Being a small-town cop captures a lifetime of big-time memories
The 1970s were a booming and exciting time in the small village of Cardinal. With thriving industry, prosperous and plentiful business, and an impressive variety of recreation and entertainment, it was a different picture altogether from the quiet, mostly residential village that exists today. Among the many establishments and organizations that have disappeared over time is the Cardinal Police Department, which once took up residence within the old Town Hall.
The small force was made up of three officers at its height, with Wally Kolodziechuk serving as Police Chief from 1972-1982.
"Cardinal was really self-sufficient at that time. It was a booming little town and there was always so much going on and plenty to see and do. The whole town worked together, we were all on the same team. The Police Force had the full support of town council, along with the full support of the business owners, the residents; everybody looked out for one another," said Kolodziechuk of the close-knit village.
"Young officers nowadays will never experience what I experienced as Police Chief in Cardinal. Being a small town officer in those days was really something. You knew everyone within miles of town, and they knew you. They knew your wife, your kids, your dog, your cat; it was unlike any other experience I've had. I remember I'd be out and about on a day off with my son, and I'd come across a situation that required police action. I could bring my son into the nearest restaurant and leave him with the owner while I did my job. I'd come back to a smiling boy with a bowl of ice cream and the streets would be a little safer. There were so many great people in that town," said Kolodziechuk.
None the less, Kolodziechuk had a job to do, often to the displeasure of local teens showing off on the busy streets.
"It was the era of the muscle cars, and a lot of the young people in town would be out squealing tires and making noise up and down the streets, which led to a number of ongoing complaints that we were expected to curtail. Of course, this inevitably led to handing out traffic tickets, which the youth weren't too enthused about," recalled Kolodziechuk.
Though they had their disagreements, even those he had been forced to penalize or ticket were quick to come together and offer aid when it was needed.
"I remember it was a raging snow storm one evening. The weather was too bad to do patrol that night; the cruiser was parked in my driveway. I happened to hear my dog barking outside, so I headed out to see what the fuss was about. Here there were three local young lads, all three of which I'd given traffic tickets to, maybe more than once, standing at my door. I was a little concerned for a moment, but it turned out they were worried that I might get a call and not be able to make it out, so they showed up shovels in hand to dig out the patrol car. The next day, the sun was shining and I was back to giving them trouble for fooling around, but I will never forget that night. Where else but a small town would you see that?" said Kolodziechuk of the community spirit and involvement he witnessed while in Cardinal.
Though the job of Police Chief is often a somber one, Kolodziechuk had a few experiences that were far less serious, but perhaps just as memorable.
"We had a lot of calls to remove trouble makers or calm down incidents at the hotel saloon. One phone call in particular I will never forget. The owner called me and said I needed to get over there right away. I get down there and lo and behold, this one gentleman had ridden into town on his horse, and rode the animal right into the hotel and parked it up at the bar. So this guy is just standing there waiting for a beer like there's nothing out of place. I was able to get him and his horse out of there without too much trouble, and we all had quite a laugh after he left; that's something you're only likely to see once in your life," laughed Kolodziechuk of the unique incident.
Along with the day-to-day mischief and small crimes, the tiny police force handled their fair share of excitement as well. Kolodziechuk remembers labour disputes and riots at the local plant (now Ingredion), major accidents in the canal, and even a murderer showing up at his door on a Sunday evening to confess in his livingroom.
"There were only three of us when we were fully-staffed, so you never really had time off. We had a police line installed in our home. We were always on-call. If one of us didn't get up out of bed or drop everything during time with our families, there was nobody else people could call. It was a lot of work. But it was entirely worth it. Everybody in that town helped everybody else, and even though we did our share of reprimanding when it was warranted, we were always made to feel like a part of the town, a part of the community. I'll always remember that," said Kolodziechuk of the ups and downs of a village police force.
Wearing the many hats required to serve as a small town Police Chief at the time, Kolodziechuk also took up the task of local news reporter, preparing a weekly column for The Prescott Journal.
"I had a great relationship with the staff at the Prescott Journal at that time. A lady from there would call me every Monday to get the weekly scoop on what had been going on. One day she asked me if I'd like to just write it up myself, so that's how I began writing weekly for the paper. Policemen in small towns back then really were jacks of all trades!" laughed Kolodziechuk while recalling his time writing for The Prescott Journal.
Another of the many jobs that fell to the small Cardinal Police Department was that of town crossing guard.
"We used to patrol by the school and make sure the kids were following traffic safety rules and getting to and from school safely. There were so many cheerful, friendly kids throughout the years. You think back and you wonder sometimes about what happened to those kids you saw every day," said Kolodziechuk.
"Well, one day my wife and I were stopped at a Tim Hortons in Guelph, and a young man came up to me and asked me if I recognized him. It turned out he was one of those very kids from Benson Public School, and he knew me from when he was in a little guy. It was really an awesome experience, hearing that he remembered me," said Kolodziechuk of learning he had made a lasting impact on the student.
After a decade as Cardinal's Police Chief, Kolodziechuk went on to serve on the Alliston, Ontario Police Department and eventually served as Commander at the Shelburne Ontario OPP Detachment. Upon his retirement in 2005, he successfully ran for town council, and served two terms as deputy mayor of his township. Though many years have passed, he holds his time in Cardinal close in heart and memory.
"I will always remember my time in Cardinal so fondly. I have to say that any success I achieved later in my career in different places and positions, I can attribute a lot of that to what I learned and what I experienced while in Cardinal. Really getting to know and understand people, and to be such a part of the community at that personal small town level, it changes the way you look at policing. It made me a better officer and aided me throughout my career," said Kolodziechuk of his irreplaceable experiences as Cardinal's Police Chief.