Walter Ceolin Conservation Officer 1950-2003
- Tribute to his Father Delivered by Matthew Ceolin
- Tribute to Conservation Officer Walter Ceolin Delivered by Mike Kindree
- A Tribute to the Flight Crew of Helicopter OGN Delivered by Jacques Landry
- My Memories of Walter by CO Klaas Oswald
- Remembering Walter by CO Bruce Tomlinson
- Our Colleagues Conservation Area
- Officer’s Pay Tribute Pictorial
Photographs Courtesy of
Blair Ceolin (Nephew)
Brian Speakman (OPP)
Mark Wickham and Larry Nydam on behalf of Enforcement Branch (Peterborough)
Born February 11, 1950 in Italy. Raised in Toronto. Graduated from Downsview Secondary School in 1970. Graduated Sir Sandford Fleming College in 1972 as a Resource Technician. Started with the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1971 as a Timber Technician in Whitney as a student.
After graduation Walter worked in the North Bay District from 1972 until 1974 as a Resource Technician in Fish and Wildlife.
Walter applied for a Conservation Officer position in Sault Ste. Marie in January 1975, where he then worked in a variety of officer capacities, including:
- Fish and Wildlife Operations Manager
- Conservation Officer Co-ordinator
- Fur and Predator Control Officer
- District Compliance Specialist
- District Enforcement Supervisor
Walter’s most recent position was District Intelligence and Investigative Specialist.
We would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to the families of Chantel Walkey, Mike Maguire and Bruce Stubbs.
We would also like to thank all the people who have given us their support throughout this very difficult time-especially those who have worked closely with my father and have become more family than co-workers over the years.
I can recall my father telling me many stories of his youth and all have focuses on his love of nature. Ever since his childhood he was enthralled with the natural world around him- and with that fascination came a deep and heartfelt need to protect it at all costs. He felt and knew that once those wonders of nature have been lost they could never be replaced and it was for future generations as much for himself – that he followed his passion protecting and teaching about nature. His love was immense and it encompasses everyone he knew and often those he did not. It was through his guardianship of nature that he extended his love best- for it was here he felt it could last on- he often said he wanted his grandchildren to marvel at the majesty of a white pine and wished that everyone for years to come would have the opportunity that he had- to become in awe of what nature had to offer- You could not walk through the forest with him and not be told the name and role of all plants and animals you encountered- and because of this those who knew him will always feel him near whenever we enter nature’s realm.
Over the years he committed himself- vehemently at times- to protecting things he felt we could not afford to lose, from marsh and wetlands to woodlots and deeryards. He recently discovered one such place in the Elliot Lake area. A waterfall- which he felt was in need of our attention and protection for future generations
It was a year before I could get to go with him to see it and in that time he would expound the beauty and importance of this site. About how it was likely one of the only glacially formed falls in Northern Ontario made entirely of white pudding stone and how it was surrounded by – and important to- so many plants and animals he held dear.
I know that he had recently been working on his own time to have this area protected so protected so that another of nature’s wonder could be maintained for all to come.
Now with his passing he is unable to see this project of his through and I would ask anyone able to help us to protect the last place my father felt we could not afford to lose- in His memory. He would often say that the things we do as human being are great and at times amazing but never compare to or replace those things that mother nature has created for us to marvel at and enjoy.
Tribute to Conservation Officer Walter Ceolin
Delivered by Mike Kindree, Enforcement Branch Peterborough, at the MNR Memorial Service Sault Ste Marie During his career Mike Kindree was a field Conservation Officer and Enforcement Co-ordinator working with Walter in Sault Ste Marie
Walter Ceolin was a fine Conservation Officer. He always emphasized the importance, of, and was able to achieve that magic balance between his management and enforcement duties. He was a skilled investigator, and was equally adept at carrying out wildlife and fisheries projects.
Walter was born in northern Italy on the 11th day of February 1950. After immigrating to Canada with his family he grew up in Toronto. Wally fell in love with the outdoors and all the natural resources of his new country.
Wally started his career with the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1972 and worked as a Conservation Officer here in the Sault Ste Marie District since January 1975.From his very first day here he acquired knowledge of the local area. He quickly became the resident expert in everything and anything to do with natural resources.
He knew about every fish, spawning area, every deer yards, past and present all of the flowers, trees, nesting sites, ferns, staging areas, birds, trails, waterfalls, mushrooms and everything else connected to the great outdoors.
His love of nature extended beyond his job into everyday life. He refused to fence off his garden even though the wildlife ate more of his vegetables than he did..Wally was enthusiast about bird watching , beekeeping, making maple syrup, maintaining an apple orchard, fishing, taxidermy, trapping and of course hunting with his beloved beagles.
He knew the habits and whereabouts of every poacher in the District. Whenever he dealt with hunters, anglers, trappers or members of the public he treated them all equally and with respect He never said a bad word about them, or anyone else. In return, everyone respected him. Wally’s generosity was well known, if you needed something he would lend or give it to you. He had an excellent library and you could always borrow one of his books. He was always ready to pitch in and lend a hand to a neighbour, a fellow officer or a friend.
Wally was quick to offer you his opinion. In fact Walter held strong opinions and was always ready for a debate. He would persevere no matter what the strength of the opposing argument. And speaking of determination, he never gave up trying to catch a poacher or in putting together a difficult investigation . Often he would get a confession or a conviction where others thought it was impossible.
Walter was dedicated to his profession and no one was surprised when last year he turned down early retirement . It wasn’t just his dedication, it was his love for the job and the fact he had so much fun doing it. Knowing Wally I am sure if he could have a say in this now, he would tell us he lived a real good life in one of the nicest locales on this earth. Walter loved life and his ever present silly grin on his face was proof.
There was only one thing that was more important to Wally than his job and love of the great outdoor and that was his son Matthew. Wally talked about Matt with the greatest of admiration. Matthew, you and your family can stand proud knowing that your dad was a dedicated professional and that he had such a profound impact on so many. Walter was the consummate officer, a great human being, and a wonderful father and friend. Until we meet again, we will miss you Wally."
Jacques is a former Conservation Officer and presently a Senior Technician in Sault Ste Marie
January 21st dawned with such promise. The moose survey in Wildlife Management Unit 35 had been underway for almost two weeks but progress had been slow, hampered by poor weather. A high-pressure system which had moved in the previous day was now firmly in place. The rest of the week looked cold and clear, just the break we had been waiting for.
I stood by my desk looking out the window to the south, with a view of the ice choked St. Mary’s river. It was about 9:30 a.m., and the sun was already climbing to the east. The sky was a deep
blue without a trace of cloud. Steam rose from the river in the bitterly cold morning air.
The crew had just headed out to the waiting helicopter at the slipway next door, and I had a moment to relax after rushing around organizing the equipment and briefing the crew before that day’s flight. Those of you involved in moose surveys know how hectic it can be in the moments leading up to a flight.
Walter with retired officer Sam Rosa
I could not see the helicopter from where I stood, but I heard it start up. A few minutes later I heard it power up and lift off. It came into my field of view from the right and flew out over the river before making a wide turn to the west. I watched it fly out of sight and left my desk to look at a wall map a short distance away.
As I stood at the wall map I heard a radio transmission, but was not close enough to hear it clearly. I knew it was the pilot calling in and I listened as Linda Pruce, who was providing radio watch that day, responded:
Helicopter Oscar Golf November its Sault District on – go ahead
I heard the radio crackle again for a few seconds followed by Linda’s response:
I check OGN – you’re off the slipway, with three passengers on board, three hours of fuel, bound for base map 72522, plot GH22-01. You’ll advise when starting plot. Sault District clear.
As I looked at the map I wondered how many plots they would get done today. Would the fuel barrels be difficult to dig out at the cache? Would Wally have problems with the computer?
It was just another normal survey day.
My name is Jacques Landry, and I am the Fish and Wildlife Technical Specialist in Sault Ste. Marie District. I thank you for the opportunity to stand before you today and offer some comments on the tragic events of January 21.
Our aviation service has been shocked by the loss of one of their yellow birds, and deeply saddened by the loss of their chief helicopter pilot Mike McGuire, and for our part Sault Ste.
Marie District has been dealt a devastating blow with the loss of three of our co-workers namely Conservation Officer Walter
Ceolin, and Resource Technicians Bruce Stubbs and Chantelle Walkey. I want to take this opportunity to extend a heartfelt thank you to our MNR family and to the entire OPS for the incredible support we have received during this most difficult time.
Walter in Desbarats bat caves 1989. Walter became their protector when research indicated human body temperature could interfere with the micro- climate
The District office reopened last Thursday and those staff who had returned were attempting to get back into work but it was far from business as usual and it will be some time before things return to anything near normal. What I observed were staff emerging from the initial shock of this terrible accident, and attempting to come to grips with the reality of this tragedy. The true loss is beginning to sink in and as I’m sure you can appreciate, there is a wide range of emotions coming to the surface. It’s not going to be easy for many of us. We will dig deep, regroup, and carry on, but I dare say that life at Sault District will never quite be the same.
Moose Aerial Inventories are a part of our regular work program in the Sault as we cover 4 Wildlife Management Units. We fly surveys in most winters, weather conditions permitting.
Is there risk in this type of work? Absolutely. But the risk and danger associated with these surveys is not something that any of us ever dwelled on. Actually, most of us worried about our stomachs during these surveys rather than worrying about the risks. We have always had every confidence in our pilots and our aircraft and we will continue to do so. We will fly again.
I have been intimately involved in the planning and coordinating of these surveys for a number of years, and this year was no exception. Each year when I would send out an e-mail recruiting volunteers for an upcoming survey, there would be no shortage of individuals who wanted to participate in flying surveys, especially new staff who had not flown them in the past. Yet only a select few would find they had the stomach for this type of flying. Those who can fly these surveys truly love doing so and look forward to doing so each winter.
We have already heard from Bob and Kip who delivered touching tributes to Mike, Wally, Chantelle and Bruce. They gave you some insights into each of these individuals and I would like to add some further insights from my involvement with them in this project.
Walking the picket line Spring 2002
I knew these four individuals mainly through work. Actually, if you really want to get to know someone spend 8 weeks on a picket line with them. I will never forget Chantelle’s antics on the line, and the fun, zest, and energy she brought with her. You were making a mistake if you tried to force your way through our line while she was on picket duty. Bruce was a picket captain and I was impressed by his ability to stay in control, approaching every situation he was drawn into in his typical calm, cool and collected manner. Wally’s war stories, many of them hilarious, kept those walking the line or huddled around the fire barrels entertained for hours. He never seemed to run out of them.
Walter Ceolin was an old hand at moose surveys. He had been flying them for years – long before I arrived in the District in 1989. He loved to fly and jumped at any opportunity to get up. He was one of those fortunate individuals with a cast iron stomach who was not bothered in the least by the rigors of moose flights. He loved to tease those of us who were less fortunate in the airsickness department.
He’d had less opportunity in recent years to get involved in these sorts of projects due to the shift in enforcement priorities, which resulted in Conservation Officers doing less management, oriented work. Budget shortfalls in recent years meant that C.O.’s were spending more time in the office during January and February but Wally was heard to say that he did not mind as this gave him more opportunity to fly either moose surveys or deer yard flights. He saw these flights as important because of the data we were collecting and he always managed to collect extra data including camp locations, fishing activity, nest locations, timber cutting, or what have you. He knew the District from the air better than most. He was always willing to fly if I was stuck, or suddenly needed another crewmember.
Chantelle Walkey had only been with the District for a couple of years. Shortly after her arrival she approached me and told me that she was interested in getting involved in Fish and Wildlife projects. No, let me correct that. She actually demanded to become involved. That was Chantelle’s style. She was so enthusiastic and full of life. She wanted to try everything and was intimidated by nothing. Three technicians would be retiring in the near future and she saw opportunity to take over some of their projects.
OPP Investigation Timber theft $110000 Havilland Twp, running property lines May 2002L-R Wally, Gary Belleau (MNR), Bill McCulloch (Local Forestry Tech)., Rene Bazinet OPP Detective, Northeast Region Rural and Agricultural Crime Team
She took over the operational aspects of the Algoma Area’s fish stocking program. She also got involved in the bear bait line project, learned the ropes, and took that project over as well. She was not bothered in the least by being covered in sardine oil while hanging baits. The technicians who ran the project and trained her used to kid her. They told her they were sending her in to check the baits in case a bear was present but she was not deterred in the least. If the boys could do this project, than she could do it she would say to me.
She flew her 1st moose survey in the winter of 2001 and was airsick but refused to quit. Her new best friend became gravol. This year she came to me after reading my recruiting e-mail and said she was not sure how her stomach would fare again this year, but she was going to give it a try. She did not want to sit out this survey.
I first met Bruce Stubbs when I hired him in 1989 on an Environmental Youth Corps project. It was his first time working for MNR and he was involved in a variety of fisheries projects in the District. He was a confident individual and loved working in the outdoors. Initially he struck me as rather cocky, and had a smile on his face no matter what the situation. I soon realized that he was just a really happy go lucky guy and nothing seemed to faze him – he always seemed to be smiling no matter what was happening around him. He always seemed calm and in control. Bruce came back to the District in 2001 with a permanent job shortly after Chantelle arrived. He also expressed an interest in getting involved in Fish and Wildlife projects. He loved to fly and was very savvy around computers. He was also passionate about moose. He loved to hunt them, observe them, and talk about them. He was the first to volunteer to fly moose surveys this winter. He wanted to be the flight navigator right off the bat and was rather disappointed when I told him that the navigator position was the senior position and that new flyers start in the secondary observer position until they build up hours. He felt he had a lot of experience with moose, and with flying, and would have no problem sexing them from the air which was the navigator’s responsibility.
I only got to know Mike McGuire recently. He first contacted me in early November of last year to let me know that he would be flying this year’s survey. I had not even started thinking about the survey at that point, I was still busy wrapping up other work but Mike was eager. He was chomping at the bit to get going and every time we got a snowfall I would hear that he was ready to get started. He’d had his fill of meetings for a while and wanted to get out flying.
Over the ten days that the survey had been underway, I got to know Mike as we talked over the telephone each morning regarding the weather, determining if we would fly or not, and planning the flight for the day.
He was always professional and punctual. When Mike told me that he would call at 8:30 a.m. the next day, my phone would ring at precisely that time. He always managed to inject some humour into our conversations. I can remember him telling me on one occasion that he had seen more moose the previous day than the observers had. He chuckled and added, but don’t tell them I told you.
Wally and Bruce were scheduled to fly the weekend of January 18/19. We were forced to cancel the flights due to the weather and when I called to advise them they were both disappointed. Bruce had been up for one flight the previous week, but Wally had not yet flown this survey. When I called Wally to cancel he told me he had really been looking forward to flying that day.
Monday, Jan 20th, a high-pressure system finally moved in clearing the weather and the day’s flight proceeded. Bruce and Chantelle both flew that day. It was Chantelle’s first flight of the survey.
The crew completed five plots that day and when the helicopter returned to the slipway that afternoon I waited for the crew to come back into the office so we could review the data. Chantelle was the first to come and see me. I heard her before I saw her, singing as she came down the hall towards me. She was excited and was telling me about the flight as only Chantelle could. Talking a mile a minute, dramatic, eyes flashing, hands waving. Chantelle did not simply talk to you with her voice. She talked with her whole body in a very animated fashion, her eyes full of expression. It was exhausting to try to keep up with her. I almost wanted to tie her to a chair to keep her still and to tell her to speak very s-l-o-w-l-y. She was one of a kind. She said the flight was awesome. It had started slow with no moose on the first plot, 1 on the second, 3 on the third. Her stomach had been starting to get queasy but then they saw 8 moose on the fourth plot and 14 on the fifth and she forgot all about her stomach.
Bruce then came over and had a grin from ear to ear. He had really enjoyed the "awesome" flight and wanted to know how many moose they had seen. We tallied up a total of 25. He was impressed by the number of cows and calves on the one plot and how productive the area was.
Then he told me that he did not think he was ready to navigate. He had not realized how much was involved, and sexing those moose from the air was not as easy as he thought.
On Tuesday, January 21st, I arrived at the office early as the individual scheduled to navigate that day had come down with the flu the previous evening and was not sure he would be able to fly this morning. Chantelle and Bruce were already there and as soon as I walked in they asked if the flight was on. They were ready to go. Waiting for word from the navigator I sat and chatted with Bruce, Chantelle, and a couple of other staff members as we watched the sun coming up over the St. Mary’s river. We had a few laughs and talked about moose surveys and flying – what else.
The navigator called to say he was still not well enough to fly and I started to look for an alternate. Wally was scheduled off that day but I could not reach him at home. With time getting short, I decided that if necessary I would navigate. My stomach is not as strong as it use to be but I could not cancel a flight on such a perfect flying day. As I headed out to get my gear, I met Wally on his way in. He had decided to come in to the office for a while as he had a few things to do. When I asked him if he was interested in flying he thought about it for about a few seconds and said sure, he’d fly and would take the coming Friday off instead. Figuring out Wally’s days off was much like trying to hit a moving target at the best of times. I mentioned that he was not dressed to go up in such cold weather, but he indicated that he would find some appropriate clothes.
Mike McGuire called to say that he was so sure that we would be flying on such a perfect day that he had gone ahead and had the helicopter fueled and was ready to go. He would be over in 15 minutes. I gave the laptop a final check and made sure the maps and other equipment were ready to go.
I joined Wally and a few other staff in the coffee room where the windows face west and the helicopter would be seen approaching from the Sault Airport. Wally was bragging about having had two breakfasts that morning – one at home and the other on the way to work. He had passed McDonald’s and could not resist. He was teasing those of us who have weak stomachs. Later I would learn that he had quietly borrowed some gravol just in case.
As we watched the helicopter approach from the west and land at the slipway, Bruce and Chantelle joined us. We went over the days flight plan one more time.
The helicopter shut down and the crew headed out the back door. I watched them walk over to the waiting helicopter and then walked to my desk.
In those quiet moments of reflection in the days following this tragedy, I often wondered what kind of morning the crew had experienced while working plots GH22-01 and GH22-02. I knew the conditions had been text book perfect for conducting moose surveys – cold, crisp morning with temperatures in the -30’s, clear blue skies, little wind, and a fresh dusting of snow. They had been working 2 low-density plots – where we expect to see 5 or less moose per plot. They had likely seen few if any moose as they flew the flight lines.
My answer came this past Thursday when the plot maps recovered from the site came back into my possession. I was nervous about viewing them, but as I did I took some comfort in what I saw and could not help but smile. The maps were covered with Wally’s familiar notations. They had observed 23 moose on the first plot, and 18 moose on the first three flight lines of the second plot up to the point where the survey have been aborted. 41 moose – Cows and calves, several groups of 5 moose – the crew would have been ecstatic. They had been having the kind of flight all survey crews look forward to. They would have been pumped. I could just imagine the chatter going on through those headsets. Bruce would have been grinning from ear to ear while remaining calm and cool. Chantelle would have been bouncing up and down in her seat talking a mile a minute every time she spotted another moose or track. Her queasy stomach would have been the furthest thing from her mind. Wally would have been in his element – excited – telling Mike to circle here, circle there and calling out the number and sex of the moose he observed, while franticly recording data on the map and trying to run the laptop. Mike would have been right in there as well, following Wally’s instructions and trying to place the helicopter in the best position to get a good look at the moose observed. He loved to spot moose before the observers did.
For those of you who have taken part in surveys you know this is what moose surveys are all about – a textbook day.
How quickly things can change. What had begun as another normal survey day was soon to be anything but normal. In the blink of an eye lives are taken away from us and the lives of family, friends, co-workers and even strangers are altered forever. Telling you that they had been having a great flight is not meant to detract from the tragedy that befell them in any way, but to reiterate that they died while doing something that they truly loved to do and were passionate about.
In concluding my comments, I would like to take a moment to salute the flight crew tragically lost January 21st, 2003 while conducting Moose Aerial Inventory in Wildlife Management Unit 35, at Mekatina, Desbiens Township:
Pilot Mike Maguire
Navigator Wally Ceolin
Primary Observer Chantelle Walkey
Secondary Observer Bruce Stubbs
I salute them for the professionalism, the dedication, and the enthusiasm that they brought to this project, and to their employment with the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The events of this tragic day, and more importantly the memories of these co-workers, will remain etched in my mind for the rest of my days.
God bless you flight crew of OGN as you continue your journey home.
I transferred to Wawa as a Conservation Officer in 1975, not long after Walter Ceolin had been hired (1974) as a CO in Sault Ste. Marie. This is getting far back enough that my memory is getting somewhat fuzzy about details. Walter, by contrast, had an excellent memory. On any drive around St. Joseph Island, where he was the patrol officer for many years, he could recount in great detail all the events and all the people he had ever encountered at every field or two-track bush road that you passed.
My first concrete memory of Walter goes back to one fall in the late 1970s. I had boarded the Algoma Central train at Hawk Junction and rode the baggage car south to Sault Ste. Marie, and en route seized a rifle as evidence of some now-forgotten offence. Walter took the time to drive
from his house at Echo Bay to pick me up at the station in the Sault. He drove me to his home where some kind of family function was going on, fed me, and later drove me to the bus stop in Echo Bay to get me home again. This spirit of generosity and willingness to put himself out for others was characteristic of Walter.
We used to hold fish check stations annually at Agawa Bay, in Lake Superior Provincial Park. These were a joint effort by the Conservation Officers from Sault Ste. Marie and from Wawa. Walter was always a participant in these. We would start at 8 o’clock in the morning, pound our feet on the pavement till about supper when our shifts were supposed to end, and then work at least another 4 hours because there was work that needed doing. Walter was one of those officers who never discarded this philosophy. If something needed doing, he would jump in and do it. The time of day or night, whether he was on shift or not, didn’t matter. It was no surprise to anyone who knew him, that Walter had come in on a day off in order to assist on the aerial moose survey.
Up until the mid-1980s there were heavy spawning runs of rainbow trout on the Lake Superior tributaries. One spring, the Sault officers and Wawa officers decided to hold a joint blitz to catch poachers, on all the rainbow trout streams from Wawa down along the coast to Goulais Bay. We headquartered at the staff house at Pancake Bay Provincial Park. For a change one evening I went with Walter to the Bar River east of the Sault to stake out the pickerel run in the rapids at Ford’s farm, as it was known then. We parked the truck on a side road, and Walter started high tailing it down to the river, with me right behind him. Within a minute, I ran eyeball-first into a thorn on a hawthorn bush, which dropped me like I’d been pole-axed and put me out of commission for a while. Walter came back and chided me for not staying on the "trail", which consisted of openings between the bushes. Walter, of course, knew where every hawthorn bush was, and the area was full of them. He knew every trail in his patrol area as well in the dark as he did in the daytime, and he spent years teaching other officers the same trails and other features in the Sault District.
After I moved to the Sault to work in commercial fisheries enforcement, I had the chance to work with Walter more often, mostly involving night work looking for jacklighters around the time of the deer hunt. I was recently reminded of one pre-season night about ten years ago on St. Joseph Island, when we ran into a guy in a truck driving once too often past a good spot for deer. His behaviour and some stuff on the passenger seat, led Walter to conclude that he had dropped off a partner who was going to shoot one of the deer feeding on acorns there. Walter dropped me off to wait for the ground hunter, while he ran up to the only bridge to the mainland to see if the driver left. Sure enough, the guy left the island when he knew Walter was watching him, but then turned around and drove onto the island again and into Walter’s waiting arms. He got the point and left for good, leaving his partner in the lurch. We never did find the ground hunter but we heard later that he had spent a real cold night. Walter had good instincts, based on lots of experience, on just where and how to intercept poachers and how to conduct investigations.
One other night, we had spent most of our time in some deer fields near Desbarats, east of Sault Ste. Marie. At the end of the shift we ended up driving down the Gordon Lake Road shortcut to Walter’s house where I was going to drop him off. We had just passed a little roadside cemetery, and then the Soo Line Road and the Diamond Lake Road, when we saw a herd of deer in a field. These were just the kind of live decoys that we were looking for. We found a disused farm lane and hid the truck behind an old building, then staked out the field from a brushy field edge. The deer could see us, but the wind was from them to us, and some of them gave in to curiosity and walked right up close to check us out. No jacklighters ever came along, but it was a memorable night anyway.
Actually, it’s not so much the professional Walter that I remember, but the personal Walter. I always looked forward to dropping in at his home on the way back from an evening of fishing. You couldn’t stop in for a quick visit without him sitting you down at the kitchen table and insisting that you have something to eat or drink. If you made the mistake of telling him that you had skipped supper, he wouldn’t let you leave till he made something for you. There was always a cup of coffee or tea, or maybe a beer. If the weather was cool, he always sweetened your tea with a drop of brandy. Naturally, many an hour was spent in discussing how the MNR could be better run, but Walter also loved to sit and chat at that kitchen table, to reminisce, or talk about hunting or fishing or wildlife or trees or plants or frogs.
To my knowledge Walter never put his hand to anything without doing an expert job at it, and if he took an interest in something he would make a point to study up on it. And he was interested in a host of subjects besides those related to work. He knew the names and life history of every kind of tree and flower in the area. He couldn’t look at a bee taking nectar on a flower without studying bees and starting his own hives. He looked at the old plow furrows in the field in front of his house and then researched the history of every settlement farm around his property. If he picked up an old woodworking tool like a wooden plane at a farm auction, he bought books and learned all about how wooden planes were made and used. Not only that, he would learn about who owned the plane, where and how they lived, and how they used that plane. Looking at the apple trees in front of his house, he learned all about the varieties of apples, and how to graft buds and branches from one tree to another. An avid hunter, he learned all about taxidermy. He hunted ducks, and therefore collected old duck decoys. He converted his home from a cabin to a house, and built a small barn and a sugar shack and other outbuildings. He was interested in many things and had an extensive library on those subjects, from which you could always borrow a book if you wanted to. I never have figured out how he found the time to do it all.
Walter was very proud of his son Matthew. You could tell by the way he talked, and in the way he showed off every new piece of artwork that Matt produced. Matt painted a large portrait of Walter, coincidentally based on a photograph taken from an earlier moose survey flight. It sat in a prominent place in their home. You may remember it at the reception after Walter’s funeral. It’s the picture that comes to my mind whenever I think of Walter now. To me, that painting connects it all: Matt, and sitting at the kitchen table with Walter, and Walter’s dedication to the work he loved, and sadly, the day he never came back home.
Mike Hamilton and I were in the first supertruck to leave the burial at Mount Pleasant cemetery on the Gordon Lake Road. As we drove by, Mike remarked that with the grave being right beside the road, it would become a good spot to park and have a cup of tea with Walter. I thought that was a great idea, and I plan to do it often, to stop by and have a chat with Walter on the hillside overlooking the Soo Line Road and the fields where he spent those nights waiting for deer poachers.
This morning is not a typical Spring day, it feels more like the depths of February. As I pour a coffee and look out through my front window, my eyes fall upon two clumps of birches. I hope it is not my imagination but the buds appear to be swelling. Last Spring, Kathleen decided she wanted more perennial gardens. Not that I was going to complain, it meant less lawn to cut. The yard however needed to be broken up with trees placed strategically for a bit more privacy from the street. I called Walter to get an idea of where to find some trees for transplanting. His response was, "I know exactly what you need, where to find them and, I’ll take you there".
Walter and Donna
Knowing Walter, I recognized this was going to turn into an adventure so I decided I would take my son Luke along. First order of business when we arrived at Walter’s was the sit down at the kitchen table and the cup of tea to discuss events which were of importance on that day. Not neglecting Luke he queried him about fishing, hunting and school as well as doling out stories and ideas. Of course for a 15 year old, Walter’s expertise with a sling-shot was all that was required to keep Luke’s attention.
I had mistakenly thought that we were going to dig up three trees somewhere on Walter’s property. Not a good plan said Walter, he knew a better place where it was easier to get the trees and all the roots. Just before dusk, in two vehicles, the adventure began. Donna, Walter’s best friend and companion sat in the passenger seat of Walter’s little red truck. She seemed quite use to these mini expeditions. A stop was made so he could show me where a fire tower use to be. Then he stopped to show Luke a grown over path leading to the best bass fishing in the District. He extracted from Luke a promise that his father would take him fishing there. Of course, you couldn’t landscape the front yard without incorporating some of the local puddingstone, so off into the bush and part way up a cliff we went to find just the right rock. Then a stop to show me where some of the worst moose violators in the area sometimes camped as well as where a person could set up surveillance. And, while he was there Walter figured he might as well get a few trees for his own use. I wanted birch, but Walter insisted people under-rated the beauty and importance of tamaracks so I might as well take a few of those. Wanting three trees I returned with over twenty, just in case, as Walter put it, one didn’t survive. Walter knew I would find a place for every tree, and I did, except for the tamaracks, they are still heeled into the ground in the back yard………
As events in January unfolded many of us came to acknowledge that sometimes there is a very fine line between good luck and a disaster. Most officers can relate flying stories involving unexpected weather, mechanical failures or a slight error in judgement, but we managed to get home safely. Such was not the case on January 21 2003.
I was again brought to realize how small the ranks of Ontario’s conservation officers really are. Many officer, with careers still ahead of them, have passed away in the past twenty years; some by tragedy, the majority by cancer. What makes it difficult is I knew or had worked with almost every one of them. Without a doubt I learned something from each and every one.
Very few officers could wear a uniform as professionally as Frank Legace.
Not many officers could outwalk or match the bush skill of Henry Kujala.
In a few short hours my knowledge of photography increased exponentially as I sat beside Ben Attard; waiting and finally watching an illegal moose being removed from an aircraft during Operation Storybook.
If you wanted the adrenalin rush of your life then you had to try chasing deer jack lighters through the Rainy River District with Dave Forrester at the wheel.
Russell Maa and Ed Blackstar were your go-to guys if you needed information on some violator residing in the Thunder Bay area.
What little I know about undercover operations was learned in the field alongside Gary Warner as we infiltrated a deer hunting camp in south eastern Ontario.
And added to the list I wish I couldn’t recite, is Walter. Walter was a colleague, a friend and a worthy adversary in an debate. I am told if you ever pissed Walter off he would switch to his mother tongue, Italian, and let off a few expletives he would never have vocalized in English. I never experienced this but then, we always seemed to get along. We had the same goals in mind when it came to natural resources enforcement. How we reached those goals was where the debate came in.
Walter had many stories, so many in fact, that he chose the appropriate narrative to suit the person he was talking to. Many of us are the sole repositories of some of Walter’s tidbits of history, problem solving or the antics of a violator. Walter’s solution to any given situation, for the most part, were simple and frank.
My last conversation with Walter was the day before the accident. As usual, his timing was impeccable, I had been hunkered down all day going through an information to obtain a search warrant when the phone rang. Typical opener for Walter was "Hi Guy , how’s it going". Walter had called to thank me by politely giving me hell. Around Christmas, I had left a bottle of dark rum in his mail slot because he had allowed me onto his property to cut my winter supply of firewood. It was typical of Walter, he loved to give but did not want anything in return.
On that day Walter was in excellent form. He told me he had finally convinced various managers that you could not function full time both as a field officer and an Intel/Investigations officer. He had delivered an ultimatum to the managers, one or the other, but not both and they seemed to have conceded. This was good news because there were so many major cases which needed to be managed. The Lake and the District had a symbiotic relationship with some of our violators; if Walter wasn’t chasing them on land, I was chasing them on the water. Although we openly shared information, I am still going to feel half blind when I go to deal with some unfinished business.
After much bantering and promises of things we were going to get done, it was time to get back to our respective investigations. His last words to me now take on a whole different meaning
"Talk to you later Guy"
L-R: Kevin Smith, Field Services Supervisor Peterborough; John Downey, Regional Training Officer Peterborough; Mike Buckner, Detector Dog Handler Pembroke; Joe McCambridge, Conservation Officer Pembroke; James Abbott, Enforcement Supervisor Timmins; Ken Snowden District Investigator Peterborough.
Not shown: Mike Ladouceur, Conservation Officer Bancroft; Brian Morrison Senior Detector Dog Handler Sudbury
Bill Daniher Retired Conservation Officer
Tammy McKellar Conservation Officer SSM
Dave Harnish Enf Supervisor Sault Ste Marie
Mike Binkley Detector Dog Handler NE SSM
Marc Breton CO Sault Ste Marie
Roch Delorme CO Blind River
Mike Hamilton CO Sault Ste Marie
Dave Hamlin CO Blind River
Klaas Oswald CO Upper Great Lakes SSM
David David Deputy CO SSM
Bev Gauthier CO Mississauga FN
Wendy Lambert Deputy CO SSM
Bruce Tomlinson CO Upper Great Lakes SSM
The Ontario Conservation Officers Association would like to thank the various enforcement agencies who were in attendance Officer Ceolin’s funeral. A special thanks to the Sault Ste Marie Police Service who provided traffic control as well as a Drill Master for the mustering of officers.
Many of Walter’s close friends and co-workers were involved in the organizing and participating in the funeral as well as well as assisting at other vigils and services.
Agencies Represented Ontario Provincial Police Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sault Ste Marie Police Service Canadian Armed Forces United States Coast Guard Batchewana First Nation Police Anishinabek First Nation Police Environment Canada Wildlife Officers Fishery Officers (Federal) Michigan Conservation Officers Ministry of Environment Officers Corrections Officers (Ontario) Canada Customs Canada Immigration Ministry of Transportation Enforcement Officers British Columbia Conservation Officers Park Wardens Ontario Parks Human Resources and Development Canada Investigations Unit Quebec Conservation Officers
Although the guestbooks have been referred to and various queries made, I am sure the list of agencies is incomplete, for which I take full and sole responsibility, please accept my apologizes.
Sault Ste Marie District staff have been working towards the creation of "Our Colleagues Conservation Area" on the Boland River with the naming of Ceolin Falls. Further information can be obtained through this Ministry of Natural Resources web site: http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/mnr/ebr/occr/index.html
Material contained within the News and Views is Copyright by the Ontario Conservation Officers’ Association 2003
All Rights Reserved