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Last updateFri, 23 Sep 2022 3pm

105 year-old RCMP officer recalls days in Drumheller

 

 ernie.jpg The make-up of Drumheller was very different 70 years ago, and The Mail was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of that through the mind’s eye of someone who was there.
    Ernie Henderson of High River turned 105 on January 11 of this year. He holds the distinction of being the oldest man in Canada to wear the Red Serge, and it was not long into his career he was stationed in Drumheller.
    Henderson became an RCMP officer in 1933 and came to work in the valley the late 30’s.
    “In fact, I was there when the war broke out,” Henderson told The Mail, as if it were yesterday. “I was there for two years, and a half.”
     According to Henderson, this was not long after police service in Drumheller was turned over to the RCMP. Before he came to Drumheller, he was stationed in British Columbia for four years.
    The 1930’s were tough all over, and in Drumheller it was no different.  Henderson says already mines were closing in the 1930’s before the war effort created a boom.
    “There were 700 hundred families on welfare at the time in the valley, right on both sides of Drumheller,” he said. “At that time there were no paved roads there either, and that heavy mud was really bad.”
    It was still a young man’s town with all the pitfalls it entails, including services that have both become frowned upon, and legendary.   
    “It was tough in a way,” says Henderson. “There were two houses of ill repute.”
    The iconic duo of Madames Mary Roper and Fanny Ramsley set up their shops around 1918 and were doing a roaring business at the time Henderson was stationed in Drumheller, and he remembers them by name.
    They were both on the outside of the city limits,” said Henderson. “We never could get anything on Mary, but we were tough on Fanny.”
    They also had learned of the reputation of the young officer.
    “When I was transferred, from there the day before I left, there was a taxi that drove into the yard. Our office was in the old courthouse building at that time,” he recalls. “It was Fanny Ramsley, and she said, ‘Is Mr. Henderson here?’ They gave me a call and when I came out, she said, ‘I hear you are leaving.’”
    “I said ‘you’d be happy about that,’ and she said, ‘No, I am really not. You were tough, but you were always fair.’ You can’t get a better recommendation for a policeman than that.” 
    Henderson moved on in 1941 to the Hanna Detachment, and was married in Hanna. He eventually retired from the force in 1948 and went back to his first love -- ranching.
    “I left after 15 years, I was a corporal then and I was stationed in Cardston, but I was always a farmer at heart, particularly with livestock. I judged draught horses from Vancouver to Toronto in some of the biggest shows in the country,” he said.
    He says he has not been through Drumheller for six or seven years as he does not have a driver's licence anymore. He says his eyes are still good, but his hearing is starting to fade. His stories still hold strong at his regular Thursday coffee klatch at the Dairy Queen in High River where he holds court with a number of retired police officers. In fact, this year it was the site of his 105th birthday celebration and it even attracted RCMP K-Division Commanding Officer Rod Knecht.


105 year-old RCMP officer recalls days in Drumheller

 

 ernie.jpg The make-up of Drumheller was very different 70 years ago, and The Mail was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of that through the mind’s eye of someone who was there.
    Ernie Henderson of High River turned 105 on January 11 of this year. He holds the distinction of being the oldest man in Canada to wear the Red Serge, and it was not long into his career he was stationed in Drumheller.
    Henderson became an RCMP officer in 1933 and came to work in the valley the late 30’s.
    “In fact, I was there when the war broke out,” Henderson told The Mail, as if it were yesterday. “I was there for two years, and a half.”
     According to Henderson, this was not long after police service in Drumheller was turned over to the RCMP. Before he came to Drumheller, he was stationed in British Columbia for four years.
    The 1930’s were tough all over, and in Drumheller it was no different.  Henderson says already mines were closing in the 1930’s before the war effort created a boom.
    “There were 700 hundred families on welfare at the time in the valley, right on both sides of Drumheller,” he said. “At that time there were no paved roads there either, and that heavy mud was really bad.”
    It was still a young man’s town with all the pitfalls it entails, including services that have both become frowned upon, and legendary.   
    “It was tough in a way,” says Henderson. “There were two houses of ill repute.”
    The iconic duo of Madames Mary Roper and Fanny Ramsley set up their shops around 1918 and were doing a roaring business at the time Henderson was stationed in Drumheller, and he remembers them by name.
    They were both on the outside of the city limits,” said Henderson. “We never could get anything on Mary, but we were tough on Fanny.”
    They also had learned of the reputation of the young officer.
    “When I was transferred, from there the day before I left, there was a taxi that drove into the yard. Our office was in the old courthouse building at that time,” he recalls. “It was Fanny Ramsley, and she said, ‘Is Mr. Henderson here?’ They gave me a call and when I came out, she said, ‘I hear you are leaving.’”
    “I said ‘you’d be happy about that,’ and she said, ‘No, I am really not. You were tough, but you were always fair.’ You can’t get a better recommendation for a policeman than that.” 
    Henderson moved on in 1941 to the Hanna Detachment, and was married in Hanna. He eventually retired from the force in 1948 and went back to his first love -- ranching.
    “I left after 15 years, I was a corporal then and I was stationed in Cardston, but I was always a farmer at heart, particularly with livestock. I judged draught horses from Vancouver to Toronto in some of the biggest shows in the country,” he said.
    He says he has not been through Drumheller for six or seven years as he does not have a driver's licence anymore. He says his eyes are still good, but his hearing is starting to fade. His stories still hold strong at his regular Thursday coffee klatch at the Dairy Queen in High River where he holds court with a number of retired police officers. In fact, this year it was the site of his 105th birthday celebration and it even attracted RCMP K-Division Commanding Officer Rod Knecht.

Fifth "dirtiest hotel in Canada" cleans up act

 

beds-laura-milton.jpg 

 

The Canada 2010 Dirtiest Hotels list from TripAdvisor®,  a travellers review site, is out and put Drumheller on the worldwide destination map. The Drumheller Inn came fifth in the top ten dirtiest hotels in Canada. The list is based on TripAdvisor® traveller ratings for cleanliness.
    “It might have been the case in the past but not anymore” explains Sewak Gill, the new owner of the hotel when contacted by The Mail. Since he took up ownership of the hotel in July 2009, he started a $500,000 renovation program in October 2009.
    The Drumheller Inn’s rating is based on 44 travellers reviews, dated from November  2002 with the last date of stay review of August 2009, feedback included: “Terrible! From the food to the decor. I will NEVER return or recommend this dump.” (date of stay August 2009), “Do not stay here unless everywhere else in Drumheller is full & hell has frozen over” (date of stay August 2009), “OK - convenient to attractions” (date of stay August 2009).
    Calgary based, Gill suggested a visit to the hotel where Laura Milton, who looks after the hotel in Gill’s absence, can meet with The Mail to see what has been achieved.
    Laura Milton has been working for the Drumheller Inn for 17 years, starting out in the restaurant, then chambermaiding and describes her current job as “there isn’t anything I don’t do.”
    Throughout her 17 years there, she has seen several changes of ownership and told The Mail, “I have seen the good, I have seen the bad, and what it looks like now is probably the best it’s looked since it was brand new.”
    “They re-did the lobby and the restaurant, it has now opened it up and made it bright, they painted the lounge, the flooring in the banquet room has been re-done, they are re-doing the pool [currently closed], which has leaked for many years on the sidewalk, and are talking about building a new one, we will be putting in a gym in the old formal dining room, we have made a laundry room for the customers, they refurbished the bedrooms, and  have taken everything away, recarpetted the floor and repainted the rooms, there’s only the top floor left to do...there was a problem then, we do not have a problem now.”  Milton also added they are planning on re-painting the outside of the hotel in the spring.
    About the TripAdvisor® report, Milton explains she has had many phone calls from different people and feels that people should come and see before they believe what they read.
    How has the staff been affected by the report? “We take one day at a time, the girls upstairs [4 chambermaids plus a part time one] get quite upset about it [the report] because they work hard and try hard. I have done a lot of jobs in this hotel, and the hardest one is housekeeping, and those girls deserve a lot of credit for the way it looks today,” says Milton.
    She puts in long hours at work and explained, “It’s because I know Mr. Gill is trying to make the changes and it’s the customers that keep you here...I stayed because of the staff and the customers, I love it here.”
    “To turn the hotel around has been a lot of hard work…things are definitely turning around for the better, and it is so nice to see because it’s like a load lifted off your shoulders that it is actually starting to become a little better than it has been for a long time. Even the regulars come in and say ‘oh my.'”
    Gill told The Mail he is currently looking into updating the Drumheller Inn listing on TripAdvisor® to highlight the changes made to the hotel since renovation started in October 2009.


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