Venerated RCMP officer Dan Gibbons passed away peacefully in his family home on Dec. 29, after battling cancer for most of 2018.
He will be remembered in the Cloverdale community for his decades as an RCMP officer and his unwavering devotion to his neighbours, family and friends. His funeral service, held at Precious Blood Parish in early January, was a moving tribute, and hundreds of people came to say their goodbyes.
Growing up in Sudbury, Ont., Dan never would have imagined having such an impact on a British Columbian city.
He was born on March 6, 1957, to parents Edward and Joy, a nickel miner and a nurse. As an elementary student, Dan looked in his geography book and found a picture of a faraway fishing village called Steveston in British Columbia. The memory stayed with him — it seemed like the furthest place in the world from the mining town he was growing up in.
| A young Dan (left) and his brother Gary (right) meet an RCMP member.
Courtesy of the Gibbons family
Little did Dan know it, but he would one day move to the West Coast, where he would serve for more than 35 years as an RCMP officer in Surrey and Richmond. He would get to see the furthest place in the world, and work there, too.
In June 1980 he left his hometown for “the factory,” as he called it, the Saskatchewan Depot where all RCMP members train as cadets. After training, he hoped to go to a three-man detachment on Prince Edward Island. Instead, he was posted to Surrey, the largest detachment in Canada.
“He’d never even heard of Surrey,” his wife Valerie remembered with a laugh.
Valerie met Dan while she was finishing up her three-year nursing diploma program at Vancouver General Hospital. The two met on March 22, 1981, and danced at Shanty Town pub in Blaine. On June 19 that same year, they were engaged. They would marry July 1982, and move to Cloverdale in 1984, where they made their home and raised two children, Ryan and Laura.
During his career, Dan served in first Surrey, then the Richmond detachment, working in Customs and Excise, and Immigration and Passport before returning to the Surrey detachment in 2002. He was District Commander for District 5 (South Surrey) and later District 4 (Cloverdale), where he retired as Cloverdale’s Community Response Unit Sergeant in January 2016.
The retirement lasted about a month, before he returned to the force on a contract basis. Dan worked in what he called the “fossil pit” with “the grey-haired guys,” said Valerie, vetting RCMP applicants, transporting RCMP vehicles to get them serviced, and checking in firearms as the watch changed.
When Dan was diagnosed with gallbladder cancer in March 2018 it had metastasized into his liver and the surrounding tissues. He chose to begin palliative chemotherapy to shrink the cancer, and extend his life.
| From left: Valerie Gibbons, Ryan and Melissa Gibbons, Dan Gibbons, Laura Gibbons and her partner Gus.
Courtesy of the Gibbons family
A milestone he wanted to ensure he saw was his son Ryan’s wedding to his future daughter-in-law Melissa. The August wedding took place in Halifax, and Dan was there for all of it — he feasted on lobster, toured the Nova Scotia area, and, on the big night, he was the last one on the dance floor.
Later in the year, in mid-October, Dan received good news. The cancer was responding to the chemotherapy.
In her eulogy, Dan’s daughter Laura remembered the doctor’s appointment. “Shocked by the news, my mom immediately asked if they could travel,” she said, “while my dad immediately asked if he could go back to work.”
When asked why he would want to return to work while still fighting cancer, Dan “calmly told us that he felt he hadn’t been contributing to society over the past several months, and that he had an obligation to give back to the community he lived in,” she said.
Over his lifetime, Dan didn’t just give back to his community with his service as an RCMP member. He was a second lieutenant with Canada’s Reserve Force, and a fourth-order member of the Knights of Columbus. He volunteered his time with Precious Blood Parish in Cloverdale, and gave hours to local youth by coaching Cloverdale Minor Hockey League and, a skilled marksman himself, teaching sharpshooting skills to cadets.
Letters from those he trained mention his humour and attitude above all else. The writers thank him for showing them how to have fun, how to laugh. One remembers how Dan — famously devoted to his Toronto Maple Leafs and the Blue Jays — promised a Blue Jays hat to the first person to shoot 100 on the marksmanship test.
That was the man Dan is remembered as — a man of remarkable devotion, kindness and dry humour. Dan was a private individual, but a respectful man who would make time for everyone.
As his daughter Laura would put it, “Even though he appeared tough on the outside, there was a kindness to our dad that I hope some of you had a chance to see.”
“He wasn’t a man of a lot of words, but when he spoke you listened,” said Valerie. He had a knack for breaking tension with humour, she said. A favourite of his was to break a silence with “How ‘bout those Leafs?”
| Semiahmoo First Nation Councillor Joanne Charles stands outside of Precious Blood Parish on Jan. 5, 2019, where she performed a prayer song and an eagle song in his honour.
Courtesy of the Gibbons family
Dan did return to work in October, serving for another month before his health forced him to step back.
Valerie, who worked as a palliative nurse during her career, made the decision with her family to palliate Dan in the family home. When he passed peacefully on Dec. 29, he was surrounded by loved ones.
His family toasted him with a shot of Jameson Whiskey and sang an Irish tune while his beloved Leafs played a game in the background.
“We sent him off in style,” said Valerie. “We knew that was the way he would want it. He wouldn’t have wanted tears. He wouldn’t want us to mourn for him, but to celebrate.”
At Dan’s funeral, he was celebrated by many of the community members that he had impacted over his years in the Lower Mainland.
Dan’s children, Ryan and Laura Gibbons, and RCMP Cpl. Claude Paterson led the service with eulogies, sharing fond and bittersweet memories. Semiahmoo First Nation Councillor Joanne Charles then welcomed Dan into the church with a prayer song, and she later sent him off with an eagle song. An honour guard of RCMP officers escorted Dan, accompanied by Knights of Columbus and Dan’s family. The pallbearers wore Toronto Maple Leafs jerseys in a nod to his favourite team.
“It will be hard, but slowly, one foot in front of the other, step by step, one day in time we will get through this,” said Laura at the service, before closing, in true tribute to Dan, with:
“Finally, Dad, I hope your beloved Toronto Maple Leafs break their losing streak and bring home a Stanley Cup to Toronto.
“Go Leafs go!”