Richard Noel is ninety-one years old and lives by himself in a condo in St. John’s. He was born August 16, 1927. He has to lean in to hear what I was saying, and there is a slight tremor in his hands when he pulled the small black and white photos of himself out of his wallet. They are tattered on the edges and creased from old age, but he displays them proudly to me. He’s twenty years old, tall and strong. He towers over the others in the pictures. He is a Newfoundland Ranger. Considered one of the cream of the crop of Newfoundland’s young men.
Noel, born in Woody Point, Bonne Bay finished grade eleven and wanted adventure. His first plan was to join the Army, but his mother would not permit it. His older brother had joined the Army and his sister joined the Air Force and she did not want to send another child to the military. Noel joined a Survey Party under the Provincial Department of Natural Resources where he worked for three years. The call for adventure still nagged at him and Newfoundland was looking for educated young men to fill the ranks of the Newfoundland Rangers. In 1947, he went to the recruiting office and signed up.
In 1935 the Newfoundland Government created the Newfoundland Rangers to police the outport areas. They were modeled after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and were intended to supplement the mainly urban-based Newfoundland Constabulary.
As a Newfoundland Ranger, Noel was sent to Nain and then in 1950 the Rangers were disbanded and absorbed by the RCMP. Noel says he transferred over, “I didn’t see a lot of difference. Just a change in uniform. They sent me back to Nain all by myself.”
While still a Ranger, Noel recalls his dealings with a mentally ill man in Nain 1950. “He was a member of the community. Each night I had to put him in a straight jacket. There wasn’t a cell in Nain then and nowhere to take mentally ill patients, so I had to bring him to my house and let him sleep in my bed while I slept on the floor in front of the door.” The coast at that time was iced in. “For three months I did that. I had to cook for him and take care of him in every which way.” Noel was the only Ranger stationed in Nain. “A couple of times he ran away while I was working, and I’d have to find him again.”
The ice cleared in July, Noel and man boarded the S.S Kyle to St. John’s. He brought the patient to the Waterford Hospital and reported to RCMP Headquarters where he hoped to get a few days off in St. John’s after being in Nain alone for two years. The Sergeant Major at the time told him to get on the train immediately and go to Gander where he had to get the flight to St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula to complete his medical if he wanted to join the RCMP. He did as he was told and passed his medical with flying colours.
He left a Newfoundland Ranger and returned to Nain a Mountie. “No one noticed. A policeman was a policeman to them.”
He calls his three years in Nain the highlight of his career. “The people took care of me. What ever they caught, whether it was fish or wild game, they gave me some.” As the only policeman in the community he didn’t have time to fish and hunt. “I was too busy.”
Noel points to a picture of himself paddling a canoe through a river. “They made that canoe and gave it to me. The people really took care of me. Best three years of my service.”
Eventually he was sent to Ottawa for a four-week refresher course as an introduction to the RCMP. “Three Newfoundlanders were sent, and we had a grand time. There was a big parade and everything.”
There was one thing about the RCMP he didn’t like. “When I made an application to get married, at that time you had to have $1200 in the bank and be free of debt. I was paying off a car, but I had money enough to pay off the car and still be free of debt. So, I put in my application.”
The superintendent at the time ruled the car loan meant he had debt and charged him with making a false statement. He wouldn’t give Noel permission to get married. The superintendent then waited for months before giving him permission to see if Noel’s fiancé was pregnant because that would have meant Noel would be fired.
She wasn’t pregnant and in August 1952, he finally married Violet Noseworthy and had two children, Marjorie and Paul. Violet passed away from Cancer in 1995. In 1998, he remarried Jean Day who was a long-time friend and is still married to her. Jean is at the Salvation Army Glenbrook Lodge a few blocks away from his home at Tiffany Lane. He visits her everyday.
After Nain, he was transferred to Customs and Excise in St. John’s where he spent the next ten years. He searched the Spanish trawlers on the waterfront for illegal liquor. “I felt bad about charging the Spaniards though,” he adds. “They’d be charged $50 and in those days that was big money for a poor sailor.”
His job also included patrolling the ‘houses of ill-repute.’ “There was one old lady, and we had a job trying to catch her. We knew what she was doing but couldn’t prove it. Then one Sunday morning we were watching her house. She came out to feed the chickens and we took off in and we caught them in the act.” He chuckles at the memory.
Then he was promoted to corporal and transferred to Clarenville for the last six years of his career. In total, he served twenty years in the RCMP.
After retirement he worked with Brinks for ten years. Then up until he was 74, he was the chauffer for C.A. Pippy a very wealthy local family. “She had a big Cadillac and I used to drive her around in it.” The memory of Mrs. Pippy and her family made him smile broadly.
He thinks back over the years, “I loved my career as a policeman. It was a good, respectable service. I think back over the three years I spent in Nain the most. They were sure friends to me, and I never forgot them for that.”
Cpl. Noel smiles when he thinks back over his life. He gets excited when he talks about being a policeman. His wrinkled face is a road map that tells the incredible journey of his life. He still carries the tattered pictures neatly tucked in his wallet.
There were 204 enlisted men who served in the Newfoundland Rangers. Richard Noel is one of three still living. As he shuffles along holding his walker, I wonder do the other residents realize he is a living legend.
One of the last Rangers.
Richard Noel passed away on November 21, 2019 at the age of ninety-two.
For more RCMP stories you can buy "In Search of Adventure - 70 Years of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador" here