Just a week after he and his family moved to Masset, people were waving and saying hello to Sergeant Kevin Smith.
And they wasted no time putting him through his paces on the basketball court.
“It’s been amazing,” said Sgt. Smith, who took over in March as the new commander of the Masset RCMP detachment.
Smith credits earlier work by local RCMP to be well involved in Masset and Old Massett, beyond day-to-day policing.
Both sides of that relationship were on display May 5, when the RCMP boated to Collison Point / St’alaa Kun to enforce a court injunction against a logging blockade organized there by the Haida Gwaii Land Protectors.
Smith and others were met with cake — it happened to be the birthday of Lisa White / Yaahl Aadaa, one of the blockade organizers — and in turn the police gave Haida elders a sail past Old Massett on the RCMP catamaran that came in from Prince Rupert.
Growing up in Port Alberni and Tofino, Smith said Haida Gwaii feels a lot like home.
“That’s been my passion — to be in Aboriginal communities and smaller places,” he said.
Smith has served 14 years in the RCMP, going from Port Hardy to 100 Mile House, Burns Lake, Fort St. James, and now north-end Haida Gwaii.
Besides overseeing a major renovation of the Masset RCMP building — a two-storey addition and interior redesign that will add more space for staff and privacy for the public — in his first few months Smith was also busy playing basketball in Old Massett’s spring league.
“They were good — I was surprised at the quality of play here,” said Smith, adding that it’s good to be back in a basketball community after working in several soccer towns.
Smith is also glad to be back by the ocean.
So far this spring, Masset RCMP have had no calls about stranded boats or East Beach hikers, but Smith is well prepared when they do — he is team-leader certified to do land search-and-rescue, and has years of experience in marine SAR, too.
“If anything like that happens, we’ll be ready for it,” he said.
And when he’s off-duty, Sgt. Smith will be on North Beach and maybe even the west coast, looking for surf.
As a kid, Smith remembers renting his first surfboard from what was then the only board shop in Tofino. He got the bug, moved there after finishing high school in Port Alberni, and later travelled to surf spots all around the world.
In 1992, when he started, there only a dozen regular surfers in Tofino — including brothers Raph and Sepp Bruhwiler, the first Canadians to go pro.
“It’s pretty funny,” he said. “It would only be Raph and Sepp out, and they’d say, ‘Oh, there’s a surfer! How’s it going?’”
“Now you go to Tofino and there’s like 250 people in the water.”
Being in Haida Gwaii is a bit like travelling back in time, said Smith.
“Coming here you almost get nervous because there’s nobody else around,” he said.
“It totally reminds me of what Tofino was 20 years ago.”