MAYO — As a kid, RCMP Cpl. Robert Drapeau remembers playing in the two-storey house in Mayo that, at the time, served double-duty as both the RCMP detachment in town and the home for its members.
“I was friends with the members’ kids, we went to school together,” Drapeau recalled.
“We used to go (into the house) when we kids and fingerprint each other and photograph each other.… We used to look at the pressed uniforms hanging in the closet and it was something that I never, ever expected, to come back and actually live in that same house.”
But now, he’s doing exactly that. Decades after leaving Mayo as a teen, Drapeau took over as the town detachment’s new commander six months ago, marking a special homecoming for the member of Selkirk First Nation.
“I’ve been away for a number of years so … being home gives me that opportunity to spend more time with the elders and the people that I grew up with,” Drapeau said in an interview at the Mayo detachment — now a separate building from the house — on a recent weekend. “I think that’s pretty, pretty special.”
Most recently stationed in Faro, Drapeau’s career with the RCMP has taken him across western Canada, including several First Nations reserves in Alberta, High River, Alta., where he was part of the response team for the 2013 floods, and to Vancouver, where he worked at the media plaza during the 2010 Winter Olympics. His previous career as a dental therapist and manager of the Yukon Children’s Dental Program also saw him travel around the territory as well as to Saskatchewan, Nunavut and Labrador. Until now, though, Drapeau said, he hadn’t had the chance to return to Mayo for very long.
“The time that I did get to have off work, I would generally come back to Mayo to visit with my mother, who still resides here,” he said.
When it came time to transfer out of Faro, Drapeau, who has a sister and a cousin who are also RCMP officers, said he picked three other communities in the Yukon as his top choices, including Mayo.
“I’m just honoured to have been selected to come back to police my own community,” he said. “I think it’s not often done, but I’m happy to see the people that I grew up with, I’m happy to see, in general, I’m just happy to see people, familiar faces.”
That familiarity with many of the area residents is a positive when it comes to doing police work, Drapeau said.
“I think it’s an advantage because I know them and I know their parents and their grandparents, so if a young person gets into trouble, I can say, ‘I’m going to tell your mother,’” he said with a laugh.
“There’s some challenges in dealing with clients I grew up with or who are my relatives,” he acknowledged, “but a part of that is just clear communication … and discussing process in order to reduce anxiety and fear about the court process.”
Drapeau said he also has another policing advantage granted by having grown up around town — he’s intimately familiar with the trail systems around town, which he roamed extensively in his youth (he and a friend cut the trail around Five Mile Lake as teens), and he knows the Stewart River well, too, along which his family has a fish camp.
Since he’s already familiar with the basics of the community, Drapeau said his next goals are to strengthen the detachment’s relationships with J.V. Clark School and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun. Officers are at the school once a month to help cook hot lunches for students, he said, and also meet with Na-Cho Nyak Dun on a monthly basis to discuss priorities.
Drapeau is also volunteering (and playing) at the local curling rink, where, as a boy, he fell in love with the sport.
“When I was younger, the president of the curling club … gave me the key to the curling club and she goes, ‘You go throw rocks after school,’” he said. “I didn’t understand it at the time, but that was so that I didn’t get into trouble as a youngster and that I was learning, so I really appreciated that.”
Curling has since played a large role in both Drapeau’s personal life (he used to curl competitively) and in his policing career: in his posts around Alberta and in Faro, he’s mentored youth on how to get the ice ready and play the sport.
“Curling club is always a place where people meet, eat, visit, it’s just a special atmosphere when people come to curl or just to watch curling,” he said. “Curling is really a big part of my life. I like it. It’s a good sport and I like the idea of how it brings people together.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org