It’s been about two decades since Phil Penny would wake up at 6 a.m. in the winter so he could run out to the outdoor rink and play hockey with his friend before class, then race home after the bell so he could go back to the rink and do more of the same.
In that time, he’s lived in other parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, some as a teen and some as an RCMP constable and corporal.
Now, the 35-year-old is a newly-minted Sergeant, and he’s returned to his old stomping grounds to become the new detachment commander of the Stettler detachment. And he’s not the same kid that skated around an outdoor hockey rink.
“I just always wanted to go into policing,” Penny said. “I thought I’d be good at it.”
At 21, Penny was accepted into the RCMP training program and headed off to Regina, Sask. to train. A year later, he started his career as a constable, stationed in Banff.
“It’s a nice place to visit,” he said with a laugh, adding that it wasn’t that bad to live there, either, once he was used to the tourists. It did give him the opportunity to see all sorts of things, however.
“Most people think what you see on TV is reality,” he noted. “Most of what we do is behind the computer. The fun part is fun, but it has to be in conjunction with the paperwork or it doesn’t work.”
Penny served in Banff for six years before he took a transfer to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, located on Baffin Island, above the 72nd parallel. The community is one of the largest above the 72nd parallel, and is accessible by plane and, when the ice conditions allow, through ship. The community is well north of the frost line, meaning that there’s no trees — but the surrounding mountains make it quite beautiful, Penny noted.
After four years in Pond Inlet, Penny accepted a transfer to Whale Cove, Nunavut, which came with a promotion to Corporal and the responsibilities of detachment commander. Unlike the Stettler detachment, the size of the detachment — one corporal and one constable — meant that a Corporal could be its commander.
“Whale Cove is very flat, very rocky terrain,” Penny noted. “I think the coldest without windchill was -46.”
After two years in Whale Cove — six total in Nunavut, where the sun doesn’t set for six months, and then takes another six to rise — Penny returned to warmer climes, taking on a supervisory role at the Blackfalds detachment. After two years, though, he found himself longing for more responsibilities, so he found himself applying for detachment commander positions — including the one here in Stettler, recently vacated by retired Sgt. Duncan Babchuk.
“I mainly chose Stettler because I know the area,” he said. “I grew up here. I wanted to do a detachment again.”
He admitted that the size of the detachment means a “different dynamic” with more people than his former posting in Whale Cove, but he said he’s looking forward to the challenges.
Penny said he’s impressed with the detachment and its work, and complimented Babchuk and Cpl. Cameron Russell, who acted as detachment commander until Penny arrived.
“From what I’ve seen so far, I’m very happy,” he said. “Duncan did a great job and Cameron did a great job picking up the slack.”