The women joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police today can’t even begin to imagine what the first women experienced: The fun, the camaraderie, adventure, and the thrill of breaking new ground! Could these first women ever imagine that a female would hold the rank of Commissioner one day?
Women have always made significant contributions to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Over the years they have served as officers' wives (the second man), 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.
Gail Courtney from Kilbride was among the first graduating class of women accepted into the national police force, and along with Cheryl LaFosse, and Rosemarie Coffey from North River. They became the first three female officers from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Now retired, Courtney recalls how after breaking new ground at the force's training depot in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1974, she began her policing careers in high-heeled shoes, with her gun in her Force issued purse, and force-issued pantyhose worn under men's cut trousers and shirts without pockets.
With no place to put their pen or notebook, she 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.
During her early years Courtney paved the way for thousands of other women who would one day enjoy a career in policing. She admits, 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 recalls.
She says the RCMP has made great strides in welcoming women into the force and since 1975, and women have made considerable progress. On December 16, 2006, Bev Busson, who graduated with Courtney, Coffee and LaFosse, was appointed commissioner of the RCMP. This year, The RCMP welcomed its second female Commissioner, Brenda Lucki who was appointed as the 24th Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
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, she meets other members who have much in common. “My greatest experience was when Princess Diana came to Newfoundland and I was on her VIP detail. It was such an honour to meet her,” Courtney remembers with a smile.
"The RCMP is a close-knit organization. We're like a family, really," she says. Courtney insists a career as an RCMP officer is still 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.
Not one to sit still, Gail continues to live an active life. Today she spends her time mentoring applicants in the RCMP and RNC, some of whom are now serving members. She assists MUN students with papers and courses by sharing personal thoughts and experiences of being one of first female members of the RCMP and is a guest speaker for several community group functions. Gail is an avid community volunteer and throughout her life she has donated her time to Ronald McDonald House, the SPCA shelter, Association New Canadians, and the SPCA Thrift Store. She assists family and friends with their volunteer duties and provides support to several persons with a variety of medical issues.
Anyone who knows Gail Courtney knows she is a die-hard animal lover. She has two dogs and a parrot. (Can you imagine what words that parrot can say?)
She keeps active and is an avid hiker and member New World Fitness, enjoys Snowshoeing, gardening, and is an all round handy- woman. She is also a property manager for vacationing world travellers!
S/Sgt. Gail Courtney (retired), looks back on her career and remembers nothing but good memories, great friends, exciting experiences and the trill of a lifetime.
1. Gail Courtney on graduation day.
2. Recruit training: Gail Courtney restraining Bev Busson, who would go on to become the RCMP’s first female Commissioner.
3. Gail Courtney, Cheryl LaFosse and Rosemary Coffey march in the historical first troop on graduation day.
4. Gail Courtney hiking with her dogs
Read about this and other grand adventures in: In Search of Adventure - 70 Years of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador available here.