The One Man Detachment
Constable J.R. (Jack) Kenny was in charge of the RCMP detachment at Mayerthorpe, Alberta for seven years in the 1950s. It was a one-man detachment but increased to a two-man later on. Back then, as a detachment commander, he did it all– investigated criminal matters, enforced Provincial/ Federal Statutes and acted as Crown Prosecutor.
There were a number of one-man detachments in Alberta in the ’50s. The detachment commander policed a large area and worked alone. There were no radios at Mayerthorpe and the telephones shut down at 8 p.m. when the switchboard operator at Sangudo (just east of Mayerthorpe) went off duty. The wife was ‘the second man’ taking calls and answering the office door when the member was away. If back-up was required it could be one to two hours away-if he could get to a phone.
Seven years at Mayerthorpe resulted in a lot of repeat business with certain characters. One was Tom Poulsen, a senior citizen, bachelor, curmudgeon with a touch of dementia, living alone in a hilltop cabin about 20 miles south-east of the village of Mayerthorpe . Tom was a prolific letter writer, mostly to politicians, municipal councillors, mayors etc. They were nasty letters, and no doubt the Edmonton Sub-Division H.Q.’s thick file on Tom included a number of his letters on his run-ins with Constable Kenny over the years.
One summer in the early ’50s, a farm couple was driving south on a district road enroute to Entwistle when they were stopped by Tom at his property line. He enquired about their destination and return trip. They said they were going down to Entwistle but would be back that afternoon. Tom told them to take another route on the way back as he was going to blow up the road. Tom had a mad-on with the municipality– something about the municipality running the road over his property without adequate compensation. He then stuffed a culvert with dynamite and blew out a section of the road.
When the farm couple reached Entwistle and reported the matter, two Mounties from Entwistle responded ASAP. They arrived at Tom’s hilltop cabin in the afternoon and hammered on the door.
“Police. Open up, Tom.”
No answer. Bang, bang, bang again on the cabin door.
“Open up, Tom. Police. We want to talk.”
Tom replied, “Police? Is Kenny with you?”
“No. We are from Entwistle Detachment. Come out. We want to talk.”
“I’m not comin’ out and you’re not comin’ in. First man through that door gets a bullet in the chest.”
Entwistle detachment backed off, phoned Edmonton S/D H.Q .and Kenny at Mayerthorpe. A few days later the Section NCO (Staff Sergeant, aka ‘Staff) arrived at Mayerthorpe detachment. The O.C. sent him out to execute a warrant on Tom under the Mental Health Act. He had read the file on Tom and told Staff to check with Kenny at Mayerthorpe, but Kenny was not to go on the property-a wise decision.
Staff said he would need Kenny’s assistance and wanted to know what type of resistance he might encounter. Kenny explained that Tom was unpredictable. He had his good days and bad days. It was on one of the latter that he blew out a section of the road and threatened to shoot the two Mounties from Entwistle. Kenny didn’t know why Tom asked them if Kenny was with them or what he had in mind. He knew Tom had firearms in the cabin.
“But he has probably cooled down by now.” said Kenny.
To which Staff replied, “Yes, I’m sure.”
Kenny drove his police car down to Tom’s place with Staff following. He hid the police car in the bush on a side road and Staff turned off onto Tom’s property, drove across the open field and up the hill to Tom’s cabin.
Kenny got out of his car and cleared a spot in the bush from which he could see the police car parked in front of Tom’s cabin. He would listen for gun shots. Kenny was Staff’s back-up, armed with a pistol, ammunition pouch (economy pack), riding crop and a three-cell flashlight, but no radio, no binoculars, no rifle (with scope)–just regular issue. Time dragged on. He could see them talking by the police car. It was taking too long. Finally the police car came down the hill with two occupants, and turned south toward Entwistle, enroute to Edmonton.
Case resolved. The Staff Sergeant retired. Kenny went on to become West Section NCO, Calgary Sub Division, where his duties included coordinating the round-up of escaped prisoners, pursuit of a Turner Valley bank robber into the mountains, organized searches for lost hunters/missing kids, etc. And, oh yes, he took a keen interest in SWAT teams being organized and trained, just in case he, as Section NCO, needed back-up.
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The author, E. L. (Edna) Kenny, B. Ed ., B.A., is Jack Kenny’s wife. She was the ‘second man’ at the Mayerthorpe RCMP Detachment during Kenny’s tenure.