The Pius X High School Tragedy

27 October 1975

Warning: this story may be disturbing to some readers.

Perhaps the greatest horror of a parent is something evil happening to their children. Sadly, on the afternoon of 27 October 1975, evil strode into Pius X High School causing mayhem and death. At roughly 2:30pm, Robert Poulin, a Grade 13 student, arrived at the school on his 10-speed bicycle carrying a large, army duffel bag. He entered the building located on Fisher Avenue in suburban Nepean and walked to classroom 71 on the ground floor. There, Father Bédard was conducting a religious instruction class. After pausing briefly at the lockers located outside the room, Poulin calmly took out a sawed-off, pump-action shotgun from his duffel bag and threw open the classroom door. With a smile on his face, he fired several shots into the crowded room. At first, students thought it was a joke. But the awful reality quickly became apparent as shotgun pellets shattered bodies, and peppered the back wall of the classroom. Students threw themselves to the ground or hid behind desks in a desperate attempt to protect themselves. Poulin then backed out of the classroom. In the hallway, he put the shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger, blowing his brains over the walls and lockers. The whole affair lasted just ten seconds.

Robert Poulin, Ottawa Journal, 28 October 1975.

It took several minutes for the teacher and the students to realize that the attack was over. School principal, Father Leonard Lunney, who had been in his office at the time of the attack, rushed to the classroom to find the shattered remains of Robert Poulin in the hallway in front. He told the students that they were safe and ordered another teacher to stand guard over the body and wait for the police. To avoid passing by Poulin’s body, the traumatized children broke the classroom’s windows and evacuated to safety through them.

Six students were wounded in the attack, one grievously. Shot in the head, Mark Hough, age 18, was later to succumb to his injuries after a five-week battle for his life. Also wounded were Marc Potvin (18), Terry Vanden Handenberg (18), Barclay Holbrook (16), Kurniadi Benggawen (16) and Michael Monette (17). Thankfully, they all recovered. The psychological wounds inflicted on the entire class were, however, long lasting.

As Robert Poulin was entering the school, firemen were entering his house at 5 Warrington Drive in Ottawa South. They had been called to the scene by a neighbour who had gone to Mrs. Stuart Poulin’s assistance after the latter had arrived home from shopping to find smoke billowing from her home. In the basement, the firemen make a horrifying discovery. Manacled to a bed was the charred body of a semi-clad girl.

The body was quickly identified as that of a 17-year-old neighbour, Kimberly Rabot, who lived less than two blocks away. Poulin and Rabot knew each other, having been in the same Grade 10 class at Pius X High School before Rabot changed schools three years earlier. Rabot had also gone to Poulin’s house on one occasion to play the boardgame Risk. Poulin had also reportedly asked her out, but she had declined. Kim Rabot, an avid swimmer, had a sunny disposition and abhorred violence.

In the days leading up to the tragedy, there had been little indication in Poulin’s demeanour to suggest anything was awry. To all, including his family, classmates and teachers, Poulin was a quiet, studious kid. His passions were war board games and the militia. He had joined the Cameron Highlanders, and was hoping to go to officer training school one day. Poulin also had a job delivering newspapers. He was, however, a loner with few friends. He typically arrived at school just as classes were about to start and left immediately afterwards. His write-up in his school yearbook was “Rob takes the cake for this year’s ‘Briefcase of the Year award.’” He never showed much emotion.

The Friday before the attack, Poulin had asked his principal Father Lunney about the chances of him being able to leave school prior to the end of the school year the following June. Poulin wanted to work with the militia on security for the upcoming Montreal Summer Olympic Games. Father Lunney assured him that with his marks and record there would be no problem. That Sunday evening, just hours before he snapped, Robert Poulin had played cards with his parents and three sisters. The only thing unusual to occur was that he quit early to go to his bedroom in the basement.

Second from top, Robert Poulin’s advertisement for companionship, Ottawa Journal, 7 October 1975.

Police worked diligently to trace Poulin’s actions in the days leading up to the attack. They discovered that he had purchased a 12-guage, single-barrel shotgun with the serial number L877371 from a Giant Tiger store on George Street in the Byward Market a few days earlier. Poulin subsequently sawed off the barrel in his home’s basement so that it would fit in his duffel bag. He had also placed an advertisement for companionship in the personals’ column of the Ottawa Journal newspaper. The ad ran the first week in October.

On the fateful Monday morning, he left early, ostensibly to go to school. His mother asked if he wanted breakfast but Poulin said he had already made himself a peanut butter sandwich. Shortly afterwards, his mother heard a door slam and heavy steps on the stairs going down into the basement. She did not investigate. The basement bedroom was her son’s sanctum where neither she nor her husband ever went. She later went down to another part of the basement and called out to her son who was in his room behind a curtain. He said everything was fine. All seemed normal. She could hear nothing unusual above the sound of a radio and an operating washing machine.

What came out at the inquest held in early December, was that poor Kim Rabot was also behind that curtain. She had left her home at about 8:00am to go to the bus stop to catch her bus for school. Her brother was with her. Fifteen minutes later, Poulin approached her and said “I’ve something to show you.” She initially refused to go with him, but then relented when he said that he would drive her to school so she wouldn’t be late for class. She went back to his house with him. That was the last anybody other than Poulin saw her alive. An autopsy showed that she had been raped, then asphyxiated with a plastic, dry-cleaning bag and stabbed eleven times.

After killing the girl, Poulin laid a trail of Playboy magazines throughout the basement and doused them with gasoline. His intent was to destroy his home. The police were later to find more than 250 pornographic magazines and books, some of which portrayed graphic scenes of women in bondage. Unknown to his parents, Poulin had rented a post office box for the delivery of the pornography, which he purchased with the earnings from his paper route. He also had a large collection of women’s undergarments.

Amongst Poulin’s other effects in his bedroom, police found a diary, from which excerpts were read out loud at the inquest. While there was no reference to a pending school attack, there were some very disturbing entries. Poulin fantasized about suicide. He also thought about killing his parents and sisters, but changed his mind. He thought death “was the true bliss” and that he didn’t want them to be happy. He also wrote about burning the house down in a way that would cause maximum hardship to his father. As well, he described his sexual fantasies and his fear of women. He ordered an “Everything doll” from an ad in one of his pornographic magazines, but it didn’t live up to his expectations. Not wanting to die a virgin, he considered buying a model revolver to abduct a neighbourhood girl and rape her. If the girl caused any trouble, he wrote that he would kill her because he had nothing to lose since he was planning to kill himself anyhow. Ominously, the police found a list of girls who lived in the area; Kim Rabot’s name was underlined.

Two psychiatrists at the inquest testified that Robert Poulin was “almost two people,” and that his sudden burst of violence could not have been predicted. They also absolved his parents for responsibility for his deviant behaviour. With this school attack coming just months after a similar attack in Brampton in which a student and teacher were killed, the psychiatrists recommended the complete abolition of hand guns, and tight controls on other firearms. They also recommended additional controls on pornography.

The three-man, two-woman coroner’s jury deliberated for six hours. Their main recommendations focused on guns and pornography. While they dismissed calls for a complete ban on all firearms, they urged the government to ban all hand guns and limit sales of other firearms to only people with valid reasons to own them, such as hunters and target shooters. In addition, they argued that there should be a 30-day cooling off period between gun sale and gun delivery. They also called for a complete ban on pornography which they defined as “anything showing or representing the genital parts of the human body.” As well, the jury castigated the media for sensationalist reporting, a charge the coroner disputed saying that the news coverage had been responsible—the public had the right to know. Other recommendations included schools making periodic, random searches of lockers, and for secondary schools to know where all students are within the first thirty minutes of the school day, and to inform parents of any absences within an hour.

Following the tragedy, Mayor Lorry Greenberg initiated a voluntary, “no-questions-asked” turn-in of weapons. More than 178 guns of which 68 were restricted weapons were handed in to the Ottawa Police, including one from a convict out on parole.

The Liberal Government of Pierre Trudeau tightened controls on guns in 1977, two years after the Pius X High School shooting though not as far as the coroner’s jury recommended. Firearms were divided into three categories, unrestricted (rifles and shotguns) and restricted, such as handguns and semi-automatic weapons, and forbidden, such as sawed-off weapons. Fully automatic weapons were prohibited the following year, though existing weapons in private ownership were grandfathered.

While mass shootings, particularly in schools, are rare in Canada, they have occurred on several occasions since the Pius X High School attack. The most infamous was the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal when Marc Lépine killed fourteen women in an attack on feminism. This massacre led to further tightening of gun controls. In 1995, the Canadian Firearms Registry came into effect which required the registration of all firearms, including non-restricted weapons, such as rifles and shotguns. However, the Conservative government of Stephen Harper repealed the “long-gun” registry in 2012 and required all the information collected to be destroyed. While Quebec filed an injunction against the destruction of the data, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the province in 2015.

While there is no constitutional right to bear arms as there is in the United States, gun control remains a contentious issue in Canada. The issue broadly pits rural against urban interests and east versus west. Following the killing of twenty-two persons in Nova Scotia in 2020, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau banned 1,500 different types of assault-style weapons. In 2021, the federal government introduced further measures, including giving cities the ability to ban hand guns. The draft legislation is viewed as insufficient and unworkable by gun control advocates, and is opposed by gun enthusiasts.

Since the 1975 Pius X High School shooting, Canada’s laws on pornography have been liberalized, except in two important areas. Child pornography is prohibited. Pornography that involves crime, horror, cruelty and violence is also illegal.  


CBC, 2020. “Trudeau announces ban on 1,500 types of ‘assault-style” firearms – effectively immediately,” 1 May,

CNN. 2021. “Canada backs away from national hang gun ban and will leave it up to communities,” 16 February,

Ottawa Citizen, 1975. “Rob – ‘a quiet lad’ says it all,” 27 October.

——————, 1975. “Two dead, six wounded,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Relationship with militia ‘psychopathic,’” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Seconds of terror related by witness,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “Still no legislation enacted to toughen gun control laws,” 28 October.

——————, 1975. “So precious, so loving,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Three of St. Pius injured to go home this weekend,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Kimberly stabbed—coroner,” 29 October.

——————, 1975. “Mayor invites Ottawans to turn in their guns,” 30 October.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin looked ‘INSANE,’” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin inquest,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Kim didn’t like to hurt feelings,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin’s Diary,” 3 December.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin almost 2 people,’” 4 December.

Ottawa Journal, 1975. “Student guns down classmates,” 28 October.

——————-, 1975. “His best friend was his bicycle,” 28 October.

——————-, 1975. “Poulin told Kim: ‘I’ve something to show you,’” 29 October.

——————-, 1975. “Robert’s room his castle,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Pornography surprise to father,” 2 December.

——————-, 1975. “Porn, gun control a necessity – jury,” 5 December.

The Champagne Bank Robber

27 October, 1958

When Mr W.W. Pegg, manager of the Imperial Bank of Canada’s main Ottawa branch at 62 Sparks Street, arrived at work on Monday, 27 October 1958, he had no idea that he was about to experience the worst day of his long and successful career. Entering the classic, Temple-style, granite and sandstone building, his thoughts must have undoubtedly been on the Slater Street gas main explosion that had rocked Ottawa’s downtown core just two days earlier, injuring scores, demolishing buildings, and shattering store fronts and glass windows in a several block area from Sparks Street to Somerset Street. But on opening the bank’s vault for the start of the day’s business, all thoughts about the explosion would have been forgotten by the sight that confronted him, or, more correctly by what he didn’t see. The cash reserves of the bank were gone. Also missing, were funds transferred to his branch from smaller Imperial bank branches across the city the previous week. How the audacious theft was committed was not immediately apparent. There was no signs of forced entry. It took head office auditors days to determine the precise amount of the shortfall—an astonishing $260,958 (equivalent to $2.2 million today), the largest theft ever from an Ottawa bank.

Imperial Bank of Canada, 62 Sparks St
Imperial Bank of Canada, 62 Sparks Street, circa 1945. The building is now home to a restaurant.

Suspicion immediately fell on Boyne Lester Johnston, Pegg’s 27-year old, trusted, chief teller. Johnson, a Renfrew native, was a seven-year veteran of the Imperial Bank, having joined the financial institution out of high school. Among his duties were handling the cash deposits brought in from other Imperial branches. Consequently, a large volume of money routinely passed through his hands. Although everything had appeared normal when he had left work with other bank employees the previous Friday, he had failed to show up Monday morning.

When police arrived at Johnston’s home, apartment #20 at 350 Chapel Street in Sandy Hill, there was no sign of him, or his wife Bernice. A search revealed a large sum of cash though there was no way of knowing whether the money was part of the missing bank funds; the bank had no record of the serial numbers of the stolen notes. The Johnsons’ family car was in the basement parking lot, a .22 calibre hunting rifle, hunting clothes, and maps were found in its trunk. The building’s caretaker told the police that he had last seen Boyne Johnson on Sunday morning when the young man had awoken him at 8.30am to ask to be let into his apartment. Johnson had told him that he had forgotten his key after going to church with his wife. The superintendent thought this was odd as Boyne was dressed in old clothes rather than his Sunday best. Police immediately issued a warrant for his arrest, alerting law enforcement agencies across the country, as well as the FBI in the United States. Rail stations, airports, car rental agencies, and customs posts were also advised to be on the watch for Boyne Lester Johnson.

While Ottawa police were trying to track down Boyne, Bernice Johnston was becoming frantic with worry. On the Saturday, the couple had driven to Renfrew to visit their mothers, Mrs Mary Johnston and Mrs Julia Narlock who lived in the town. They had supper that evening with the two parents in a Cobden restaurant. Everything seemed normal. The couple spent the night at the home of Bernice’s mother. The next day, Boyne had risen early, telling his wife that he was going hunting close to the Renfrew golf course. She last saw him at 6.30 Sunday morning. He never returned. On Monday morning, she and a friend began searching the Renfrew area for her missing husband. Having no luck, and fearing that some serious had happened to him, she turned to the Renfrew police department for assistance. She was shocked to find out that her husband had become the subject of a nation-wide alert.

Johnson wanted poster
“Wanted” Poster released by Ottawa police and circulated throughout North America.

Johnston’s trail went cold. There were few clues to his whereabouts. Police speculated that he was still in the vicinity, but admitted they really didn’t know. To help their inquiries, the Ottawa police and RCMP issued a detailed “wanted” poster with a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. He was described as age 27, height 5’ 8,” weight 135 pounds, with a fair complexion. Also noted was that he was a neat dresser, frequented night clubs, and had a penchant for champagne and the ladies. The poster went out to police stations and post offices across North America. Tips started to come in. A Trans-Canada Airways (TCA) stewardess thought she had spotted Johnston on a flight from Ottawa to Montreal. On 5 November, Montreal police were sent “scurrying” on receiving a phone call from a man who identified himself as Inspector Osborne, a vacationing Ontario Provincial policeman. He called Montreal police headquarters telling them that he had captured Johnston, and sought aid to bring him in. He also claimed to have the money in an airline carry-on bag. It was a hoax. No Inspector Osborne worked for the OPP.

The big break came on Monday, 10 November when Geneva Flowers, a waitress at Chez Paree, a Denver, Colorado night club, recognized Johnston from his wanted poster shown to her by a friend in the Denver police department. Another server, Ormonde Wynn, had spotted Johnston sipping champagne sitting at the bar. The Denver police were called, arresting Johnston without a fuss. He took the policemen to his YMCA room where they found a suitcase crammed with more than $233,000 in mostly Canadian cash. He also told them that on arriving in Denver he had bought a $4,150 sports car, and had planned to go skiing in the mountains. He said that he always wanted to know what it was like to have lots of money. He admitted that he knew he would eventually be caught, and was glad it was all over. He had wanted to experience the “have fun while you can principle.” Denver policemen said that the highly detailed wanted poster circulated by Canadian police that had highlighted Johnston’s love of champagne was responsible for his capture.

Under police questioning, Johnston freely explained how he robbed the bank, and his movements over the previous two weeks. Through the day on Friday, 24 October, he had removed cash from the vault, secreting the money in accessible spots around the bank. At some point, exactly when is not clear, he converted $7,000 into U.S. currency at another Ottawa bank. That night, he returned to the Imperial Bank’s Sparks Street branch, letting himself in using the key with which he had been entrusted as chief teller. He then retrieved the money from their caches, filled a suitcase, and left via a rear laneway exit to his car. There were no witnesses. Returning home with the suitcase in the trunk, he calmly drove with his wife to Renfrew the following day, the suitcase still in the back of the car. On Sunday morning, instead of hunting, he returned to Ottawa, stopping off at his apartment, where he left some money for his wife. He then flew to Windsor, Ontario. At the Windsor airport, he stored the cash-stuffed suitcase in a locker, and took a taxi to the Detroit airport. Pretending to have accidently forgotten his suitcase, he persuaded a Detroit taxi driver to go to the Windsor airport and fetch it for him. Incredibly, the driver agreed to do so, passing through US customs without incident. Johnston gave him a $20 tip for his trouble. From Detroit, he flew to Los Angeles, before going to Salt Lake City, Twin Falls, Idaho, Cheyenne Wisconsin, and finally Denver, where the law finally caught up with him. While in Cheyenne, Johnston, feeling blue, had telephoned a friend, Gerald Cotie, the third assistant accountant at the Imperial Bank branch. Cotie had urged Johnston to give himself up, but without success.

With Johnston waiving an extradition hearing, two Ottawa police officers, Inspector Ab Cavan and Detective Gordon Lowry, went to Denver on November 11 to officially identify him, and to return him to Ottawa. With a stop at Malton Airport in Toronto, Johnston arrived at Uplands Airport, Ottawa, accompanied by the two officers, on a regular TCA flight, at shortly before 10pm on 14 November, three weeks after the heist. On arriving in the city, he politely thanked the two detectives. Wearing a suede windbreaker, dark grey trousers, and running shoes, Johnson walked briskly down the steps to be greeted by flashing light bulbs and television cameras. More than 300 spectators were on hand to meet his plane. When asked why he did it by a Citizen reporter, Johnston replied “It’s hard to explain. I guess it was the climax to a lot of personal trouble.” He also told journalists that “It’s nice to have met you. But when you write this, don’t say ‘Go west, young man!’ It just doesn’t work out.”

On the following Monday, he was officially charged, and was remanded into custody by Magistrate Glenn E. Strike. No plea was entered, and no bail was set. In the crowded court room was his wife, Bernice. Johnson, who did not speak at the hearing, was represented by John Dunlop; James Maloney, QC, Member of Parliament for Renfrew, was retained as Johnston’s defence counsel. A month later, Johnson plead guilty, and was convicted. In court, it was revealed that all $260,958 that he had stolen from the Imperial Bank had been returned. The bulk of the money was discovered by Denver police in Johnston’s YMCA room. A further $5,000 was recovered from his Chapel Street apartment. He had spent only $12,050. Johnston’s father, Hartzell Johnston, made up the shortfall. His father also told the judge that he was planning to start a business in another city, and would offer Boyne a job on his release from jail. Wife Bernice also said she would stand by her man, and wait for him.

During his short hearing, police officers testified that Boyne had been “a model prisoner,” and it seemed that “he was glad to have been caught.” One testified that Johnston seemed to have been trying to run away from himself. Defence counsel argued that Johnston was “not really a criminal.” The prosecuting Crown attorney, Raoul Mercier, countered that it was important for society to be protected from thefts by trusted employees.

On Thursday 18 December, in front of several Johnston family members, Judge Strike pronounced sentence. The magistrate said that he had little sympathy for Boyne. His was a very serious crime involving a very large sum of money, and that Boyne had been disloyal to both his employer and his family. A pale but composed Boyne Johnston received his sentence—four years in the Kingston Penitentiary.


McGuire, C.R., A History of 62 Sparks Street, Ian Kimmerly Stamps,

The Ottawa Citizen, 1958. “Ottawa Bank Teller Hunted After $250,000 Cash Taken, Sparks Street Branch Looted,” 27 October.

————————, 1958. “‘Tip’ on Man Hunt ‘Phony,’” 6 November.

————————, 1958. “Boyne Johnston Nabbed In Denver,” 11 November.

————————, 1958. “Led To Arrest,” 11 November.

————————, 1958. “Give The Mechanics Of Returning Banker,” 12 November.

————————, 1958. “‘Why?’ Hard To Explain,” 15 November.

————————, 1958. “Remanded, Boyne Silent After Charge,” 17 November.

————————, 1958. “All Fund Returned, Teller Admits $260,000 Robbery,” 10 December.

————————, 1958. “‘You Were Disloyal’—Magistrate, Four Years In Prison For Johnston,” 18 December.

————————, 2015. “Mover and shakers in capital’s foodie scene,” 26 April.


Imperial Bank of Canada, 62 Sparks Street, Ottawa,

Wanted Poster, The Ottawa Citizen, 7 November, 1958.