Bob Gollan might have been the only student in his Shellbrook, Sask., high school graduating class who didn’t think he was going to become a cop.
“I always wanted to be a teacher, for as long as I can remember. When I attended my 25th high school reunion, all my classmates said they knew I’d become a police officer,” he laughs. “I said I always wanted to be a teacher, but they said I’d be a they thought I’d be a policeman because I was always the one to break up fights. Of course that probably came from being six-foot-four!”
Born in Edmonton, Gollan “moved lots” as a child as his dad, a boilermaker, relocated often to find work to support his family. Moving established a pattern that would serve him well in a career that has caused him to uproot his family at least a dozen times.
“I was attending university in Saskatchewan, preparing for a career in teaching, when I decided to join the RCMP for a few years and make some money so I pay for the rest of my education,” he recalls. “I never did go back, obviously.”
That was in 1982 and, 30 years later, his postings roll off his tongue as though each was just yesterday.
“Stony Plain, Alberta. Two Hills, Alberta. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Lutsel K’e, Northwest Territories. Gleichen, Alberta. Turner Valley, Alberta. Tsuu T’ina, Alberta. Shellbrook, Saskatchewan. Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Spiritwood, Saskatchewan. Gleichen, Alberta (this time as a staff sergeant and detachment commander). Kosovo, Europe. Gleichen, Alberta. Creston, well, you know where.”
Kosovo? In May, 2009, Gollan went to work for the European Union (EU) Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), the largest civilian mission ever launched by the EU. Its central aim is to assist and support the Kosovo authorities in the rule of law, specifically in the police, judiciary and customs areas.
“I got to train more than 260 police officers in European best policing practices and project management,” he says. “I was able to apply strategies based on my own experiences.”
Kosovo was a dangerous area and for the first time his wife, Mary, wasn’t able to make the transfer with him. She was, however, allowed to meet with him in Europe during Bob’s year in the war-torn area.
“It was a great experience, and being able to take a bit of time and travel south to Rome and Athens made it even better,” he says.
Throughout his career, Gollan says, he has set goals he’s wanted to achieve in each of the communities he has lived in. Once he sees his goals beginning to affect change, he starts looking for new challenges.
“That’s my saving grace — I like taking on something new.”
When asked to name some of his best experiences, he insists each posting has left a positive memory.
“Stony Plain was great because it was a small community but close to Edmonton, which had everything anyone could want. Two Hills had a strong Ukrainian culture and I enjoyed learning about that. Yellowknife was a good-sized city in the north with close access to wilderness. Lutsel K’e offered fantastic hunting and fishing on Great Slave Lake. In Gleichen, with its population of Blackfoot Indians, I had a huge opportunity to learn more about First Nations people and the issues that affect them. Here in Creston, my time spent on investigating marijuana grow-ops is a big learning curve, and we are enjoying the beautiful countryside, the lake and hiking opportunities so close by. And the people here are very positive and supportive.”
Moving so often is a mixed blessing for families, Gollan admits.
“My kids (son Stephen and daughter Chrissie) each attended five different schools. It made both very outgoing and very gifted in making friends and meeting new people. They still are in touch with friends they made in all three provinces and the Northwest Territories.
“It’s been hardest on my wife, Mary, though. She has had to give up some very good jobs and career opportunities to follow me in transfers. It’s funny, though. For many years Mary was known as ‘Bob’s wife’. Then she started working for the Royal Bank, where everybody gets to meet her, and I’ve now become known as ‘Mary’s husband.’ ”
Gollan gets involved in whichever community is living. In Creston, he’s become a member of the Creston Rotary Club, taken on the presidency of the Creston Valley Thunder Cats and is set to start coaching the Prince Charles Secondary School senior girls’ volleyball team next month.
When asked if his Métis heritage has affected his career, Gollan said that for the most part it was a positive factor as it allowed him to work with the RCMP Aboriginal Advisory groups in Alberta and Saskatchewan and to help train other Aboriginal Members to effect positive change in their communities. This heritage is a viewed with pride by Gollan as he has come to understand how important the First Nation communities where and are in shaping what is Canada today and what we will be in the future.
Clearly, he has an affinity for First Nations people. Recently, he was at a local coffee shop when a man he had known in Siksika (just east of Calgary) entered the shop, immediately sat down and started talking to Bob as if he had just seen him the day before.
“Would you ever consider coming back to Siksika?” the man asked after their chat. “We miss you.”
His office in the RCMP detachment, where he commands a dozen officers, reflects a passion for his First Nations connections. Scattered around the room, along with plaques commemorating his many postings, are a painted ceremonial drum, leather rifle scabbard, paintings with aboriginal designs, painted plates and a small replica buffalo, complete with fur blanket with the word Siksika painted on it, all gifts from communities he has worked in.
Gollan is a man who clearly enjoys his work, but he admits that he’s seen a lot of changes in his 30 years on the job.
“The court system has unquestionably changed over the years. It has become increasingly difficult to prove a case in court. It used to be that we could make four or five impaired driving arrests and charges in a single shift, including all of the paperwork. Now, if an officer has an impaired driving case, it takes an entire shift to complete the necessary paperwork.
“Respect for authority of any kind has changed, too. Early in my career a police officer’s decision was rarely questioned. Now it happens all the time. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, but it is different.”
He says small towns offer more positive responses from citizens than cities.
“In a small community, I can still make a phone call to a parent whose kid has got into some trouble and hear, ‘We’ll take it from here,’ and know that they will take the appropriate action.”
And it’s much easier to have a presence in schools than it was in his early years. When he first opened a school resource office is Stony Plain, the kids were a bit apprehensive having a police officer in the school, whereas now when he walks into a the school the kids feel comfortable joking and talking to him when he is in uniform.
Gollan says he has no interest in retiring before he has 35 years in.
“This has been a fantastic career,” he says. “I’m almost scared to think about retirement because I enjoy my work so much.”