On the day that Percy Cummins died nearly 31 years ago, close friend, Alonza Goodridge, recalled being constantly interrupted by a fly while renovating a bathroom in the city’s east end.
“For about an hour, I tried swathing it away and it would come back buzzing around my head,” remembers the self-employed businessman. “At one point, I asked myself if it was trying to tell me something.”
Later that evening when Goodridge returned home, his wife greeted him with the tragic news that Cummins, a Toronto police officer assigned to 11 Division, was shot in the line of duty.
“I told her about the fly and I was certain that Percy was shot around the same time that that insect was bothering me,” said Goodridge who was among several Barbadian ex-cops living in the Greater Toronto Area who attended the unveiling of the Percy Cummins Parkette last Saturday morning.
Goodridge and Cummins were members of the Royal Barbados Police Force prior to migrating to Canada.
“I came here about two years before him and I remember receiving a call from this individual telling me he was in Canada,” said Goodridge. “I asked who it was and the person on the other end of the line replied that it was Percy. He was a leader and you could always tell when he was not in a good mood or unhappy about something because he would smoke his pipe to calm himself down.”
Ex-Barbadian cop, Belfield Alleyne, said Cummins was friendly and easy to get along with while Rick Marshall remembers his colleague and friend as being very open and hard-working.
“He was just a great individual to be around and something should have been done a long time ago to honour him in a public way,” Marshall said.
Cummins, who joined the then Metro Toronto Police Force on June 16, 1970 after serving almost eight years as a policeman in Barbados, was gunned down as he and his partner, Michael Jones, investigated a disturbance call on Symington Ave. It was his first day back in uniform after working in the division’s community response unit and then in the undercover squad.
The seriously wounded officer, along with his injured partner who was shot in the hand, were rushed to St. Joseph’s Health Centre where Cummins died in the operating room from a bullet wound to the neck.
“I can still remember the night two officers came to our home to give us the tragic news,” recounted Cummins’ daughter, Kim, who was eight years old at the time. “My mother was very upset and she was crying.”
Choking back tears, Kim said her father’s death hit home at his burial in Barbados.
“As that coffin was lowered into the ground, it was then that I realized I would never see him again,” said the Lakehead University Business Administration graduate. “It has been so hard growing up without a dad who is not there to celebrate family milestones like birthdays and graduations. Our mom has, however, filled the void admirably.”
Davenport city councillor, Cesar Palacio, made the request to the Etobicoke York Community Council for the parkette to be named after Cummins.
“It’s nice to see this beautiful state-of-the-art green space transformed into a memorial for an officer who died in the line of duty,” Palacio said at the dedication ceremony. “This is a jewel in this community.”
Two months after his death, the then Metropolitan Toronto Board of Police Commissioners (now the Toronto Police Service Board) awarded the Metropolitan Toronto Police Medal of Honour posthumously to Cummins.
“Today, we continue to honour Percy’s legacy with this dedication,” said board president, Dr. Alok Mukherjee. “He personified the best in policing by his ethical conduct, integrity, professionalism and commitment to the community and his willingness to do what was right even though it cost him his life. He was also one of the pioneers in that he and others laid the foundation for the changes which we now see reflected at all levels of the service.
“It is because of the contributions and efforts of individuals like Percy that the police services board today attaches great importance to the need to reflect the true face of the city and all the communities this organization serves.”
Dr. Mukherjee also praised Cummins for introducing the sport of cricket to the service. The late cop co-founded the Barbados Ex-Police Association of Toronto and had been its treasurer, vice-president and president.
To honour his memory, the Toronto Police Community Cricket Club (TPCCC) and the Barbados ex-cops have competed in an annual cricket match for the past 13 years. In June 1988, the TPCCC renamed their Scarborough ground in his name.
Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said Cummins’s death was an eye-opener for him and other Blacks in the service and those like him considering joining the organization.
“The people who rushed to Percy’s aid that night, his partner who almost lost his life, the first responders on the scene and the senior officers who rallied around the family were all mostly White,” said Sloly who represented Chief Bill Blair who was on vacation. “For someone like me considering joining the service, it was not a matter of whether you could rise to the top but instead whether – in making the sacrifice to serve – I would have the support of all service members. The overwhelming service-wide response to Percy’s death dispelled those fears.”
Officers at 11 Division financially contributed to a plaque unveiled at the parkette behind the recently renovated station.
“We at this division, our fellow officers and the Toronto Police Association do not forget heroes,” said the division unit commander, Superintendent Peter Lennox. “For that reason, we thought it very appropriate that this little park should become a permanent testament to Percy’s heroism…Until today, this was a place without a name and a place without identity. Today, we are changing all of that.”
With Kim and her son Kevin at her side, Eurieta (Rita) Cummins thanked the service for their continued support.
“My husband died doing what he liked best,” she said. “He was proud of policing.”
Staff Supt. Richard Stubbings knew Cummins. A police cadet in the summons bureau, he ran into the deceased several times at 11 Division.
“Though I was at the bottom of the food chain at the time, Percy talked to me and the other cadets,” Stubbings remembered. “He had time for us and he was very welcoming and warm. He was the first officer that I knew whose funeral I attended and I remember marching with other service members. It was quite a moving experience.”
Desmond Peart, then a 21-year-old unemployed landed immigrant, was charged with Cummins’ murder. A paraplegic after being shot in the same incident, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and deported.
Cummins is the only Black Toronto police officer to die in the line of duty. The Percy Cummins Parkette is the latest City of Toronto facility to be named after Black Canadian achievers.
The Jean Augustine Park and the Randy Padmore Parkette were unveiled in the summer of 2010. In November 2007, the city dedicated an east end parkette to honour retired Citizenship court judge, Stanley Grizzle, and 11 months later, a park near King St. W. and Dufferin St. was renamed after retired librarian, Rita Cox.
Empringham and Eastview Parks were renamed after youth workers, Shawn “Blu” Rose, who succumbed to an aneurysm in 2005, and Kempton Howard, who was murdered in December 2003, respectively.
North York’s Centennial Arena was renamed the Herbert H. Carnegie Arena in 2001 to honour the late ice hockey legend; the Harry Gairey Ice Rink was dedicated in memory of the late activist who was considered the patriarch of Toronto’s Black community and Flemingdon Arena was renamed to honour Hall of Fame hockey star, Angela James.
By RON FANFAIR