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Remembering the good old days of policing

When reminiscing about his policing career with family, friends and fellow members, retired Chief Superintendent George Powell says it's always the good times that come to the surface.

“You have lots of rough times but when we start talking stories, it's always the good times we remember,” he says. George has many such stories that will stay with him a lifetime.

A native of Southern Ontario, Mr. Powell joined the RCMP in 1952, trained in Ottawa and Regina and then headed to St. John's in 1953.

Barrack life meant acquiring an extended family, he says. “That (living in the barracks) was a strength of days gone by. The people you lived with became your family. Today, you work with people and you go home. You don't have the same kind of esprit de corps,” he says.

He admits it’s a different World in which we live today. “Life was so much different, and policing was different. The barrack life no longer exists.” Every detachment building had “quarters” for single members, and single members were required to live in quarters “and they paid for the pleasure” he adds.

A storyteller at heart, Mr. Powell recalls a conversation he had concerning a young man asking an elder about the key to success. “He said you have to learn to make the right decisions.” When the young man asked the senior how you learn to make the right decisions, his answered “by experience.” When the young man asked him how do you get experience, he said, “by making the wrong decisions,” George says “The only way to be sure of not making a mistake is to do nothing. Errors or mistakes are learning opportunities.” Powell laughs. “Life is all about making mistakes but learning from them.”

Mr. Powell learned much from his experiences policing in St. John's, Grand Falls, Botwood, and Grand Bank. He's also served in New Brunswick, Ontario and British Columbia. After retiring in Vancouver at the rank of Chief Superintendent in 1988 he moved back to St. John's.

“I did about half of my service in Newfoundland.” During his early years, traveling throughout Newfoundland, always by train, was never easy, he admits. “We had to escort prisoners. We would leave Grand Falls about ten o'clock at night and get in St. John's about noon the next day. We dropped off our prisoners at the penitentiary then took the five o'clock train back to Grand Falls,” he recalls.

During those early years, RCMP members wore many hats, in addition to their Stetson. “In those days all our patrols were one member and oftentimes, there was just one of us on duty. There was very little back-up,” he says.

RCMP members took on the role of social worker, welfare officer, counsellor and letter writer. Learning new skills was one of the positives about choosing a career as a Mountie Powell says. “I worked in general policing, I was in criminal investigations, in administration, security service, on the street, in research, spent two years working with the Solicitor General's department and with all those job changes I didn't have to change employer.”

One of the downsides of policing decades ago was the short notice given about a pending transfer,” he remembers. “I was sitting down in the lock-up with a prisoner one afternoon. The fellow I was working with had to go back to the office to pick up some documents. He came back and said, 'You're transferred.'” Two days later, Powell was indeed re-posted from St. John's to Grand Falls. “For a single person like I was at the time, it was much easier to transfer,” he says, his glass half-full always.

Chief/Supt. Powell recalls attending his first autopsy not in a hospital but in a barn by kerosene lamp a far cry from what would come later in his career, working on the streets in Toronto. “There were no facilities, so they had to do it in a barn. It was cold there. It was a sudden death, a young person. So, we could take the specimens and return it (the remains) to the family.” In those days, Powell recalls crimes such as break and entries were simple, drugs were non-existent. “And, of course, there were bootleggers and those making homebrew because there were no liquor stores across the province. They had to send to St. John's to get their liquor.”

RCMP members in this province were glad to work beside former Rangers (55 who integrated into the RCMP) and Constabulary members (35 who traded their uniform for an RCMP uniform), Mr. Powell says. He still has the record of those who joined among his many souvenirs of the Force. “I worked with both. And I acquired a lot of items of historical significance from when I worked with them. Now, my wife calls it junk,” Mr. Powell laughs.

While he admits he “had some crummy assignments along the way” Chief/ Supt. Powell says you always move on and learn from life experiences.

“If you do nothing, you'll never learn a thing,” he says. Chief/ Supt. Powell is an active member of the RCMP Veterans Association. He volunteers visiting veterans and their families who are ill and arranges veterans attending funerals as a group. He is well regarded as one of the finest gentlemen you will every meet.

Read more stories about RCMP Officers who served in Newfoundland and Labrador in - In Search of Adventure available here


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