If you ask someone if they know of Ottawa’s Singing Policeman, chances are you’d get a fond memory of
the beloved entertainer. Whether it’s from his work in schools, his time as a police officer, or just a chat in the street, Dominic D’Arcy touched the lives of countless people.
The world lost this pillar on Dec. 16, 2020 at the age of 81 due to complications from diabetes and dementia. But while he may have passed, his long legacy lives on not only in the nation’s capital, but throughout the Pontiac and the world as well.
D’Arcy was born as the 11th of 14 children, the youngest of seven boys. While D’Arcy was known mostly for his work in Ottawa, he was raised in the Pontiac. He and his family grew up in Sheenboro, on two adjoining farms that totaled 285 acres. They were a close, supportive family that loved to entertain, explained D’Arcy’s brother Cecil, which was something that stuck with him throughout his life.
Right from the beginning, D’Arcy was a shining light in his community, livening up the small community of Sheenboro any chance he could. If there was an opportunity to break out his guitar, he’d be there.“Dominic was always around and ready to sing, ready to take part in all the fun,” recalled Betty Morris, who had been friends with D’Arcy since she was just five years old. “It was always nice to visit the D’Arcy homestead because there was always lots of music, lots of entertaining.”
Morris remembers the many concerts that would go on in Sheen, and he’d be at almost all of them, making people dance.
When he grew older, D’Arcy joined the Ottawa police force in the 60s — following the footsteps of several other members of his family — and served for thirty-six years before retiring in 1999.
“He was a parts driver at Myers Motors in Ottawa … He took a job as a parts driver so we could get to know the lay of the city before he applied to the force,” his son Darren Darcy explained. “So he knew the city pretty much inside and out after two years from driving parts around to every garage. That’s how he got into it and then stuck.”
Throughout his policing career, the music never stopped. The entertainer was always present even on the job. However, this wasn’t always welcomed among his fellow officers.
“It didn’t always make him friends,” Darren said. “My dad is super, super gentle. He was a very kind, gentle soul. And that didn’t always mesh with the hardened nature of what police can be known for.”
In fact, his gentle demeanour and life as an entertainer almost led to his expulsion from the force in 1979. As Darren put it, if things did not mesh with his own values, he would do things the way he thought they needed to be done.
“He had never fired his weapon. He’s the type of person who’d rather talk you out of something than use force,” he continued. “There were a lot of occasions where he could have put someone in the system, but he’d rather, given the severity of what you were caught doing, talk you out of it and help you avoid the system.”
But D’Arcy never let the negativity stop him. He remained as an officer for nearly four decades, and in this time, he transformed the image of police in the city.
He responded to calls not with aggression, but with care, and set people on the right path. He broke up fights with his music and attended schools to sing about the dangers of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol, and to lend an ear to kids who needed it. And thus he gained the moniker so many knew him by: the Singing Policeman.
His work with children is what many remember him for.
“Dominic was more of a kids’ musician, loved to play for the kids,” Cecil said. “He always wanted to help kids, he loved kids. The grandchildren just loved him too, he spent as much time as he could with them.”
“That was the big thing with dad,” added Darren. “Some of these kids that still remember him going to school, he made everyone feel like they mattered. That was huge … If you can get kids off of challenging paths early, you can avoid a lifetime of problems.”
Andrew Perrault is one of D’Arcy’s oldest and closest friends, and he remembered much of the work he did for the region’s youth, even adding that it was something that was highlighted at his friend’s retirement party, hosted by the City of Ottawa.
“He was involved with the police and was always helping the kids. That was a part of his life for many years,” he recalled. “He became a community cop really, and I respect him for that because that was needed at the time and he started it. He was very generous with his musical abilities and he promoted young kids to get involved in music.”
D’Arcy was a mentor to many young musicians, including the award-winning singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette, through his “Rising Star Program” which guided young Ottawa musicians towards careers in the music industry. He also founded the Dominic D’Arcy Talent Development Foundation, which funded the young musicians on their journeys.
Eventually, after D’Arcy’s retirement, he turned his focus towards his musical career. He accomplished a significant amount in this time, writing and recording albums, publishing his memoir Stop, or I’ll Sing!, appearing on his own television show D’Arcy’s Beat and traveling the world.
In an impressive resumé, the entertainer received numerous awards and played for many prominent figures. Included are the Solicitor General’s Police Officer of the Year Award in 1986, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award in 1999, and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 for outstanding contributions to his communities and nation.
His music has taken him to England, Ireland, China, the former Soviet Union, Barbados, Bermuda, the Caribbean and even the North Pole, according to his website. He’s performed for former prime minister Paul Martin, Prince Charles and Diana, and was seen on live television from China by hundreds of millions of people.
Despite his worldwide success, D’Arcy’s friends and family knew him to be a “Valley boy” through and through.
“He was a Sheenboro boy, a small-towner, and he knew how to connect with people from there,” said Darren. “I think that’s where dad felt at home … He was happy. He enjoys his home and his yard and everything else but when he could be on the road and doing a show in Shawville or doing a show up and down the Pontiac, he was happy.”
No matter how big or small the event, D’Arcy was happy to perform in the Pontiac, lifting the spirits of young and old alike at the Shawville Fair, community fundraisers, or just old-fashioned cèilidhs with his Sheenboro family.
“He loved to come up here, being back home, he would stay in my little farm house and those were fond memories because we could talk a lot,” Perrault reminisced. “We would go down to the river at 4 a.m. and chat on the beach. When we took time to relax and play, I always enjoyed it with Dominic.
“I couldn’t have had a nicer friend. And the great thing is that we were able to stay friends even though he was living in Ottawa and I was way up here in Sheenboro. We were able to stay friends on a close basis all our lives and I’m most glad that we did that.”
Morris remembers her old friend as a kindhearted and a community-oriented person.
“When he wasn’t busy working, he’d be back here every summer. Even a couple years ago he came to Andrew Perrault’s and a few of the friends had brunch and he entertained. He had somebody with him and the two of them entertained all afternoon sitting on the porch which was nice,” Morris said. “I felt that he was always ready to help in the community and if he thought that he could do something to help someone, he was always there to give a helping hand.”
“He was a great lad, and a great brother to me. I don’t know what else I can tell ya, he was just a great brother,” Cecil concluded.
“Beyond his ability to connect with people, I think it was pride. He was their own. He was from the Pontiac. He was an expression of the Pontiac and Ottawa Valley culture and a reflection of its people,” explained Darren. “There was pride of place, pride of people.”
“The Pontiac was his happy place. No question.”
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