François ‘Frank’ Savage, a former police officer with the West Nipissing Police Service, is now serving the most northern community of any province (excluding the Territories) of Canada, with only 20 ice-free days in a year. Savage is experiencing spring in the Inuit community of Ivujivik, as an officer with the Nunavik Police Force. “The Northwest Passage is in my backyard,” he says, along with the polar bears.
Frank Savage was a familiar face when he was with the WNPS, often taking the time to talk to people on the street. His contract was not picked up when the municipality transitioned to the OPP. For a while, he was a Bylaw Enforcement Officer with the municipality. In his words, “I tried retirement for about a month-and-a-half at 50 years of age and, despite 32 years in uniform, it was too early to stop.” He felt something was missing. “I thought I was young enough to do something and was contemplating different options.”
Planning a retirement home in Temagami, he decided to apply for the Bear Island Police Service and was one of two finalists for the position out of 50 candidates. “My Spidy senses told me they were looking for a younger officer… I told them if they were looking for a trainer or senior officer to complement, an experienced officer, I’m your man, but also told them the other candidate was younger and more suitable for their intentions, and that was the person I would hire. He got the position and they appreciated my honesty.”
Unbeknownst to him, his experience and frank honesty put his name in a database of top candidates for policing in First Nations communities. In mid-December of 2020 he received a call from a recruiter looking for a senior officer for training and mentoring. The call came out of the blue, and Savage initially thought it was a scam. He told them to call back on Monday and hung up. “On Monday morning the Deputy Chief called… He was impressed with the resume and offered me a position. He was promoting the service and one of his comments was “great fishing, great hunting”. He had me there. It was always on my bucket list to go up north!”
Savage explains that the territory of the Nunavik Police Force comprises 14 fly-in communities surrounding Hudson Bay on the Ungava Peninsula, and Ivujivik is the northernmost, with approximately 450 people. Although part of Quebec, the primary languages are Inuktituk and English. Savage feels that his familiarity with First Nations communities made this a good choice for him.
“I decided to speak to my family and received support from family and friends. The comments were ‘You’re too young, get off the couch’. (…) Going up north, it was inspiring and sort of a dream come true. I decided to get on board. I spent some time for transition training …cultural awareness. Having a Métis background, having lived in a community with First Nations people left and right… it was [natural] to me.” However, he acknowledges “It was somewhat of a culture shock because the Inuit culture is a culture unto itself. You cannot compare an Inuit to an Algonquin, Ojibway or Northern Cree – they are distinct.”
And the Northwest Passage really is in his new backyard, the place where the first Europeans into Hudson Bay met the Inuit. “Call me crazy – when they asked me where I wanted to go, I asked where is the furthest north community I can go? And they said Ivujivik… It was the furthest posting available to me.”
Frank Savage took up his posting on March 28 of 2021. His first week was an eventful one. “I always wanted to see a polar bear in its natural environment.” A 911 call came in from “a smart lady who stayed in her house, that a polar bear just pulled a seal from the ice and was eating it.” Savage went to check it out. “There’s an open water area, and the beach, rock formation where I’m standing, about 100 yards out. I’m yet to receive my rifle. To compare a polar bear to a northern Ontario black bear is like comparing a dog to a small horse. They are very big!”