First crew of Drumheller Institution guards mark 50 years
The week of October 18, 1966, was a busy time for the Valley. The front page of The Drumheller Mail featured a major gas well strike near Carbon, October 18 was a civic election date and the Drumheller Miner’s itinerary for their trip to Europe was released.
The top story of the day, however, was the swearing in of 15 correctional officers, the first to be appointed to the Drumheller Institution.
The appointment was held on October 14, 1966, at the Armories (now the Navy League Building) and performed by first Warden, Pierre Jutras. 50 years later, five of those officers gathered at a home in Drumheller to mark the occasion last Friday. They included Dan Worman, Gordon Smith, John Macy, Ron Goruik and Gerry Hatt.
While 50 years have passed, the memories of the occasion are vivid. Worman recalls that not long after the ceremony, they headed up to the airport and were sent out for training, “It was probably the first time that any of us had flown!” said Worman.
According to The Drumheller Mail article that appeared in 1966, the recruits were all from the Drumheller area. Originally from Manitoba, Smith recalls that he was in the area working on the rigs. His rig was shut down, so a friend encouraged him to apply. Throughout his career, he was active with the union and served as a rep.
For the next four months, the crew were in British Columbia where they worked at the British Columbia Peniten- tiary (BCP) in New Westminster for about a week before they were sent to Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford.
“When we walked into BCP, none of us knew anything about a jail. It was an old building and when the gate closed behind us, that was pretty scary,” said Smith.
The new recruits soon found their way and learned the ropes. They were gungho to get to work at their own new facility in February when they arrived home in the valley. However, it wasn’t quite as ready as it was planned.
“We went to work there, and we had to get to painting and building fences before the inmates came,” said Goruik.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1967 when the Drumheller Institution saw its first 25 inmates. Inmate number one was named Nesbitt, who was serving for murder.
“When we got back from training, we were tiling, painting, and fencing. ‘ We are trained now, we want to be guards, let’s get some inmates here!’ Well, as soon as the inmates came we had to do shift work,” laughs Worman.
This launched the career of these men. Overall, the five combined have 149 years experience.
At the time, Drumheller was a depressed region and the goal of opening the institution was to spur the economy. For the first crew, their starting wage was $3,100 a year. “I never had so much money,” laughs Worman.
At times, it was a tough job, and at times, it was a fun job. Worman said at first they were bringing in younger first-time offenders, but they soon realized they needed more force to keep them under control, so they brought in some older convicts to help keep things organized.
“If you had a couple tough inmates, they made your job a lot easier. They took care of a lot of the problems so staff didn’t have to worry about,” said Goruik.
Over the years, the job got tougher, but Worman says that mirrors society outside the prison.
“It’s a true reflection of what is happening on the street, respect for authority has really gone downhill,” said Worman.
“I hear people say, ‘ You working at a penitentiary? It must be dangerous.’ Well, it is and it is not. You go for days without anything happening and we actually had fun doing our job on good days. But then you might earn all your pay in one night,” said Worman.
Smith adds that the ability to laugh would help them through the stress.
“It helps to have a really good sense of humour, it kept us going,” said Smith.
Goruik adds that sports were important, in the summer they played ball, and in the winter they played hockey.
Worman said if he was in the same position he was in 50 years ago, and the job came up, he would do it all again.
“It was a good job, and it gave me a great lifestyle and a great retirement,” he said.
The first crew of Drumheller Institution guards share their memories. Pictured back (l-r), Dan Worman, Ron Goruik, with front (l-r), Gordon Smith, Gerry Hatt and John Macy.