Women have made significant contributions to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police over the years, serving as officers' wives, public servants, civilian members and regular members. As early as the 1890s, the force employed females as matrons and gaolers to deal with female offenders and to assist in escorting female prisoners from one place to another. Then on September 16, 1974, women made Canadian history when they were hired as the country's first female Mounties. This month, the RCMP will celebrate 35 years of women in policing.
Retired RCMP officers Cheryl LaFosse from St. John's and Gail Courtney from Kilbride were among the first graduating class of women accepted into the national police force, and they were the first two female officers in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Thirty-five years later, the women recall how, after breaking new ground at the force's training depot in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1974, they began their policing careers in high-heeled shoes and force-issued pantyhose worn under men's cut trousers and shirts without pockets.
With no place to put their pen or notebook, the women quickly learned to improvise.
"Everything went in our hat. We’d be carrying it around almost like a purse," Courtney reflects with a laugh.
Courtney, who retired in January 2007 at the rank of staff-sergeant, has held numerous positions in the force including drug section duties and internal services. LaFosse retired in November 2006. By that time, like Courtney, she had more than 30 years policing experience.
During their early years these women paved the way for thousands of other women who would one day enjoy a career in policing. Both admit, however, that coming into a male-dominated profession had its challenges - not only from serving members, but also from the public.
"I can remember going on complaints - break and enters and assaults. You'd get to the scene and you'd often have a male member with you. A lot of people thought we were married to that member," Courtney says.
Both women say the RCMP has made great strides in welcoming women into the force and since 1975, women have made considerable progress. On December 16, 2006, Bev Busson, who graduated with Courtney and LaFosse, was appointed commissioner of the RCMP. Today, out of the 11,473 female employees in the RCMP, 3,684 are regular members.
Looking back on her career, Courtney says it not only gave her an opportunity to serve her country, but also the chance to visit places she'd otherwise might never have seen. And wherever she travels in this country, there are members who have much in common.
"The RCMP is a close-knit organization. We're like a family, really," she says.
Both Courtney and LaFosse say a career as an RCMP officer is a great choice for women today.
"You should be prepared to work hard; don't expect a free ride. We are all here to do the same job. Take on that job, enjoy it and hopefully you'll make a difference. It's a fabulous career," Courtney says.
"It's all in your attitude. If you treat people the way you want to be treated, you'll do well," LaFosse adds.