James Lloyd Lundblad was born Jan. 17, 1968, in Valleyview, Alta., a small farming community known as the “Portal to the Peace”—Peace Country—the immense prairie region stretching across northern Alberta and B.C. James, a quiet, fair-haired boy who preferred the trumpet to hockey, was one of two children born to Lloyd, a second-generation crop farmer, and Noëlla, a French-speaking farmer’s daughter raised in the towns of Guy and Falher in Alberta’s francophone heartland.
Lloyd supplemented meagre earnings from wheat, canola and barley by hauling oil. Home every night after the kids were in bed, he was gone before they awoke. Like him, James was steadfast and hard-headed, with a disdain for the city and a clear view of right from wrong, says his sister Michelle.
Even as a boy, James wanted to join the RCMP. “He wasn’t interested in any other force,” Michelle adds. He even had a radio that allowed him to listen to police chatter and memorize their code, lingo and MO. After high school, he went to Grande Prairie College, earning a diploma in power engineering. “He didn’t feel confident enough to apply to the force—just yet,” Michelle says.
After taking a job at the Amoco oil refinery in Valleyview, James worked up the courage to apply. His rejection letter told him to gain more “life experience,” so he enrolled at Edmonton’s Grant MacEwan College to get typical cop prerequisites, psychology and sociology, under his belt. In 1994, to prove his mettle, he joined the Canadian Army Reserves. Basic training left him fitter and stronger than ever before. “Every single thing he did was one small step toward the ultimate goal: joining the RCMP,” says his friend Patrick Los, who remembers a photo taken at CFB Shilo. That day, James’s feet were covered in blisters from heel to toe. “But there he was, grinning away,” says Patrick. The silent determination that saw James through every slight and hurt was his defining trait.
Home from Manitoba, he applied again to the Mounties. Once more, he was rejected. He needed a degree, he was told. In 1995, James enrolled at Lethbridge College, where he completed a two-year policing course. At 24, surrounded by 18-year-olds, he was the old man on campus. He logged three years with Brink’s before appling again in 2001. “If I don’t get in, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he confided in Michelle. He needn’t have worried: the third time proved to be the charm.
Onward to Regina for 24 weeks at “Depot,” the famed RCMP academy on the city’s outskirts, where he trained in firearms, self-defence and driving tactics, practising crazy U-turns, high-speed passing and chases on empty gravel roads. From the get-go, he loved the traffic detail.
The entire family joined him on swearing-in day, when he was presented with his RCMP badge—one of the “happiest days of our lives,” says Michelle. After 40 coats of polish, his “high-browns” were spit-shone to a shimmer, and he’d perfected the sharp-angled salute. For the first time, he donned the red twill. It “meant more to him” than to any of his troopmates—most in their late teens and early twenties, says Patrick. James was 34. He’d worked so hard for the privilege, says Patrick.
Cadets provide the RCMP with a wish list of their top three postings. James listed 25: all in his home province. None, however, was Edson, the sleepy foothills town where he was dispatched to learn the ropes. Mayor Greg Pasychny remembers him playing Taps every Remembrance Day. And he was forever rounding up fellow Mounties to don the red serge for Edson’s parades and curling championships. James had never married. The RCMP was his family, says Michelle: “He was proud of its traditions and rites.”
But he didn’t much like criminal investigations. Quietly, he longed to join highway patrol, his true passion. All alone, he’d get to cover the open road, his friend Rick Drew explains. Last year, he was promoted to traffic services in Camrose. He was on cloud nine: “He wasn’t just RCMP, but he’d landed highway patrol, the job he really, really loved,” says Patrick. A lifelong renter, he’d even bought a little white house. “He’d never wanted to put down roots before,” says Patrick. Every stop-gap job and apartment was a way station to the final goal. Finally, he’d arrived.
On May 5, James was parked off Hwy 2A when, shortly after 10 a.m., a speeder shot past. He made a U-turn to give chase and was slammed, driver’s side, by a five-tonne grain truck, killing him instantly. He was 41.