Updated: Feb 6
Constable Cheryl LaFosse grew up in a policing family. Her father was RCMP Supt. Jack LaFosse who joined the Newfoundland Ranger Force in 1942 and remained with them as a Peace Officer until the force was absorbed by the RCMP in 1950. He remained with the RCMP until his retirement at the rank of Superintendent in 1977. She also had a grandfather and great-uncle in the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and an uncle in the RCMP.
Becoming a police office was not something she aspired to be, only because women couldn’t join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police until 1974. So, after high school she went to The Grace Hospital and became a nurse. She had every intention of staying with that career until her father phoned her one day and said, “The RCMP is accepting women into the Force, and not as secretaries but as police officers.” Supt. LaFosse had no doubt his only daughter could do the job and supported her in everyway. “He always told me he was proud of me,” Cst. LaFosse reflected. “He presented me with my badge.”
She jumped at the chance to be one of the first females accepted into the Force and became the first female sworn in in Newfoundland and Labrador. On September 16, 1974, she joined a group of women who made Canadian history when they were hired as the country's first female Mounties.
She began her policing career in high-heeled shoes and force-issued pantyhose worn under men's cut trousers and shirts without pockets. LaFosse laughs when she recalls, “The first female uniforms had no pockets, so we put everything in our hats. They didn’t know what to do with us.”
The RCMP’s first female troupe were not shown any special attention or favouritism. LaFosse says, “We went through the same program as the men. From PT to the classes. Nothing was adjusted for us.” The only difference she adds was they gave the ladies a snub-nosed revolver in a purse. “We rose up on that one. We told them we’re not going out like that. Then they relented and gave us the regular 38 and Sam Browne.”
Her first posting was in Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia. Being the first female police officer on detachment wasn’t that hard she says. “Once they got used to me and I got used to them, everything was fine.”
One of her first calls by herself was a call for backup. “One night a call came in for help at a scene. The officer requesting the help was told, ‘The only one here is Cst. LaFosse.’ The officer responded with ‘Oh great.’ He was immediately called in and read the riot act about that comment and he never made it again. I was welcome and accepted at that detachment.”
The public was another thing. She laughs when she recalls how one night while on patrol and monitoring the CB radio, a trucker in a transport truck passed by her and said over the radio, “I just saw a beaver. A smokey beaver!” Referring to her as a female cop.
“At scenes I never had a problem. Females who were in crisis would automatically come to me.” She remembers. “But in a restaurant or on the streets, people would just turn around and stare.”
One of her biggest reasons she fit in she confesses, “Is being a Newfoundlander. I’m an easy-going person. I always tried to get along with everybody. I’m happier in a small place than a large place, so moving to small communities didn’t bother me at all.”
Soon she found herself combining her nursing and policing background. “We had found somebody in a ditch behind the wheel of a car. When it went to court, the defence put my partner on the stand first and asked, ‘Would you know the difference between a diabetic coma and a drunk?’” Her partner answered, ‘No sir, I really wouldn’t.’ The defence had not checked in to Cst. LaFosse’s background before putting her on the stand. He asked her the same question. To which she replied, “Yes, sir I would. I’m a registered nurse.” She noticed the judge’s shoulders shaking as he tried to hide his laughter.
Her career eventually took her to the Halifax drug section, different detachments in Nova Scotia and then to various locations throughout Newfoundland. “Being a female in policing,” she reflected, “didn’t affect my personal life in anyway. I had a great social life in addition to the career I wanted. I worked hard and I played hard. I enjoyed my life and my job.”
It’s not all good memories she admits. “One time I went to a fire in Grand Falls. The female victim had nail polish on her fingers and the fire burned the polish causing it to peel. Whenever I put on nail polish I think of that scene.”
Sometimes it was dangerous. “I stopped a transport truck for speeding in Antigonish. I got up on the side of it to talk to the driver, then suddenly, he pulled a shotgun out and pointed it at me. I jumped down and called for back up. Eventually we arrested him without incident.”
She always used her unique Newfoundland sense of humour to her advantage. “I showed up at a violent incident and the man was a lot bigger and taller than me. He came towards me and I said, if you’re going to hit me make it quick because I hate pain. They guy started to laugh, and it defused the situation.”
Cst. Cheryl LaFosse retired in 2005 after thirty-two years of service. “I loved the camaraderie, the friendships, the fun. Sometimes we worked for forty-eight hours straight but we’d always found something laugh at.”
On offering advice to women considering policing as a career she says, “It’s simple. You must be very self-confident, out going, and know your stuff. Do your job. Work hard.”
Members of that first female troupe have made significant contributions to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police over the years. One member was RCMP’s Commissioner Bev Busson. They paved the way for thousands of other women who would one day enjoy a career in policing.
Read about this and other grand adventures in: In Search of Adventure - 70 Years of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador available here.