MANITOULIN – At 4:21 pm on Thursday, November 19, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Commissioner Thomas Carrique delivered an announcement that thousands of people had been dreading.

Manitoulin OPP Provincial Constable (PC) Marc Hovingh, a 28-year veteran of the force, had died of injuries sustained in the line of duty during an incident near Gore Bay earlier that day.

“Our hearts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this tragic time,” the commissioner stated, adding the hashtag #HeroesInLife.

The hashtag references the phrase “heroes in life, not in death,” a message inscribed on the Ontario Police Memorial at Queen’s Park. Those words recognize that police officers put their own safety in jeopardy each day.

PC Hovingh, age 52, leaves behind his wife Lianne and four children—Nathan, Laura, Sarah and Elena. 

He was 18 months away from retirement.

PC Hovingh is originally from Barrie, according to a tweet from the OPP. He began his policing career on January 4, 1994 in at the Apsley detachment in the Kawartha highlands. In 1997, he moved up Highway 28 to serve at the Bancroft detachment. He moved once more to his third and final posting in Manitowaning in 1999.

His visitation will take place on Friday, November 27 at Mindemoya Missionary Church from noon to 4 pm and 6 to 9 pm. His funeral is scheduled the following day at Manitoulin Secondary School, by invitation only. PC Hovingh will be buried at Hilly Grove Cemetery.

He was known for his gentle-giant demeanour. His friends, neighbours and colleagues could always call on PC Hovingh to care for others, find unique ways to solve problems and provide a calm, level-headed presence.

He grew up in a modest household; his parents gave much of their income and their time to community members in need. That ideology remained with PC Hovingh through the rest of his life.

The Hovingh family is deeply embedded in the Mindemoya Missionary Church community where they help to run programs, organize and host support groups and work on pastoral initiatives.

PC Hovingh was a unifier and was known for making subtle yet impactful gestures to make people feel comfortable, such as his push to embrace more casual church attire so outsiders may have felt less intimidated to join the congregation.

He was known for coaching hockey, running children’s programming both formally and informally through his church and preparing meals for community members in need.

Friends recalled his skill at the controls of a backhoe and said he would take any excuse to pull out the machinery. An OPP release noted that he built his family’s home and had plans to build tiny homes after he retired.

The mood on Manitoulin Island last Thursday evening and through the following days was deeply sombre, particularly in PC Hovingh’s home of Manitowaning.

This wreath arrived at the Manitowaning detachment on Saturday morning as a tribute to the fallen officer, whose badge number was 8340.

“He certainly didn’t deserve what happened. He was just a victim of circumstance. He had a great family and he’ll be greatly missed in this community,” said Assiginack Mayor Dave Ham, whose township includes Manitowaning.

Mr. Ham recalled that he and PC Hovingh had worked closely together to address public safety issues within the township.

By all accounts, PC Hovingh was deeply dedicated to his community. He was one of four constables assigned to the former Manitowaning detachment before it amalgamated with Little Current. Earlier this year, all detachments except Gore Bay merged with Little Current.

Retired officer Rob Mellan, who joined the force in 1988 and worked alongside PC Hovingh for 18 years before his own retirement two years ago, said the news was surreal.

“You know these things happen within this profession but there’s always a bit of an assumption that it’s going to happen somewhere else. To imagine in our little town of Manitowaning, one of the four officers who worked out of that detachment, it’s hard to fathom,” he said. 

Two of Mr. Mellan’s children are the same age as the Hovingh kids. They grew up together in Manitowaning.

The Manitoulin detachment has often been a transitory posting but some officers stay long-term and make deep ties to the community, as was the case with the Manitowaning officers’ families. PC Hovingh’s dedication was evident both within his work and in his personal life.

“Marc was already scheduled to have vacation time on the week the (Manitowaning) detachment closed. He cancelled his vacation to make sure that for as long as the doors were open, he was continuing to serve there. That’s a very strong testament to what the community means to the Hovinghs and what he did for others,” Mr. Mellan said.

Retired Manitowaning officer Steve Hart said the “mountain of a man” was always very conscientious, community minded and devoted to his faith, and loved making practical jokes with his colleagues at the former detachment.

“He was very quiet and very humble. He didn’t like being the centre of attention and he always did his job for the sake of the duty; he was never expecting anything back in return,” said Mr. Hart.

His family was also close with the Hovinghs and Mr. Hart said his friends and family have been grappling with the question of ‘why?’

Flags flew at half staff throughout Ontario, including at municipal properties in Manitowaning where PC Marc Hovingh lived.

Mr. Hart said he always looked forward to PC Hovingh’s level-headed and cautious approach to his job whenever the two were partnered on a shift. The pair travelled south to provide police support during the Caledonia land dispute in 2006.

Weighing heavily on the former Manitowaning detachment crew is the question of why PC Hovingh met this fate, and not one of them.

“I’m retired and the others are all retired now. When this happened, there was a sense of helplessness we felt in not being able to go help him. I know he would have done the same thing for us,” Mr. Hart said.

When he retired as the community services officer, Mr. Hart urged his colleague Marie Ford to take on the role. She took a photo of PC Hovingh on the final day of operations at the Manitowaning detachment.

“He had so much love and care for his community. He had an amazing sense of humour and cared so very deeply,” PC Ford said. “(He) gave me some incredible laughter; he will be missed. Our love and support of his family will go on forever.”

Manitoulin OPP detachment commander Inspector Megan Moriarity said she was deeply grateful for the outpouring of support in the recent days.

“These are indescribably difficult days for the Marc’s family and the OPP. Marc was an incredible police officer, husband, father and friend who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. He was truly a hero in life, not death,” she stated in an email to The Expositor.

Wikwemikong Tribal Police Service (WTPS) Police Chief Terry McCaffrey penned an open letter on Friday, November 20 to Mr. Carrique, the OPP commissioner.

“Marc’s sacrifice will be forever remembered and I hope that the outpouring of love to the OPP and his family will help in some small way during this extremely difficult time,” the police chief wrote. “If you need anything from us, day or night, know that WTPS will do anything we can to help our partners in policing.”

UCCM Police Chief Faron Whiteye said his officers shared the heartbreak with the Hovingh family and the OPP.

“It was an absolute honour for my fellow officers and I to have known and worked with Marc.  May the Creator bless and comfort Lianne, his children, his family, his friends, and our colleagues at the Manitoulin OPP detachment during this difficult time. Soar with the eagles, Constable Marc Hovingh,” he stated.

Bruce McCullagh was the Manitoulin OPP detachment commander from 2004 until his retirement in 2011. He described PC Hovingh as a dedicated family man who thought highly of his community.

“We kind of pride ourselves on Manitoulin as being a pretty safe place and a close-knit community. When something like this happens it reminds us that we’re all vulnerable,” said Mr. McCullagh. “I can’t sum Marc up any better than saying he was genuinely a good guy, which makes it even more troubling. He does deserve a very fitting tribute.”

Assiginack Family Health Team physician Dr. Mike Bedard’s children grew up with the Hovingh children. Ms. Hovingh formerly worked in Dr. Bedard’s clinic and now serves at Naandwechige-Gamig Wikwemikong Health Centre as a community health nurse. 

A sacred fire burned in Wiikwemkoong over the days following the incident.

“She’s eternally happy as a person and just radiates positive energy,” the doctor said.

“(PC Hovingh) was a gentle giant and just a nice guy. A real family guy. He’s what I’d call a good cop; he didn’t ever use fear or intimidation and chose kindness in search of good outcomes for everyone,” said Dr. Bedard. “It’s an absolute goddamn waste.”

Both Ms. Hovingh and her husband have large extended families and many loved ones have offered support in recent days. The church has been co-ordinating meals and offering support while being mindful to not overwhelm the family.

For neighbour and close friend Rhonda Bondi, the people helping the Hovinghs have been an uplifting sight in the midst of the tragedy.

“Their entire family pretty well does nothing but serve. They serve in the form of food banks, meals-on-wheels-type programs, babysitting for free, lawn cutting and giving people rides to places when their kids were all in sports—they’d take anybody to fill up their 11-person van,” said Ms. Bondi.

A key aspect of PC Hovingh’s community presence was his ability to find unique solutions to problems of all kinds.

“People would go to him for advice and he’d come up with great ideas that nobody had thought of. I feel that now it is time for all of us on Manitoulin to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to help serve the families that have been serving us,” Ms. Bondi said.

Manitowaning resident Larry Harasym knew the family through get-togethers and bible studies at the Hovingh house and said they took part in “just about everything.”

“(PC Hovingh) personified quiet strength just through his being. He exemplified all the qualities of a real man,” Mr. Harasym said. “He was just a great family guy and friend, and we miss him in the community and at church.”

The Expositor has begun to gather reflections and memories of PC Hovingh in a book for the Hovingh family. See the story on Page 1 for further details.