Retired Inspector Andrew “Maks” Maksymchuk was awarded the 2015 Ontario Heritage Award in Police History in recognition of his efforts in preserving and celebrating the written history of the Ontario Provincial Police, Canada’s second largest police force.
Maksymchuk is only the second recipient of the Award which was established in 2014 to recognize the efforts of authors and researchers whose work builds a greater understanding of the contributions of the men and women of the OPP. His trilogy of memoirs represents a significant contribution to the history of the OPP, and has been recognized for its valuable chronicling of not just one officer’s experiences, but of the evolution of the organization over a thirty year period and its unique place in Canadian police service.
Born and raised on a farm in Grindrod, “Maks” as he has come to be known by many, relates how destiny took him from the Okanagan to Ontario.
“My first encounter with a police officer was in the spring of 1948. A strange vehicle slowly approached up our family farm’s long and muddy driveway, distracting me from my play. Dad emerged from the barn as the car stopped near our old log cabin home in Grindrod.
“The driver was smartly but curiously attired, sporting a khaki uniform with brass badges and buttons, dark green epaulets, and matching green stripe down the outer legs of his riding breeches. He wore a Stetson hat and brown riding boots. A green lanyard around his neck disappeared into a holster on his hip, held there by a brown belt with cross-strap.
The stranger asked Dad for directions to a nearby farmer’s residence. For the first time in my five years of life I was seeing a police officer. An aura of importance that begged respect surrounded the man, a member of the then 90-year-old British Columbia Provincial Police (BCPP). Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was hooked and would follow a path of destiny into a provincial police force.”
Members of the British Columbia Constabulary (name changed to BC Provincial Police in 1895) helped shape the course of BC’s development, from its beginning as a colony in 1858 and then as Canada’s sixth province in 1871. The newly-formed Constabulary had to explain the white man’s laws to natives and British justice to the American gold seekers rushing north to the Fraser River and Cariboo country.
Over the years, a steady stream of humanity flooded BC to take advantage of its plentiful bounty. Fishermen, pirates, bootleggers, entrepreneurs, sourdough and cheechako miners, loggers, cowboy ranchers and immigrant Chinese labourers for railway construction soon tested BCPP innovation and effectiveness to its limits. The Provincials met the challenges, policing through two world wars, the Depression, strikes and riots, establishing a sophisticated crime lab, state-of-the-art communication equipment and highway, sea and air sections.
As settlers moved in and towns sprang up, the Provincials, hired from within BC communities as per policy dictated by first leader Chartres Brew, shed their territorial policing style to become one with the community.
“Five years after the end of WWII and two years after my first childhood encounter with the BCPP, the Force was suddenly and inexplicably (the reasons are not clear even to this day), absorbed by the RCMP. In a Liberal-Conservative coalition government led by Premier “Boss” Johnson (Liberal), Attorney General Gordon Wismer (Liberal) tossed aside the province’s modern, innovative, unique and community-minded style of policing, developed over the years by working together with the people of the Province, and replaced it with a style shaped by military tradition and procedures. It was the flip side of the BCPP. Fortunately, most of the BCPP members were absorbed into the RCMP and guided many of their new frontier-trained outsider supervisors, in some of the cities of BC’s lower mainland, in the ways of urban policing.
By the time I was ready to apply for my dream career as a police officer, I had been schooled in Grindrod and Enderby, and our family had moved to Vernon where I had completed high school, and then attended Grade 13 at Salmon Arm Secondary High School – the first year it was offered as first year university. But fate had other plans. The timing was terrible. The political turmoil and military tensions between the USA and USSR known as the Cold War, and even dregs of McCarthyism with communism as its boogeyman, had trickled into Canada. The federal government, including its police force now policing BC, was nervous and suspicious. I didn’t stand a chance. With relatives still living behind the Iron Curtain, my application was doomed from the start.
In 1963 I decided to go on a cross-Canada automobile trip with a friend. We ended up broke in Hamilton, Ontario and went to work at the Firestone Tire Company. At the end of the six month residency requirement, I applied to the Ontario Provincial Police, was accepted in the spring of 1964, and posted to Kenora, a small community near the Ontario/Manitoba border.”
In his trilogy of memoirs, subject of his Police History Heritage Award, Maksymchuk begins his first memoir, From MUSKEG to MURDER – Memories of Policing Ontario’s Northwest, by chronicling his grandparents’ struggles to immigrate to Canada from Ukraine, and his boyhood in the Okanagan. His OPP story begins at the age of 21 in 1964 when he moves to Ontario and joins the OPP, fueled by an innate desire to fight injustice, learned as a child. He takes this dream with him to Northwestern Ontario where he “learns the ropes” in the makeshift courtrooms, and isolated outposts of its mining centres, pulp and paper industry communities, Indian reservations, and boom towns.
His story is one of overcoming limited training, deficient supervision, poor transportation and communication resources, and the clash of cultures, all framed with his characteristic ingenuity, dedication and humour.
His second memoir, TRU: Tactics and Rescue Unit – The Last Resort in Policing, captures the second phase of Maks’ career as the first full-time coordinator of the OPP’s elite Tactics and Rescue Unit (TRU) in the 1970s and 1980s. For eight years, Maks was involved in the establishment and growth of the OPP’s high-risk incident response team responsible for dealing with hostage-takings, barricaded gunmen, and providing specialized security at high-profile events like the 1976 Olympic Games. Skilled in the use of firearms, hostage negotiations, special police tactics, and survival techniques, his experiences led him to lecture to worldwide police organizations and to provide expert court testimony on police procedures.
Maksymchuk’s third memoir follows him in the final phase of his policing career. His childhood motivation to fight against injustice comes full circle in his aptly named, Champions of the Dead – OPP Crime Fighters Seeking Proof of the Truth. In it he documents the foundation of the OPP’s Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) beginning in 1875 with the appointment of John Wilson Murray – known as “Canada’s Sherlock Holmes” – as the first permanent Government Detective, commissioned to investigate crimes such as murder, rape, and arson.
More than a century after the inception of the OPP CIB, Maks explores the intervening years of Canadian law enforcement history. Through the first hand perspective of a police officer, the reader is made privy to meticulous investigative procedures. Insight is given on cases as diverse as a prison inmate’s death by stabbing, a rash of suspicious fires, and the murder of a young girl.
Throughout all of his books, Maks’ willingness to share the most painful and intimate aspects of his life in a candid and unvarnished fashion serves to forge a solid bond with the reader. Family, friends, community and duty become entwined against a backdrop of a changing Canada as he shares his experiences and insights into the unique place of the OPP in Canadian police service.
As well as being the recipient of the Queen’s Commission, the Canadian Police Exemplary Medal, the Canada 125th Commemorative Medal, and the OPP Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, he has many other official career commendations. He is the author of numerous police-related magazine articles and has also penned COPS: A Matter of Life and Death.
Maks and Myra make their retirement home in Vernon and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available through Amazon or Chapters including in ebook format.