Vol. 80, No. 2Detachment profile

A female police officer examines a map next to a police cruiser parked on a road.

Pincher Creek

Historic detachment faces modern challenges

Cst. Sherri Flundra of Pincher Creek detachment examines a map at a southern Alberta road block on Sept. 12, 2017. Evacuation orders were in place for the area because of a wildfire. Credit: RCMP


Every RCMP detachment has its own characteristics, challenges, people and attractions. In this issue, we launch a new section to profile these more than 700 police detachments, starting with Pincher Creek in Alberta. We hope to highlight the variety of the work and the passion and dedication of RCMP employees serving in communities across Canada.

Despite serving a low-crime region in southwestern Alberta that boasts some of the most iconic Canadian scenery, police officers at the RCMP's Pincher Creek detachment still deal with criminal activity and cope with natural disasters, such as wildfires, that could hit almost anywhere across the country.

"The appeal of Pincher Creek is working in a small town. It's a friendly, very pro-police community. And the crime level here is fairly low, which is nice," says Sgt. Mark Harrison, commander of the 11-member detachment. "But a lot of the property thefts, we believe, are related to supporting the drug trade because of the increase in fentanyl and opioid use."

The detachment is a little more than 200 kilometres south of Calgary and offers spectacular vistas of the Rocky Mountains to the west and Prairie farmland to the east. It's also home to Waterton Lakes National Park, which attracted more than 800,000 visitors last year.

About 8,500 Albertans live in the area — in small towns, ranches or farms.

In what might be described as a unique aspect of local policing, Cpl. Jeff Feist says the high winds — which can often reach up to 120 km/h in the town and even stronger in the mountains — are one of the challenges of working in the area. Feist, who's worked at the detachment for six years, says those gales can blow transport trucks off roads and fan forest fires in the summer. A huge blaze hit the area last year.

On Aug. 30, 2017, a lighting strike just across the border in British Columbia sparked a wildfire that would become known as the Kenow fire, destroying vast swaths of Alberta forests and some property.

"It was the worst drought, dry conditions that Pincher Creek had ever seen," says Feist, whose detachment called in extra members to help out with the emergency response.

Fuelled by arid conditions and strong winds, the fire eventually started to move toward Waterton and the Municipal District of Pincher Creek, arriving on Sept. 11.

"Normally there's not much going on, just visitors relaxing. But it got pretty serious for a while," says Harrison.

By Sept. 12, the fire had engulfed more than 30,000 hectares in the province and evacuation orders were in place.

"With the heavy smoke and the increase of emergency vehicles in the park, most of the visitors departed prior to the evacuation," Harrison says. "We had 20 members on the scene helping with the evacuation. It was a good team effort for sure."

Five homes were destroyed along with some other buildings, but no lives were lost.

Detachment newcomer Cst. Tanner Flinn, who graduated from Depot last spring and arrived at the Pincher Creek detachment in May, was put to work going door to door. He says he enjoys living and working the region, especially the recreational opportunities, and hopes to continue policing in Alberta for years to come.

"I'm still new to this," says Flinn, 24, from Jasper, Ont. "I like the small-town rural policing, getting the opportunity to meet people and enjoy the outdoor experiences."

Those elements have been relished by RCMP members, and their area predecessors, for more than 140 years.

The North-West Mounted Police came to southern Alberta in 1874 and were responsible for naming Pincher Creek.

Although small in numbers most of the year, the population of Pincher Creek explodes in the spring and summer as tourists arrive to explore Waterton Lakes, which is also the location of a seasonal RCMP detachment — and Canada's oldest. Waterton detachment was opened in 1928.

From May to September, four additional members are posted to Waterton to police the park. Lost passports and illegal border crossings are some of the issues they contend with. But many visitors want one thing from the RCMP: to see Mounties wearing red serge.

"The tourists think the iconic Mountie is something incredible and something unique and they are always looking for that," says Feist. "They [the four Waterton members] can't walk down the street without a picture being asked of them. The guys this past summer wore their red serge almost daily."

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