They were dispatchers, prison guards, social workers, cooks, cleaners and seamstresses; they performed administrative duties, issued dog licenses, conducted vehicle inspections and administered first aid.
And, although they weren’t paid for any of the tasks they took on, many enjoyed doing them.
The Southeast District Second Man ceremony recognized spouses of Mounties who often found themselves performing RCMP duties whenever their husbands— who were often the lone officers in their communities—needed assistance.
“In the eyes of the community, spouses of members became extensions of the force,” said Staff Sergeant Major Ross van den Brink.
“If a member was on patrol or otherwise unavailable, it was completely acceptable, and largely expected, that the spouse would mind the shop.”
In 2010, the Unpaid Second Man Award was created to recognize the sacrifices, dedication and assistance spouses provided to the RCMP and their communities. This year, 468 women across the country are being recognized with the award.
Retired Deputy Commissioner Garry Loeppky explained there were no female police officers in the RCMP before 1974; however, he told the award recipients Thursday that their efforts qualify them to proudly say they served the citizens of Canada.
Kelowna resident Mary Wieshlow received one of the 46 Unpaid Second Man Awards given out Thursday morning.
Wieshlow and her husband were stationed in Port Alice on Vancouver Island from 1954 to 1957.
“My husband covered the whole top of the island (including) Winter Harbour and Port Hardy,” said Wieshlow.
“He left the detachment on Thursday and returned on Tuesday. He left me alone with the detachment all those days in between.”
While Wieshlow’s husband was working elsewhere on the island, she took on tasks such as looking after intoxicated residents, feeding prisoners and whatever else needed to be done at the Port Alice detachment.
Wieshlow, who grew up in Brandon, MB, said those were some of the most exciting years of her life.
“I was the girl from the city who had never seen anything. To arrive out at a place like that in 1954—it was isolated…we only got out by aircraft, there were no roads.”
Centenarian Margaret Jane Callens, the eldest award recipient, received a standing ovation as she was recognized for her Second Man duties, from 1950 to 1953 in Clinton, B.C.
Deputy Commissioner Craig Callens said many of the women who received the award Thursday were humble about the important role they took on as spouses of Mounties.
“Those contributions were insistently minimized or characterized as some of the best years of (their) lives,” said Callens.
“Perhaps the most succinct comment was: ‘It was a blast.'”
Callens told the award recipients they’ve all displayed “a tremendous amount of loyalty, dedication, compassion and courage.”
“Over the course of your service, you provided your husband and our members a sense of comfort, knowing their most reliable partner was there for them,” he said.