An officer and a gentleman – so the best stories are off the record

“The Calgary police turned me down because I was too short.”

Bill Spring - then and now.

You might not know a lot about him, the man who receives the salute at the beginning of Princeton’s RCMP Musical Ride this weekend.

And that’s just fine with Bill Spring.

“The last ten years, at least, I’ve kind of kept a low profile. I just want to be quiet and living in the country.”

Spring lives on Summers Creek Road, with his wife Sandy, a prominent local artist.

At 77, Spring can reflect on a broad and rich career with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, from which he retired with the rank of Chief Superintendent.

However as discretion is often described as the better part of valour, his best stories are not for the record. During a 90 minute interview he prefaced numerous tales with the gentle admonishment: “Now don’t write this part down.”

Born in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, Spring quit high school to join the federal police service in 1960.

“The Calgary police turned me down because I was too short,” he recalls.

He worked at general duty in Kamloops, Vernon and Port Alberni, before accepting a job as an analyst, charged with reviewing files, following up on cold cases, and picking out trends in crime and policing for a large section of the province.

“Of course this was all before computers.”

Later he became responsible for the force’s recruitment efforts in British Columbia, and then transferred to Ontario where he worked in staffing and personal.

“I was promoted to Sergeant and then the mounted police saw fit to send me to Carleton University for three years.”

Spring graduated with degrees in sociology and psychology – he would later receive a third degree in international affairs – and his work focused on research methodology.

He managed numerous studies for the RCMP focusing on personnel and management issues, and helped shaped much of the policy related to policing at a time when the department was responding to unheralded social and political change.

Women were first allowed to join the RCMP in 1974, and Spring recalls reviewing the hiring process for female officers a few years later.

“It resulted in a number of changes in recruitment policy,” he said, adding that some requirements related to “physical attributes” were rewritten.

Spring was also involved in policies paving the way for commissioning the first Sikh RCMP. Then when he was commander of the RCMP training college in Regina he had the honor of presenting the first Sikh officer with his badge.

That moment was famously captured on film.

“Recently my daughter was in the Canadian Museum of History and she came around the corner and here was this big picture of her dad. She got all choked up.”

He also trained several officers who ended up spending time in Princeton. “The most recent here was [former detachment commander] Barry Kennedy.”

Twice in his career Spring was assigned to bring his policy expertise to outside agencies – namely the treasury department and the Canadian Armed Forces.

And he was part of an international contingent that visited 23 countries to compare economic, military and social differences.

When he retired from the RCMP in 1996 – 36 years to the exact day from when he joined – he became Chief of Police for Medicine Hat in Alberta. Later he took up a two year contract to write a business plan for a national police service in Haiti. Among his many accomplishments, he is the recipient of the Canadian Peace Keeping Medal.

Bill and Sandy decided to make Princeton their home, after a long life of travel.

“She followed me, and when I retired I said: ‘where to you want to go?’” BC was home, and Sandy’s mother lived near Princeton.

When they first arrived Spring took on short term positions as Princeton’s emergency services co-ordinator and at the Princeton Skills Centre, and participating in fundraising events.

Today he prefers to manage Sandy’s painting studio, and work on their acreage.

“I gave her a ring when I retired, with the mounted police crest on it. I said ‘the first time I gave you a ring you ended up being married to the force. Now I’m retired from the mounted police, you are married to me.’”

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andrea.demeer@similkameenspotlight.com

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