Retired OPP officer, merchant made
THESSALON — If you ask anyone about Jack Hill, they’re likely to tell you he was a storyteller. At the very least, they’ll tell you he liked to talk.
The long-time OPP officer, who died in his sleep Dec. 14, was four days away from his 85thbirthday.
Hill had been living with his daughter, Cherelynne, in southern Ontario where he’d moved after a stream of health issues in the last few years. Not only did he have both hips replaced, he suffered from some hearing loss and glaucoma-induced blindness.
Despite her father’s issues, daughter Alicia says he was still able to communicate with them.
“He kept his sense of humour to the end,” she told The Sault Star.
Though he loved people, Hill also preferred to stay out of the limelight. He asked that there be no funeral. His children had a quiet family service in southern Ontario.
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That sense of humour is what people often remember about Hill. Many also remember him from local coffee shops, places he loved to frequent.
“He was a social butterfly,” said Alicia.
He was much more than that though. His daughter remembers him constantly on the run, from the coffee shop to the clothing store he operated out of his childhood home, to volunteering for something or other.
“He always had something going on,” she said.
Hill was the second of four children born to Thessalon residents Florence and John Hill. He had three sisters: Eva, Greta, and Lorna.
Though Alicia and her siblings never knew their grandmother, who died in 1956, they remember their grandfather, John Hill, well. The senior Hill, who died 20 years later in 1976, had numerous jobs, including bailiff. But what he’s most remembered for by locals is that he issued them their driver’s licences, often in a much less formal process than what happens today.
Alicia also remembered her grandfather delivering parcels. As children, they loved to help him load the truck and go along to do deliveries.
Her other big memory of her grandfather involves hockey.
“Dad and I would sit and listen to hockey on the radio with him. He cheered for Montreal, dad cheered for Toronto,” she recalled.
And her father was not only a hockey fan, he liked to play the game, too. According to his friend and former OPP partner, Bill Haner, Hill played hockey from a young age, even going to Lindsay, Ont., for junior hockey.
Thessalon’s Jim King remembers playing hockey against Hill when latter was stationed with the OPP in Spanish, Ont.
“He was the goaltender and he was competitive,” said King, laughing. “If you went too close to the net, you got the stick.”
King also played baseball with Hill. In the 1950s, the men were on the same AA team, playing in a league that saw them up against two teams from Blind River as well as teams from Garden River, Mississauga, Ont., and Iron Bridge.
Overall, Hill was a strong supporter of local sports. He was also manager of the Thessalon Flyers Junior B Hockey team during the 1970s and 1980s.
Having attended police college in Aylmer, Ont., in the early 1950s, Hill started his career in Thessalon as the lone police officer before moving to Spanish. After a short stint with the OPP there, he returned to the Thessalon detachment where he remained throughout his career until his retirement in 1986. He was a corporal.
Bill Haner remembers many good times with Hill.
“He was a good guy … He lived in the coffee shop, you know. He knew everyone and everyone knew him,” Haner said.
“We were partners, rode together a lot,” said Haner, as he recalled various incidents with Hill.
Despite Hill’s affable manner, Haner remembered that his partner would get excited when anything “big” was happening.
“Got to go here … got to go there. He’d be all excited,” Haner chuckled, as he remembered a few stories from their OPP days.
In one case, the two had to go to the former Trans-Canada restaurant on Highway 17, just east of Thessalon, where a wanted man was reported to be.
“Jack was excited. ‘Got to get my gun out,’” he said. “I told him, ‘Better not … We’re liable to shoot each other.’”
“I used to like my sleep,” said Haner. “We’d get back to the station after being on patrol and I’d crawl in the back seat of the cruiser and go to sleep. When Jack realized I was missing he’d throw snow on me and everything. If I tried to sleep in the cruiser when we were out, he’d yell and act like we were going in the ditch or something. When you wake up to someone yelling like that, you don’t know what’s going on.
“But he was a real good guy,” Haner said.
Hill’s retirement shortly after his 53rd birthday was just from the police. He still had plenty to keep him busy.
After all, he still owned The B-Lion House, a hip clothing store he’d started in the 1970s.
Located in the home he’d grown up in, the store was frequented mostly by teens and young adults because of the top brands carried, often at prices much lower than his city competitors. Along with carrying those popular brands, Hill let just about everyone have a charge account.
Collecting payments was no problem. Everyone paid up because there were always new fashions coming in that they’d want to buy.
The store was often a popular gathering place for local men wanting to have a chat with Hill while he was at work. It became an extension of those coffee shops.
The B-Lion operated until about 13 years ago. The property was purchased by Tulloch Engineering and the building was torn down.
One of Alicia’s memories is of the flowers that were once in abundant supply around that home.
“My grandfather had two green thumbs, a skill that was passed along to our father and to our (late) sister, Lee-Ann,” she said. “Grampa had a big garden and was always delivering some of his vegetables to someone.” Her father stuck mostly to growing flowers.
Hill ventured into politics in 1994 when he became mayor of the Town of Thessalon, a position he held for just one term.
Clerk-treasurer Robert MacLean recalls that time.
“I very much enjoyed my working relationship with Jack. He was very easy to work with,” he said.
Hill was also a member of the IOOF (New Ontario) Lodge.
“I’m a humanitarian,” he’d say to his kids. “You have to serve people before you serve yourself.”
That’s exactly what he did. As far back as she could remember, Alicia said her father was always busy doing something.
“I remember the family complaining. There would be family events going on and there dad would be, off playing ball or something.”
Sometimes it was delivering medical apparatus to people for the Oddfellows. Other times he was working at bingo or volunteering for the local ambulance service. And at Christmas, he loved dressing up to play Santa Claus at the local hardware store.
Hill had married Beverley Burnie, a schoolteacher who had moved to Wharncliffe, in 1954. The couple had five children: Wayne and Kevin (both of Thessalon), Cherelynne (London, Ont.) and Alicia (Chatham, Ont.). Another daughter, LeeAnn is deceased.
Though the couple divorced, Hill remained dedicated to his children throughout his life. He is also survived by six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“He left the world quietly, but he left a lot of memories,” said Alicia. “We miss him.”
A great man , my Dad John (Jack) Hill, at peace in Heaven now
Retired OPP officer, merchant made mark on community, those around him