When the RCMP Twitter-posted a scenic shot of Kaslo RCMP Cpl. Shaun Begg playing pond hockey in his full regimental tunic last week, there was no way to predict the attention the image would receive.
“We may be Mounties, but we are all still kids at heart with @NHL dreams,” reads the post, which shows Begg skating against a picturesque Purcell mountain backdrop. It has now been retweeted over 3,800 times, and though he’s a little overwhelmed by the attention, Begg feels proud to represent his force.
“You won’t find a prouder Mountie and a prouder Canadian,” Begg told the Star Monday, still incredulous at the social media storm swirling around him. Having already been profiled by ABC in New York, he’d been receiving cross-country interview requests all morning.
He said the image, which was taken by his friend Rick Wiltse at 9,000 feet during an advertising shoot, was a lucky mistake.
“Prior to that, I’d had this vision of a Canadian flag embedded in the ice and of me skating through with my serge on. I asked my teammates if I could bring my serge along for a personal photo op and they said that would be great,” he said.
Begg sought permission from Insp. Tom Roy before taking the serge with him. When he climbed onto the helicopter it was stashed in his bag, but he still had the Stetson in his lap.
“I remember the opposing team asking ‘who brought the Mountie?'”
Begg can hardly put the afternoon’s experience into words. For approximately two hours he played shinny with his teammates, the Kaslo Afterburners. The game was organized as part of an advertising initiative one of his teammates was working on.
“It was an absolutely spectacular day, weather-wise. The sound of skates on the ice, with nobody around. It was surreal. It was hard to breathe, like someone sitting on your chest, but it was so beautiful.”
Once the guys started to get tired and settle down, Begg retrieved the uniform.
“I’ve said this my whole career: there’s magic in that red scarlet. And I don’t pretend to speak for the 20,000 members of the RCMP, but there’s something about it that stirs emotion in me. It’s that same sort of emotion whenever I put it on.”
It’s an emotion he knows well, as his father is a recently-retired RCMP officer. And it was that emotion he felt as he scraped across the ice, show-boating for the guys. Wiltse, who isn’t a professional photographer, captured the now-famous snap.
“We never thought it would go viral. He just had a camera and I was shooting on our goalie there, and then yeah. That was it.”
Begg said he can appreciate the image’s iconography.
“I had the great fortune to travel and work in Europe when I was younger, and I know a little about how the rest of the world sees Canada. They always see mounties as this iconic image, like maple syrup and what-have-you. My father, I would say, bleeds red. He loves the organization and he raised me with that love. That symbol means something all across the world,” said Begg.
“There’s magic in that tunic.”
Roy said the image ended up on Twitter after he forwarded it to a colleague in Kelowna. It eventually ended up in the hands of their media division, which posted the tweet.
“I don’t think anybody figured a photograph would make that big of a splash. I just sent it to them thinking ‘hey, look’. I didn’t realize they were going to send it out to the world,” he said.
Roy said the positive attention is well deserved.
“Shaun is our detachment commander in Kaslo and he’s real popular. He’s done really well up there. He’s been a boon to the community.”
Begg said he doesn’t imagine his day-to-day routines will change very much following this onslaught of attention, particularly because he already knows most residents personally. But he’s been receiving plentiful congratulations.
Begg said his father is so emotional about the photo he’s been unable to speak to him without choking up with pride.
“I try to carry myself and put a positive image out there of the RCMP. I’m super lucky to be posted here, and it’s such an honour to be part of such an incredible organization.”