By Steve Hubrecht
A valley local who has spent decades working for the Calgary police force is about to receive one of the highest honours possible.
Calgary Police Association president Howard Burns was born and grew up in Invermere before joining the Calgary police force two and a half decades ago. Next week, Mr. Burns will be recognized in a ceremony in Edmonton on Thursday, December 8th for his service by being awarded an Order of Merit medal by Canadas Governor General.
Its certainly an honour. I was surprised to learn Id even been nominated, and then to find out I won, its quite humbling, Mr. Burns told The Pioneer. I guess those who nominated me feel I have worked hard and am deserving of the honour, which is really nice, because when youre doing the job, youre not doing it for reasons of recognition. You dont even think of that.
Mr. Burns was born in the Invermere hospital in 1967. His dad was the manager of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) at the time, with the family living directly above the bank (which was located on the same corner back then as it is now). Although Mr. Burns spent his first few years living literally in the middle of Invermere, his fathers bank manager career meant the family moved quite a bit around B.C. before his father eventually switched to the insurance business and the family returned to Invermere for good when Mr. Burns was seven years old.
Like other Columbia Valley teenagers, Mr. Burns attended David Thompson Secondary School (which at the time was located on the site where the new multi-use centre is currently under construction). He graduated in 1985.
Joining the police was not a lifelong dream for me. I remember being in Grade 12 and watching my peers apply to university and college, and thinking I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was sitting in the guidance councillors office one day and there was a brochure advertising Mt. Royal Colleges law enforcement program, which caught my interest, he said. I applied, got accepted and never looked back.
Mr. Burns kept his ties to the valley after going to college, however, playing defence for the Columbia Valley Rockies in 1986 and arranging his college class schedule so that he could return to the valley on weekends to play.
Id drive back just in time for Thursday night practice, then wed (the Rockies) either hit the road or have a home stand, he said. I enjoyed it, but it was pretty evident that I wasnt going to make my money playing hockey, so I kept focused on the law enforcement classes.
Although Mr. Burns doesnt get back to the valley much at the moment since his parents no longer live here, he said he still misses it even to this day. Especially the lake. You take it for granted when you live there, but its really something special. In Calgary, you cant just go for a swim whenever you like, unless you like cold rivers.
He spent his college summers working for Canada Customs (now called the Border Services Agency), and took interest in it. He even thought that was where his career might lie, but although that organization eventually did offer him a position, he had by then already taken a job with the Calgary Police Force.
Mr. Burns took well to the police work, being promoted to sergeant after 12 years spent in various police roles, including a ground patrol constable, a fatal traffic crash investigator (where he first learned investigation techniques and accident reconstruction), another stint as a ground patrol constable, and a stretch of time as an acting detective.
In being promoted to sergeant, Mr. Burns became a street supervisor, a role he continued in for most of his tenure with the police forces.
It did involve a lot of night shifts, and you could say its been a long career that way, he said.
Eventually, he was elected to the Calgary Police Association (which is not a union, but fills some of the functions a union does) as a director for three years, moving up to serve as vice-president for four years, and then, for the past four years, serving in a full-time role as president. During his time as association president, Mr. Burns has accomplished much, including the construction of a new 28,000-square foot (2,600-square metre) building for the association (it was a big endeavour), and negotiating a new contract for Calgary police (the 2,100 members we have are actually now the highest paid in Canada, and quite deserving of it). The role of president also frequently involves dealing with lethal forces incidences (any time somebody is shot, you are woken up in the middle of the night and you need to get on the scene and make sure the police members involved are represented legally).
Mr. Burns plans to retire from policing altogether next month and take some well-deserved time off before pursuing another career, possibly in insurance or finance.
Policing is definitely a young persons job and its time to move on, he said. One of the perks of policing is that if you start young, you can retire relatively young.
Part of the reason Mr. Burns wants to step back from policing is to spend more time with his wife (the couple celebrated their 29th anniversary earlier this week), his two kids and his grandkids.
As a parent, youre often so busy with your own work and career. As a grandparent, you can have a bit more time to spend with them in those toddler years. They go by quick, he said.
Aside from the Order of Merit, Mr. Burns has earned several service medals as well as the Chief Lifesaving Award for his role in helping stop a would-be killer from stabbing his mother-in-law, estranged wife and daughter.