(This is the first of a two-part story on Toby Hinton in an ongoing occasional Where Are They Now? series on Chemainus Secondary School graduates).
The tales Toby Hinton can tell. The resume of the 1981 Chemainus Secondary School grad is extensive and life experiences throughout his career have given him an amazing perspective that many people can’t possibly fathom.
Throughout it all, Hinton, 57, has given back, taken his knowledge and turned it into positives to educate the public about different aspects of society that aren’t entirely understood. Related aspects of police work, filmmaking and judo have been his primary claims to fame.
Hinton spent 29 years with the Vancouver Police Department, most of his 24 years working the street on the notorious Downtown Eastside. He is one of the founders of Police Judo and the head instructor of Simon Fraser University Police Judo Club as well as the Police Judo Junior Program.
Hinton became the executive director of Odd Squad Productions, a charitable organization dedicated to educating youth about risky behaviour, in 1997 and has done incredible work with that organization. The production of several feature length documentaries such as Through a Blue Lens, and Tears for April have been groundbreaking.
That’s just scratching the surface of some very lofty achievements by a kid from small town Chemainus.
Hinton remembers the transition well not just from Chemainus to Simon Fraser University where he graduated with a B.A. in 1987 but then to the police force and the ultimate culture shock.
“I ended up really quickly on the Downtown Eastside,” he recalled. “For a police officer just starting out, it was all the extremes you could ask for. A very challenging place to police, known for burnout – a lot of death and tragedy. I was relatively naive of the drug culture.”
He learned the ropes well and thrived in the difficult environment. Later, that became a prominent part of his award-winning filmmaking and the messages he wanted to get across.
Hinton has two kids, with the oldest Launa Jean Hinton, 20, wanting to follow in his footsteps. She’s in second year Criminology and taken that judo training started by her dad, who didn’t have any background in the discipline himself as a youth, to the National Judo Team – one of 20 in Canada currently – that just went to the National Training Centre for Judo in Montreal. She began her judo training at three years old, earned silver at the national level and is No. 1 ranked in the 52 kilogram category in B.C.
Son Tobin Waylon Hinton Jr. is 12. Tobin’s mom is a former national champion of Taiwan at the junior and senior level and Tobin’s been doing judo since he could walk.
Toby Hinton Sr. grew up in a family with two siblings. Brother Chris lives in Saltair and has two boys – Mitchell and Carter – skilled tradesmen working in and around Chemainus and sister Allison Ducluzeau is a successful realtor in Victoria.
From his early days in Chemainus, Hinton remembers his own parents and his friends’ parents being very influential in their lives – whether it was Walt and Nancy Southern, spending time with them at Tent Island and Sproat Lake, or Rocky Rackoczy helping to get him his first job at the Chemainus Sawmill when he was legally allowed to do so.
“There was a real car culture in Chemainus and we were always working hard to try to build our cars and get them on the road,” added Hinton. “My brother and I had bought our cars before we were 16 and had been working on them religiously with my friends all doing the same. The show American Graffiti was still popular in our generation and building our first hot rod/muscle car was a rite of passage for us – the friends with older brothers like the Bernaskys, Mitchells, Sherwoods, etc. all had what we wanted: a nice ’50s/’60s/ or ’70s hot rod. We never had the money to do it right, but we did the best we could with what we had.”
From his early years at Chemainus Secondary School, Hinton remembers it was a turbulent time and the start of a journey to try to find his way, one that he concedes still continues today. It was a time filled with friends, camaraderie, the start of dating, the last bit of structured play time colliding with a burgeoning work responsibility and “a time we very much took for granted, but a good time and a great place to go to school,” he added.
Hinton cited Dennis Ahola, Tom Lewis, vice principal Dave Alexander, Irene King, John Russell and Edna Brown as influential teachers.
Russell accommodated what Hinton called his relatively rusty piano playing to facilitate him accompanying Julie Williams singing The Long and Winding Road during graduation “so kudos to him for giving me a chance,” he chuckled. “That was the pinnacle of my piano playing career – it is one of the few songs I can still play – and as he suggested I still keep it in a lower octave, he was right on that.
“There were many other teachers who I am sure will not have fond memories of me in class, but I was – and others I hung around with – pretty hard to reach as a teen for a number of reasons. And if it is any consolation to the past teaching cadre, I have had to endure many versions of my younger attitude as a cop for 30 years so there was payback.”
Hinton noted he was fascinated with policing at 14 years old after reading The Choir Boys by Joseph Wambaugh, a freshly retired LAPD officer turned writer, about the shenanigans of some heavy drinking and less than exemplary LAPD officers.
“I found the book interesting because it was about an authority role but also the (extremely) flawed characters and subculture of policing at the time. This paradoxical look at policing piqued my interest. I then started looking at other books like The Blue Knight and decided in high school and in my mind I would be a cop. I don’t think I ever really discussed this much in high school, probably because nobody would have thought I was serious or would have a hope in hell at making it.”
Dealing with the local RCMP created an appreciation for the role of policing for Hinton. He received his first ticket at 16 years old for excessive noise from doing a brake stand at Halme’s garage in Chemainus. He maintained an interest in policing, but admitted to having a chip on his shoulder towards authority.
After high school, Hinton went to Malaspina College for two years to complete an Associate Diploma in Arts.
During one of his summer breaks, he teamed up with Jeff Robinson to start a firewood business called Big Cord Firewood. They bought logging truck loads of hardwood from local logging truck driver Larry Wheeler, bucked it, split it and delivered for $59 a cord.
“We had no concept of business or pricing, would buck, split and deliver up to three cords a day,” Hinton pointed out. “We were in great shape but flat broke at the end of the summer. When we looked at our chequebook the cheques were mainly made out to Lung Fung Chinese food and the Horseshoe Bay and Green Lantern Hotel. So we knew fairly early that we were probably not that good at business. Getting a paycheque every two weeks was probably a better move for me.”
Hinton took a year off post secondary at age 19 and worked long shifts at Western Slopes wood mill, Noos Pizza and other jobs. “I would work double shifts for 16 hours and at the time $4 an hour was the minimum wage – I could see that this was going to be a hard career plan to sustain.”
He had been accepted at SFU and realized he needed to get there to finish his degree to pursue policing. From 1984-1987, Hinton completed a B.A. in Political Science/Criminology with some family help and a student loan that took 10 years to pay off and started volunteering and doing everything he could to build himself up for a career in policing – including working as a summer student for the RCMP on the Sunshine Coast.
Hinton applied to the RCMP and made it all the way through to the background. “I needed to put some time and distance between the antics of being a dumb teenager and become a more mature applicant.”
He was crestfallen, but continued to build his resume and applied to other forces. After a few years and continued growth and development, Hinton was eventually accepted by the VPD.
Next month, Part 2: Vancouver Police Department and the Odd Squad.