Mountie wives honoured for selfless duty
By Danette Dooley
By Danette Dooley
by Danette Dooley
The invaluable contribution made by the wives of RCMP members working in one or two-man detachments were highlighted at a recent ceremony at RCMP “B” Division headquarters in St. John’s.
Twenty-two women in Newfoundland and Labrador, among 468 honourees across the country, were presented with the “Second Man” award.
The award is an opportunity to recognize the women’s dedication and commitment to their spouses and the work of the force, said RCMP Asst. Comm. Tracy Hardy.
The unpaid women answered phones, searched female prisoners, prepared prisoner meals and offered their homes as hotels for visiting senior officers, court judges, doctors and nurses. They also provided meals and entertainment to guests – all while living in remote locations with inadequate housing and growing families of their own.
“The men were married to the force first and to their wife second,” noted retired C/Supt. George Powell, who was MC and represented the RCMP Veterans’ Association.
“They faithfully supported the Mounties,” said Powell, noting that many of the first RCMP officers in Newfoundland were initially members of the Newfoundland Rangers who transferred when the force assumed responsibility for policing in 1950.
“When the Mountie, your husband, was away the citizens still came to the office or to your living quarters,” Powell told the honourees. “They expected the Mountie’s wife to do everything the Mountie would do if he were there. Sometimes, the women would come to the Mounties’ wife because they were uncomfortable discussing personal things with a man.”
While a wife had no official status, Powell said, she was “a full-fledged member of the detachment” and was expected to play a leading role in the community.
“Visiting government officials expected to be welcomed and fed at the Mounties’ house. After all, it was a government building, even if it was upstairs over the post office or court house or over the jail,” Powell said.
Ethel Jarvis’ husband Dick served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He joined the Newfoundland Rangers in 1947, transferred to the RCMP in 1950, retired in 1978 and died in 2013.
During an interview following the ceremony Jarvis said she’s proud to have helped her husband through the years. He policed on both the island portion of the province and in Labrador, she said.
As the wife of an RCMP officer Jarvis said she looked after prisoners, including those who were mentally unstable.
“I also took the axe in Northern Labrador to beat the ice to get some water out of the barrel. We’d melt ice on the stove to get water to do the laundry,” she said.
“We had five children and sometimes I had to bring the water from the well using a hoop and two buckets, but I was strong and healthy and tall and robust.”
Jarvis used the words of former President John F. Kennedy to sum up how she felt about her contribution to life in Newfoundland and Labrador – and Canada.
“President Kennedy said, ‘Say not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ – and we found it a privilege to be living in such a beautiful, peaceful country. My husband was a war veteran and wanted no more that than. The Bible talks about the land of milk and honey – and that land is Canada.”
For the top RCMP officer in Newfoundland and Labrador, the ceremony was an opportunity to pay homage to a woman she will always admire but has never met.
Hardy heard about Maggie Clay when she policed as a young constable in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut and began tending her grave during fly-in patrols into the settlement of Chesterfield, Nunavut. It was located on the tundra near the settlement, she said.
Maggie was the wife of S/Sgt. F.G. Clay, who was in charge of the detachment. Her story is the most tragic of all of the “Second Man” stories, Hardy said.
“One day in September 1924 while her husband was absent on a long patrol, Maggie, on her way to the detachment, was mauled by a roaming pack of dogs in the community. There were no doctors or nurses in such a remote location,” Hardy said.
A priest and two RCMP members helped her and decided to amputate her leg. Maggie died the next day but her husband didn’t learn of his wife’s tragic death until he returned to the detachment a few days later.
“In 1925 a special ceremony, such as today, was held in (Maggie’s) honor in the RCMP chapel in depot, attended by over 100 officers and constables,” Hardy said.
A beautiful three-piece black monument was erected on Maggie’s graveside, with funds donated by members of the RCMP from across the country, Hardy said.
“When I researched Maggie’s story I was immediately drawn to her, a women I’d never met. I felt a connection to her while tending her resting place. Those were peaceful and reflective moments. I cherished them and looked forward to my visits with her. That was over 20 years ago. She still resonates with me today.”
Former RCMP Comm. William Elliott approved the creation of the Second Man Award in 2010 for the wives of RCMP members who served from the 1900’s to the 1970’s, and whose contributions are chronicled in the book,
The RCMP Veterans’ Association National Office in Ottawa was responsible for communicating with veterans across the country to solicit nominations.
- Group photos of the women honored (George Powell and Asst. Comm. Tracy Hardy also in photo)
- Photo of Ethel Jarvis