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RCMP reach 150th anniversary milestone in 2023, 73 years in B.C.

On Aug. 15, 1950 the BC Provincial Police changed-over to the RCMP in Williams Lake

The 150th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is May 23, 2023.

British Columbia, however, did not have the RCMP until 1950 when they replaced the B.C. Provincial Police, which had been established in 1858.

A headline in the April 20, 1950 edition of the Tribune confirmed Mounties will take over B.C. Police.

MLA Angus MacLean, while visiting Williams Lake, told the newspaper a considerable savings would result in the change-over.

Charges for the officers would come from the dominion government and save the province’s taxpayers $1,700,000 annually.

B.C. Police officers transitioning to work for the RCMP would see a cut in pay but benefit from a higher pension plan, MacLean said.

“The only bad rub in the change-over as far as members of the provincial force are concerned is that they will then be subject to be posted anywhere in the dominion,” noted the article.

By Thursday, Aug. 17, 1950 the Tribune reported “Business as Usual” When RCMP took over Tuesday, Aug. 15, with the only change being the closing of the provincial force books at midnight and the opening of a new set.

Staff Sgt. A. Fairbairn was remaining on as N.C.O. in charge and at that point had the longest record of any man in B.C. having been with the force for 38 years. He’d served in every part of the province, including Prince Rupert, Hazelton, Decker Lake, Aldemere, Telkwa, Burns Lake, Cranbrook, Smithers, Grand Forks, Courtenay and Kamloops.

Remaining on staff were constables M. Stevens, R. Ivans, and R. Kyte and Const. R. Turnbull of the Alexis Creek detachment as well.

Retired Mountie Charles Scheideman wrote several books about his experience as a police officer. In his book When Grampa was a Mountie, published in 2014, he included stories from his time in the Cariboo Chilcotin.

Being transferred with his family to Williams Lake in 1967, he said, was a privilege and there were an overabundance of fine folks living in the community.

“I could sense that Williams Lake people like their surroundings; their general attitude clearly displayed this mind-set. The smaller communities and ranches surrounding Williams Lake all benefited from this positive spin; the result was a great assortment of odd local characters and truly good people. Very often the odd character and the truly good person were one in the same,” Scheideman wrote in a story about local character Archie and the six-toed dog.

Today the Williams Lake RCMP detachment is located at 575 Borland Street, where it has been since 1987.

The two-story building, cost $2 million at the time and was funded by Public Works Canada which constructed all RCMP detachments across Canada.

In 1987, Tribune reporter Dave Fraser interviewed Const. Bob Grinstead for an article about microchips being the latest weapon in the battle against crime.

At the time the Williams Lake RCMP had two computer systems at their disposal which allowed police to access files from other detachments.

Williams Lake RCMP detachment 2023

Today the detachment area covers 14,000 square kilometers, north toward Alexandria along Highway 97 and south almost to Lac La Hache, east to Likely/Horsefly and beyond and west towards Alexis Creek.

The downstairs of the building in Williams Lake hosts 14 cells and the office spaces are on the main floor.

More-recently-appointed officers in charge are Staff Sgt. Brad McKinnon and Sgt. Josh Smith. McKinnon is also filling in the role for inspector because one has been hired but will not be in place for a few more months.

“It’s a great privilege to be in a leadership position at this detachment,” McKinnon said. “Josh and I are excited to work closely with all our stakeholders. We are very fortunate to have the men and women we have here providing policing services. They are an incredible group of individuals, probably some of the most selfless people I have ever met who give themselves to the community every day.”

McKinnon said the detachment is open and ready for business. He likes to tell people he does not have all the answers, but to be patient with him as he tries to find the best solutions to all challenges.

Finding those solutions isn’t something the police can do on their own either, he added.

“We need help from stakeholders and partners to grapple with and solve some of the complex challenges that society faces now that it takes to deal with violent criminals and homelessness.”

Policing is changing and evolving and the RCMP are always looking for the best ways to utilize resources and to ensure public safety.

The priority is to prevent crime, McKinnon said.

By keeping police officers focused on strategic police work it frees them up to go out and be proactive, he said.

“Maybe ride a bike around town and engage with the public in a very human way.”

In Comox he was on bike patrol one evening and ticketed seven impaired drivers in four hours.

The RCMP have a unique model in the police world because when there are large events like wildfires, Olympics, G7 meetings, resources can be pulled in from other locations across the country to supplement operations to ensure the official operation of the project or event is a success, McKinnon said.

At the same time, he noted he always asks people to remember police officers are people and citizens of the communities they serve.

“We shop at the same grocery stores, pump fuel at the same stations, and we are volunteers for all types of things outside of work. What I have learned over the years is one of the most important assets we have is the ability to build relationships with people so they see us as people and not just these cops showing up to do things.”

A lot of police officers do it quietly, not for recognition, but because they deeply care about the communities they live in, he added.

Officers working at the detachment presently are a diverse group with people from all walks of life. Some of the officers speak multiple languages, plus there is a strong gifted team of female officers, who McKinnon said are inspiring.

With the diversity comes different ways of thinking and problem solving, he noted.

Staff Sgt. McKinnon

Born in Glace, Bay on Cape Breton Island, N.S., Staff Sgt. Brad McKinnon spent most of his growing up years in Ottawa.

His father had run the atomic energy plant in Glace Bay and when it closed he took a job to run the city of Ottawa’s public transport, while his mom was a registered nurse who got a job at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Jokingly he said he decided to become an RCMP officer when his hockey career didn’t pan out.

“I always wanted to be a police officer and I wanted to be a Mountie for a lot of reasons. What drew me and appealed to me was the ability to work anywhere in Canada and the world really.”

After he completed a degree in business and criminology from the University of Ottawa, he applied to the RCMP and 11 months later was at the training academy in early 2005.

He remembers jogging in the snow up to his rib bones at depot in Regina, Sask.

Graduating in August 2005, his first posting was in Bella Bella on the Central Coast. From there he went to Comox, then Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake in the Northwest Territories.

“It was way inside the Arctic Circle,” he said. “I wanted to experience Canada’s far north and my wife is a school teacher and we had one child at the time.”

The family returned to Ottawa where he spent four years in the Parliament Hill detachment and then with sensitive and international investigations, a specialized crime section that looks at files that jeopardized Canadian interests at home and in other parts of the world.

While it sounds exciting, he said it was not for him, because he is a “street cop.”

He then took a lateral transfer to Tumbler Ridge, and by then they had three children. While moving there, however, he learned he’d been promoted to Kitimat.

After three years in Kitimat, he was promoted to sergeant in 100 Mile House, a post he held until he moved to the Williams Lake detachment to become the Staff Sgt. a year ago, replacing Del Byron, who moved to Kamloops.

In July, his wife and three children will be officially locating with him to Williams Lake. She will be a new 5/6 Grade teacher at Cataline Elementary School.

“We will have one child going to Cataline and two at Columneetza.”

An active community volunteer, he coached hockey in 100 Mile for the U13 rep team and is excited to take on some coaching responsibilities with Williams Lake Minor Hockey. “I am super pumped to be here and will be glad when my family is here as well,” he said.

Sgt. Josh Smith

Born and raised in St. Thomas, Ont, Sgt. Josh Smith decided in Grade 10 he wanted to become an RCMP officer.

“I was looking at my career options and I felt at peace about that career option.”

To enhance his chances of being successful, he started doing a lot of extra volunteer hours with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, he took police foundations courses at a post secondary college, volunteered for different police detachments doing call taking and training scenarios.

After basic training in the military with the 31st Combat Engineers, he entered the RCMP training academy in 2004, graduating that December.

His first post was Fort St. John where he stayed for nine years followed by three years in Lytton, Masset for three years and three years in Terrace before transferring to Williams Lake in April 2023.

Still at peace about his decision, 18 years later he said it’s been a career like no other.

“The experiences I have had have been a huge range.”

He has worked in different sections - general duty, crime reduction, plain clothes, general investigation section investigating serious crimes, a summer of bike patrol and Indigenous policing.

A father of three sons, he and his wife are busy with their family.

As of May 2023, the detachment is staffed 84 per cent but Smith said that is always changing.

“We constantly have people transferring in and transferring out. The north is really a training ground for a lot of detachments so part of our problem is we are always in a flux of training.”

General duty officers in the detachment are the backbone and it is important to make sure they are getting the resources and tools they need to do the job, Smith said, noting whether that be manpower or equipment.

The RCMP are engaged in a lot of proactive initiatives in town and inter-agency collaboration such as the situation table and the integrated high risk assessment team for domestic violence.

“Those are ones that are very important that we make sure we are engaged with. We are looking at options on how to accommodate more requests, which might mean juggling our organizational chart to free up a position dedicated to more community relations work.”

Until the new inspector arrives, Smith and McKinnon are covering those responsibilities. Additionally, the office administrator position is being filled in an acting capacity, but should be going out for a job posting in the near future.

A police officer can always be busy, he added.

If the call volume is lower then officers can become more engaged in the community.

When he was in Fort St. John, Lytton and Masset he implemented wrestling clubs. In Masset he coached x-country and was a member of the Lions Club.

Smith said he learned over the years to develop capacity and the wrestling club in Masset is still going.

“One thing I’m really proud of is the coach I mentored in Masset who took over the program is Rob Brown. His son Logan just qualified to participate with team B.C. in the North American Indigenous Games in Nova Scotia and another team member as well.”

Williams Lake detachment future goals

As they finalize the detachment’s annual performance plan, Smith said one of the key focuses will be employee recognition.

“We hope to do better and that will help members to feel appreciated and valued when they come to work. When that happens you have a better and more productive work force.”

One initiative in May is championing health and well-being in the workforce with a cardio and fitness challenge for the month.

McKinnon has set a goal in May to run a minimum of 100 miles and bike a minimum of 250 miles and Smith has committed to run 100 km during the month.

“We’ve set lofty goals for ourselves and hopefully we can measure up,” Smith said, chuckling.

Next month they will do something different such as healthy lifestyles.

“It can be challenging on shift work staying in shape mentally and physically with the stresses of the job. That has always been a challenge but we are trying to champion that in our office and part of that commitment is in our annual performance plan goals.”

Another goal is quality of investigations and giving more focus to serious files such as missing persons, domestic violence and sexual assault. That also means when there is an influx of calls, the serious files will be the priority for members to focus on. Other files that are not as high priority will have to take a back seat sometimes.

Smith said the RCMP are dedicated to work in partnership with the city to address social issues.

“A lot of issues we are facing in society these days people call the police for, but they are social issues and not directly police issues, such a homelessness which needs a collaborative approach. It’s not just a matter of the police showing up and taking away the problem so people don’t see it,” Smith said.

Mental health is another area where the RCMP work with Interior Health and Canadian Mental Health.

Smith said locally they are looking at getting a program where a mental health worker collaborates with police.

“In some ways we are doing this already in situations where we have potential mental health concerns or prisoners in custody that may have some mental health concerns.”

In Williams Lake the RCMP are streamlining services to make sure they are available for the calls that have an impact on public safety, he added.

READ MORE: Williams Lake, 100 Mile students learn new skills at RCMP Youth Academy

READ MORE: Mounties say stabbing at downtown motel in Williams Lake led to Glendale police presence

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Monica Lamb-Yorski

About the Author: Monica Lamb-Yorski

A B.C. gal, I was born in Alert Bay, raised in Nelson, graduated from the University of Winnipeg, and wrote my first-ever article for the Prince Rupert Daily News.
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