From dragging charred bodies out from burnt out forest fires to staring down a near shoot out at the Condill Hotel, Robert Miller did it all as one of Fort St. John’s earliest police officers.
Miller is back in town this weekend after leaving his post in town more than 60 years ago, to give the public a taste of what it was like to police the Peace in the middle of the 20th Century.
Miller will be at the Fort St. John North Peace Museum Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. The museum is playing host to Miller to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the transition in 1950 from the British Columbia Provincial Police to the Royal Canada Mounted Police as we know it today.
“I love that country. I’m a little to old for that country now, but I loved Fort St. John and the whole area,” said Miller, who served during the transition.
Miller came to Fort St. John in 1949, serving as one of two officers in the area until his departure in 1951, after first being stationed in Lillooet and Pouce Coupe.
For the most part, Miller recalls his time on the job here as “quiet and peaceful,” one that paid well at $250 a month, and was filled mostly with petty breaking and entering — easy cases, he says, adding: “We always got our man.”
But that’s not to say Miller didn’t have one or two brushes with danger.
He recalls a blistery February morning in 1951, when he came across a stranger wandering through town after finishing up with a car accident on the Alaska Highway.
Back then, Fort St. John was a town where everyone knew everyone, especially the police, so Miller found it odd the strange unknown man had a strange bulge in his winter jacket, and was walking around the streets at four in the morning.
“I thought it was gun. (The man reached into his jacket) so I up and hit him, and knocked him down, and it turned out to be just a camera,” Miller laughed.
Miller thought nothing of the brush up and carried on — that was, until a pair of Canadian Air Force members romped into the police station a few hours later. An expensive camera had been stolen from one of their trucks, they charged.
The Condill Hotel was the popular local beer parlour and lodging place at the time, and that’s exactly where Miller found his man — sitting in his room with a bag at his side.
“Luckily I had my gun drawn because the fellow reached for his grab bag, and had a loaded revolver in the top,” Miller recalled.
“He turned out to be one of the most wanted people in Canada. We charged him, and Edmonton city police came and got him because he was wanted for attempted murder in Edmonton, and he had warrants for his arrest right across Canada.”
Miller doesn’t recall the man’s name, but that’s of little importance to him today. He arrived in Fort St. John Friday to take a tour of the town, including the local RCMP detachment. Miller retired in 1979 after spending his career as a police officer across much of British Columbia.
Museum curator Heather Sjoblom said there will be two other presentations tomorrow afternoon.
Sjoblom will give one on the very early years of the Northwest Mounted Police, who cut a trail through the region for gold seekers on their way to the Klondike, and the BC Provincial Police between 1898 to 1948.
RCMP Cpl. Jodi Shelkie will also speak about being an RCMP officer in Fort St. John today. A short film will also be shown from when the museum moved the old provincial police barracks built in 1910 from the banks of the Peace River to its current home today on the museum’s grounds.
“It’s going to be a nice contrast, from the stories I’ve been able to dig up and the stories Robert (and Jodi) will share,” Sjoblom said.
The presentations are also a chance to reflect on 120 years of policing in the area, Sjoblom said.
“It’s a great way for us to learn a lot more about the history of the area. There are a lot of blanks in our history,” she said.
The event begins at 3 p.m. and admission is free. For more, call the museum at 250-787-0430.