Ontario Provincial Police Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala was mourned by thousands of people who filled Sadlon Arena and lined the streets along the funeral procession route in Barrie on Wednesday.
OPP officials have estimated 7,500 people turned out to say goodbye to the Barrie native and Haldimand County OPP constable, who was gunned down on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022, in the line of duty.
Pierzchala was responding to a vehicle in the ditch at the intersection of Indian Line and Concession 14, west of Hagersville, at about 2:30 p.m. that day when police say he was shot and killed. Two suspects were later apprehended and have been charged with first-degree murder.
Along with the thousands of officers in attendance, the funeral service included Pierzchala’s parents, Janina (Bielanska) and Jan Pierzchala, along with siblings Chris, Michal and Justyna, who all sat in the front row.
Pierzchala’s sister, Justyna, spoke first on behalf of the family and called Greg one of the biggest protectors among her older brothers.
“Among the three, Greg took this job most seriously. He was always making sure that I was in a good place, both mentally and physically, and was always checking to make sure that I was heading in the right direction,” Justyna said. “Greg often emphasized how I should surround myself with good people and how it’s better to have few friends leading you in a direction towards success than to have many who might be dragging you down.”
She also spoke of Greg’s love of plants, Algonquin Park and visual art, and how her brother could stare at a painting for what seemed like hours.
“He would tell me of his plans to dedicate a whole room in his future house where he could go and stare at artwork after a long day,” Justyna said. “He also liked to dance. Whenever we were at an event and he saw that I wasn’t dancing, he would take me by the hand and lead me to the dance floor. Although he may not have been the greatest dancer, the effort was surely there.”
Pierzchala’s younger brother, Michal, spoke next and recalled a time when Greg, who was 13 years old at the time, fell in the wrong crowd.
“He made friends with the wrong group of kids and they all got themselves into trouble. Luckily, a strict teacher had pulled him aside and firmly told him that he was on the wrong path and was wasting his potential,” Michal recounted. “For whatever reason, Greg took this extremely seriously and he later told me this is where he consciously decided to become the respectable and honest person that he will be remembered as.”
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique spoke about the range of emotions he has been feeling since the news of the shooting. He reflected on the constable’s life with a funny story about a chance meeting and photograph he took with Pierzchala eight months before the young man was killed.
“This past Easter, I was out for an early-morning ride when I came across an OPP cruiser, prominently parked along the side of the road,” Carrique said. “As I have done many times before, I wheeled up to say hi, mindful that out of uniform I needed to approach the cruiser so as not to cause the officer concern.”
Carrique continued saying he waited for the officer in the vehicle to finish his phone call before saying hello.
“While on the phone, with veteran-like confidence, the officer slowly lowered his window and glanced my way. I introduced myself and this veteran-like confidence quickly turned to disbelief as Greg shared with me how excited he was to be out patrolling on his own, for the very first time,” Carrique said. “He asked if he could take a selfie of us, which I later came to learn he wisely distributed around and I understand for which he took considerable heat from his peers.
“Little did I know that, eight months later, at Christmas no less, our paths would cross again; however, this time it would sadly be his final tour of duty,” the commissioner added.
Many of those who spoke at the funeral noted Pierzchala was proud of his Polish heritage. Among those in attendance was the Polish ambassador to Canada, Witold Dzielski, who addressed the mourners at today’s funeral, as did Premier Doug Ford and other government and police dignitaries.
Pierzchala, who grew up in Barrie and attended St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School, had been an OPP officer for just over a year. He had found out the day he was killed that he had been notified hours before his death that he had passed his probation.