Justin August Knackstedt was born in Saskatoon on December 6, 1989 to Howard and Lori. Justin and his younger siblings grew up next door to their grandparents on a 160-hectare farm just outside of the old town site of Wimmer, SK.
At two years old, Justin served as the ring bearer at his parents wedding in 1992. They called him their “little man” because of his serious personality. “He never was a little kid who played with cars and trucks,” Lori says. Instead, he followed his grandpa and uncle around, taking rides on the tractor, mowing the lawn and messing around with engines. By age six, his maturity was almost startling: “If I couldn’t get the lawn mower to start, he’d troubleshoot with, ‘Mum, I think it might be the carburetor!’”
Growing up, Justin loved working on the farm. His favourite time of year was the fall harvest, when he’d help neighbouring family friends by combining and driving the grain truck. When he got his driver’s licence at 16, Justin would drive his younger brother Dawson, wherever he wanted to go in his 1994 Chevy hot rod. Protective of his younger sister, Trina, and their cousins, Justin was known for walking up to any guy who talked to his sister and introduce himself. “I might not be sitting right beside him, but I knew his eyes were on me all the time, watching,” Trina says with a laugh.
He graduated from Quill Lake School in 2008, and worked construction through the summer before heading out to Fort McMurray, AB, to work in the oil sands. The money was good, but Justin’s heart wasn’t in it. Knowing he belonged outdoors, he enrolled in a resource management program at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) Woodland campus. After graduating in 2011 with a diploma in Environmental Resource Law, he landed a job at Cypress Hills Provincial Park as a Conservation Officer. “As soon as he put his uniform on, he became so serious,” says Lori.
He was a Conservation Officer for “all the right reasons,” says Kerry Wrishko, Justin’s Inspector. “Because he was a hunter and a fisherman, he recognized what we have in Saskatchewan and made it his life’s mission to ensure those resources are protected.” Living away from his family was hard, but Justin called home every day. He frequently visited Trina in Prince Albert, crashing on her couch and watching Wild Justice, a show about California game wardens. When Justin visited the family farm on weekends, Dawson would run out to the yard to meet him at his truck. He always made time to help out on the farm and, of course, hunt: in the fall of 2010, he shot the third-largest moose in the history of the province. During the summer of 2012, Justin took Dawson for a ride-along in his work truck. “As soon as Dawson got home, he said, ‘I’m going to be a Conservation Officer when I get older,’ “ Trina recalls.
In May of 2013, Justin was transferred to the Saskatoon area, working in Blackstrap and Pike Lake Provincial Parks. His knowledge of hunting and aptitude for conservation law impressed his managers, who recruited him for undercover work. Justin loved the thrill of posing as a hunter to accompany poachers on trips, and relished busting traffickers in illegal fish and wildlife.
On May 31, 2013, while enroute to Blackstrap Provincial Park, Justin and his partner pulled over at the scene of a car crash just south of Saskatoon and offered to help RCMP divert traffic. Down the road, the driver of an SUV, drunk and fleeing police, sped through traffic toward the accident site, hitting Justin and leading RCMP on a chase before rolling into a ditch near Saskatoon. Justin passed away on the side of the highway. He was 23.
Taken and edited from a MacLeans article, published July 10, 2013