“Nelson’s Finest” female officers: (L-R) Cst. Lisa Schmidtke

COLUMN: Celebrating Nelson’s finest

I eventually came to realize that law enforcement was an equal opportunity career.

When asked, in Kindergarten, what I wanted to be when I grew up I didn’t hesitate: a policeman, I said. Ian Rhodes, who had the cubby next to mine, was very clear: you can’t be a policeman, he said, because you’re a girl.

Easily intimidated, plus being horse-crazy, I promptly changed my career aspirations to “jockey”. Ian wasn’t sure if that was allowed or not.

I eventually came to realize that law enforcement was an equal opportunity career and that, as an Ottawa girl, the Musical Ride could be an excellent marriage of passions. But by then adolescence had taken hold and I spent the next several years being far too cool to consider either police or ponies. My loss, really, although libraries and literature have both been good to me.

Police week is upon us, a time for awareness-building nation-wide. Involvement in this celebratory week makes total sense for the library, since the Nelson Police Department are our wonderfully well-behaved upstairs neighbours (no late night parties). When the move to this location was first suggested, “Books-n-Crooks” was just too tempting a joke for some, but it really has been an excellent joint tenancy.

To celebrate, “Nelson’s Finest” will be visiting our storytimes, no doubt leaving a whole pack of kids wanting to grow into those police boots. Consorting with the wee ones will be Cst. Lisa Schmidtke. I wish she’d been around to put Ian-in-the-next-cubby in his place back in 1964.

We’ll have book displays for kids and adults, and thanks to Touchstones Nelson we’ll have Nelson Police Department memorabilia on display in our main lounge area.

The history of Nelson’s police is particularly colourful. The department is one of the oldest in the province, with a date of inception of April 17, 1897. On the NPD website (nelsonpolice.ca) the history tab reveals that the Nelson of the time was a wild and woolly place.

“In early summer 1897, while (Seneca G.) Ketchum was still Chief of Police, Nelson celebrated a sequence of holidays, the first being the Queen’s Jubilee and the second being the Fourth of July.

“The celebrations became so extreme that the whole city’s government became incapacitated from doing business for a week. Ketchum was quoted in the Nelson Daily Miner (March 20, 1899) saying that the Mayor began the celebration and was found to be celebrating in a manner ‘altogether wild and western,’ and that he was compelled to arrest him.

“When the Mayor realized he was being arrested, he attempted to discharge Ketchum from his duties, but Ketchum resisted. The two men eventually settled their differences and decided to celebrate together.

“Apparently, the city clerk could not do anything without the Mayor so he played poker. The policemen could not do anything without Ketchum, so they quit work, and as a result the machinery of government came to an abrupt halt. Ketchum was further quoted to say that if the Queen had known what was going to happen, she would have postponed the Jubilee.”

Things are quieter now, and we have today’s somewhat more sedate police department to thank for it. Not only that, there are now three female police officers in the department, and I include that detail for all those cubby-next-door boys who think they know what’s what.

So join us in celebrating National Police Week, and  117 years of community policing in the town we call home.


— Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca

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