First impressions are sometimes lasting. On his third day in the Greater Toronto Area in September 1972, Nigerian immigrant Ojo Tewogbade ventured outside his Jane St. apartment for a casual stroll in his new environment.
“When I got up that morning and looked outside, everything looked so clean and beautiful,” he remembered. “I just wanted to go outside and feel it.”
Walking from his residence near Woolner Ave. in the city’s west end, the newcomer ended up in the heart of the downtown core at Yonge and Dundas Sts. where two Toronto Police Service officers found him wandering.
“I was lost and when they pulled up beside me, I was petrified,” he said. “Where I come from in Nigeria, when the police pull up close to you, you are usually in big trouble.”
This was not the case that time as Tewogbade soon found out.
On the drive back to his residence in their cruiser, the officers reminded him that he was in a new country where the weather was cool at that time of the year and that he should consider acquiring a winter coat as soon as possible.
To his surprise, the officers returned nearly 20 minutes later with a coat they bought with their own money.
“I remember saying to myself after the kindness and generosity shown by those officers that I would like to become a Toronto police officer someday,” recalled Tewogbade.
Coming to Canada with just a Grade Nine education, he went back to school to acquire his Grade 12 certificate which was required to apply to the Service. He then approached late chief Harold Adamson, who he had met in 1974, to help him achieve his goal of becoming a cop.
“Based on the humanity of the two officers, I recommended to my church that the police chief should be the guest speaker at an event we are having and they agreed,” Tewogbade said. “Reverend Andrew Myles wrote the letter and asked me to deliver it to the chief’s office which I did. During that meeting, the chief wrote a testimonial which I still have, gave me his card and told me that if I needed any help, I should not hesitate to approach him. As soon as I got my Grade 12, I went back reminding him of his promise and he advised the staff sergeant in charge of employment at the time that I was his friend and someone the Service should have on its side.”
Tewogbade retired last Friday from Canada’s largest police organization after 35 years on the job.
Starting as a parking control officer, he became a constable a decade later and was assigned to 13 Division his entire career where he made a huge impact in that community.
Tewogbade has been actively engaged in the annual Christmas dinner for the needy, the Camp Jumoke walk-a-thon for sickle cell research and the Meals on Wheels program for the elderly. He also engages new immigrants on domestic violence issues and spearheads initiatives that have paved the way for computer access to young people in the city.
In 2000, he launched the 13 Division youth outreach program that provides an outlet for young people to play sport and learns life skills. Several of the participants and program mentors are now members of the Service.
The following year, he started a Black History Month celebration with the support of 13 Division, the St. James British Methodist Episcopal church and community members.
Tewogbade, who hold a theology degree and is an ordained minister, promises that he will remain engaged in the event that recognizes professional and community service achievements. He has also applied to be a Toronto Police junior chaplain.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in this community and I am not going to walk away from it even though I have retired from the Service,” he said. “I relished my time on the job, the people I worked with and the community I served and I will continue to give back in a volunteer capacity. Coming from where I came from, I appreciate everything I have accomplished in Canada.”
The sixth of nine children raised in poverty, Tewogbade left his parents’ home at age 11 and lived out of cardboard boxes on the street for the next four years. Rescued by a British family who provided him with shelter and odd jobs, he tied the nuptial knot 45 years ago and migrated to Canada with his new wife.
“When I told the British family that I would like to travel and experience a better life, they suggested Canada,” he said. “I took their advice and am so happy I did.”
The married father of three grown children, one of whom was a Toronto cop for five years, Tewogbade has been the recipient of several awards for outstanding community service and policing.
In 2006, he made history by becoming the first constable to be recognized with a Police Leadership Forum Award presented annually since 1999 to a Canadian police officer who fosters awareness and an understanding of the changing leadership roles and recognizes ethical and exemplary performance in policing.
He’s also the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the ProAction Jack Sinclair, Canadian Urban Institute Local Heroes, June Callwood Outstanding Achievement, Bud Knight and Planet Africa Awards.