One of the last recruits into the BC Provincial Police before that venerable force was taken over by the RCMP in 1950, Lew Dempsey finished his distinguished career as an Inspector in the Nelson Subdivision in 1985.
In July 1993, when our new RCMP Detachment building was opened on Church Road under the tenure of Sergeant Wayne Watson, Lew and his wife Ioline were among the special guests from afar that gathered together to share reminiscences. While the official ceremonies took place at the detachment in the afternoon, in the evening the Sooke Community Association hosted a salmon barbecue picnic at the Flats in true Sooke fashion. The camaraderie as members – retired and serving – shared tales around the campfire, was an event we may never see again.
Exemplifying the community feeling of policing in Sooke’s bygone days, the afternoon’s refreshments had been prepared by Sooke Women’s Institute, led by Flora Pinder and Sybil Banner, while the gift of a collage portraying all detachment commanders in the area’s history was presented by the Sooke Festival Society.
When Lew Dempsey was posted here as a Corporal in 1961, he was the lone force, his territory extending from the Colwood/Metchosin border, west to the San Juan valley. It would be more correct to say that Lew and Ioline both served. The couple and their two sons lived at Sooke’s first police station at Sooke Road and Drennan; Ioline looked after the office, took the calls and fed the prisoners. Dick Herrling recalled “the Detachment consisted of one policeman who very soon earned the respect of the whole community with his fine police work.”
It was a shared sense of responsibility, perhaps bred into the generation that had grown up in the Depression years, that had Lew and Ioline working so closely together, and also dedicated to their family time. I recall one sunny winter Sunday, my family going up to skate on Sheilds Lake, and running into the Dempseys who were roasting wieners with their boys in the beautiful winter setting. I recall Ioline telling me how she could not relax when Lew was out on call at night, and how she would take a blanket and lie on the kitchen floor to wait for him to come home safely.
When the Dempseys left Sooke in September 1967, the detachment had grown to three, and he had been promoted to Sergeant. In retirement after Nelson, the Dempseys lived at Balfour and then Castlegar.
Sooke’s Lorne Christensen, a dedicated police historian, said, “I first met Lew through a phone call while I was building a police exhibit at the museum in 2008. He was extremely helpful with information and artifacts. I enjoyed talking to him so much that I never missed an opportunity to call him back. In 2010 while in the Kootenays, I visited him and found him to be exactly what I expected, a real gentleman, a wonderful host and I came away knowing he must have been an awesome police officer.”
Together as they had been throughout their lives, so they were at the end. When Lew passed away last Thursday, it was only hours later that Ioline went to join him.
Elida Peers, Historian
Sooke Region Museum