surprises me the most is that nobody knows about it,” she said. “That was it, hands down.”
Kading first learned of the case following an interview with Russell Hanson, the owner and operator of the North West Mounted Police Museum in Duck Lake. At the time, Kading said she had little interest in writing the book, but decided to give it a shot following conversations with Hanson and her husband.
The book took hours of research, and a number of interviews with former RCMP officers who took part in the search for Robertson. Even today, more than 50 years after the events happened, the story still brings up raw emotions.
“There were a few details about this case that were just, I don’t want to say unfortunate coincidences, but when you have a chain of events like this, sometimes things happen that you just can’t control,” Kading said. “Yes, it was absolutely a horrendous situation, but there was just a chain of events that were beyond anyone’s control.”
Kading relied on her skills as a journalist to research and write the book, but it was her role as an RCMP officer’s wife that kept her going. She said more members of the public need to hear about the story, and her unique background enabled her to do it. However, it wasn’t easy.
“Writing things like the funeral scene, or just the fear that the wives felt sending their husbands out every day, I live that every day,” she said. “There were some things that hit me very hard. Sometimes I would have to set the project aside for a little while and come back to it.”
‘On Scene’ follows Sgt. Walter Regitnig and his RCMP canine partner Bruce is their search for the man who killed two RCMP officers and fled into the woods. Kading will be at the Prince Albert Historical Museum on Monday to give a reading of her book. The reading lasts from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Kading will also be back in Prince Albert for the annual Downtown Street Fair.