I'm in the jailhouse now: Memories from the front line
When Gerald Leahy joined the RCMP in his home province of New Brunswick in 1956 he was thrilled when first posted to Newfoundland.
"I was only in St. John's for about two months when they gave me about five hours to get ready to transfer to Grand Bank. I had no idea where the other member was taking me. It seemed we were driving on and on and on, all on dirt road,” he laughs.
Leahy had no idea that much of his policing duties would involve testing people for drivers' licenses, issuing bus permits and answering calls on the detachment's “party line.”
“Private lines, even for police, didn't come in effect until later,” he says.
“And we spent many a night walking the beach... with word that someone had gone to St. Pierre (to bring back illegal liquor). It was a cat and mouse adventure. They were making all this money at bootlegging, but they could hardly afford to pay a $2.00 fine when they got caught.”
One funny story that stays with him, Leahy recalls occurred during a prisoner escort from Grand Bank to Harbour Grace. The man was not dangerous, he says, rather had failed to pay some tickets.
Mr. Leahy stopped at Goobies, with his prisoner, for lunch.
Leahy put a quarter in the nickelodeon (juke box) but he got called away for a few moments, not having time to punch in his next couple of song choices he left the prisoner at the table, and asked a taxi driver sitting at a nearby table to make the choices for him.
“Halfway through our meal the song comes on 'I got stripes and I'm in the jailhouse now,' Mr. Leahy laughs at the appropriate Johnny Cash song.
Leahy's early Newfoundland postings also included Whitbourne, Goose Bay and Bonavista.
While today considered non-policing duties, back in his early days of policing, RCMP members were responsible for ensuring the people in a particular community got a salt rebate from the government depending on the amount of salt they'd used.
“We provided the documentation showing how much they'd used, and we provided rabbit licenses. And we never questioned doing any of that,” he laughs.
Mr. Leahy married Hannah Forsey. They have five children and 15 grandchildren.
In his early years of policing in this province, it wasn't unusual for the RCMP to be both the investigator and prosecutor on the same case.
“There was no crown prosecutor. That happened when I was in Bonavista and in Labrador,” he says.
Leahy transferred to New Brunswick in 1970 where he was commissioned before being transferred to Ottawa.
When the opportunity to return to Newfoundland came in 1977 he jumped at the opportunity.
“I ran into an officer who'd served here (Newfoundland) and was looking after transfers around the country. I had a quick discussion with him in the washroom. He was looking for someone to go to Newfoundland,” Leahy recalls.
When asked if he'd be interested, Mr. Leahy told the officer that he'd need some time to think about it.
“When he said, 'Okay, I'll do that.' I said, 'Okay, I've thought about it. I'll go!'” Leahy laughs.
He remained in Newfoundland for over a decade before being named Commanding Officer of the RCMP in Nova Scotia.
He also spent almost five years as the force's director of personnel in Ottawa eventually retiring from the force in 1994 after 37 years.
At the time of his retirement he'd reached the rank of Assistant Commissioner.
“I left my office at five o'clock on my last day and went home feeling that I did the best I could. Sometimes the old nostalgia sets in and you think you'd like to be back. But then you tell yourself: don't be so foolish, you had your turn,” A/Commr. Leahy laughs.
Read more stories about RCMP Officers who served in Newfoundland and Labrador in - In Search of Adventure available here