There’s no question it’s a huge shift from the bustling Toronto scene to the relative calm of Stettler, but Const. Mathew Olabode has been enjoying the adjustment over the past year.
Originally from Nigeria, Olabode had lived in Toronto for about 13 years.
“I’ve always aspired to be a police officer, so I put in my application for the RCMP and went to Regina where I had my training for six months,” he explained. After his studies wrapped up, he didn’t know where he would be posted.
“They said Stettler it is! I hadn’t heard of it, so I started to ask about it – is it a big city or a small town? One of my troop-mates mentioned that her brother used to live in Stettler, and she said, ‘You are going to love it! It’s a really nice town with such lovely people there. They are so positive’.
“So just like I approach anything in life, I had an open mind and said, ‘You know what? I’m going to go there and create my own experience and make the best of it.
“For me, it’s my career that brought me here and that keeps me extremely busy. I’ve also always been a person who likes to get into community activities,” he explained. “So that’s one of the ways that I’ve been creating connections – volunteer work.” He recently signed on with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.
“Some of my colleagues at the detachment had recommended the Heartland Youth Centre, and that they were looking for male mentors (for Big Brothers). “I also attended a few of their boys’ club activities and got to meet some of the kids who were looking for mentors,” he said.
Of late. the pandemic has affected getting involved with much in Stettler, what with postponements of various programs and such. But things are opening up thankfully, and he’s eager to continue to find ways to make a difference locally.
“I’m also a community liaison officer for the Citizens on Patrol program here, and the Rural Crime Watch,” he said. “Another thing I have going on, but haven’t started yet, is I’ve signed on to take the referee course for the Minor Soccer League here in Stettler. We are still waiting for the go-ahead.”
Olabode said his desire to join the RCMP goes back to the closing days of high school.
“Originally I had intended to go to university and become an engineer,” he explained. “But I met a Toronto police sergeant named Steve Hicks who was involved in community initiatives and outreach programs. He came to my high school…and my idea of a police officer had been totally different till then.”
Where he had lived in Toronto, the perception the public oftenhad towards police was that they essentially weren’t your friends. “The thinking was that they were there to get you in trouble, to send you to jail and all that kind of stuff.
“But when I met Sgt. Hicks, that totally changed my perspective. This is a policeman who is bonding with high school students. He’s taking us on snowboarding trips and other different sporting activities. I also started volunteering with him because he was running the fourKICKS (soccer) program in Toronto.
“I was a soccer player and I loved sports, so we kind of connected that way,” he said, adding that he started volunteering with the program helping to teach younger kids to play soccer as well. Hicks also started up a program for special needs kids who wanted to play soccer, too. “It also helped divert me away from all of the negative influences that were around me at that time.”
These day, Olabode explains that living in Stettler has proven to be very positive experience.
“I find that Stettler is pro-police, and that they help and support us for what we do,” he added. “We deal with a lot of property crime here which affects of course the people of Stettler – they always appreciate the effort that we put into trying to catch the people who are responsible. Also, it takes a community to build a community so the more that people are engaged and supportive of what we do, the more successful we can be at our job.
“I also always keep that professionalism and compassion when I’m dealing with people – those interactions are what help me do my job to the best of my ability.”
With all that has been going on of late involving police, the death of George Floyd in the United States and the tensions that seemingly never really fade away, Olabode said that ultimately, he knows what he stand for and he knows his purpose. “For me, it’s not about race. But the culture is quite different,” he said, weighing the differences between Toronto and Stettler for example. “But I feel that when you have the right mindset and purpose, you can see more than that. For me, it’s about humanity. I treat everyone the way that I’d like to be treated. Not everybody acts that way, so it’s an individual journey.
“I do believe that more we understand our differences and respect them, the better we are.
“This is going to be a personal journey for everyone because the pain of what is happening is different for everyone. In my opinion, I think that what we have to do is just learn from these experiences so that we can do better.
“I’m in a position today when I’m working that I can use opportunities to educate those people and say, ‘Perhaps this isn’t the way to go; it’s not the way to address this. let’s try this’. That’s my approach, rather than losing my cool. When it gets to that point, you are no longer in control of a situation.”
In terms of his work with Big Brothers, he recalls how Hicks impacted his own life. He wants to share that kind of influence with youngsters. “I want to pay it forward and help teach self-esteem, confidence and some life-skills that I have learned, that will help propel them to success.”
Meanwhile, there are other benefits to life in a smaller community.
“Waking up to the sounds of birds chirping, I feel like I’m a little bit closer to nature. It’s very soothing and it’s therapeutic for me. I embrace it. You have to appreciate what life gives you – it’s those little things that matter.”