My First Year of Policing – Recruit and On-the-Job Training
People often comment that one’s character may be predetermined, but my view is that it definitely can be shaped by your environment and other external stimulation. For me the RCMP training division impacted my personality & behavior; through tough-minded discipline and relentless physical, psychological, and academic training. Being a successful applicant for membership in the RCMP it was necessary for me to undergo basic training for a year’s duration. This education in life was broken into 6 months of basic training and 6 months of on-the-job mentoring to learn practical police operations.
I was part of Troop 23/1969 which formed with 32 members upon our arrival in Regina Saskatchewan in February 1969 – a very cold place in the bowls of a stormy prairie winter. We eventually graduated with 28 of our new friends and colleagues.
(my photos are in some cases digital reproductions of old 35 mm slides – sorry for the quality)
Initially, training was focused on discipline and physical conditioning then academic subjects with practical skills were progressively introduced. As a young man, the introduction to this routine, discipline, and physical conditioning was difficult and challenging while at the same time very exciting. Can you imagine having early morning outdoor parades for roll call when the weather was many degrees below zero, after a very short night’s sleep?
There was a fixation on our barracks’ sleeping quarters, tidiness, and presentation. Every morning there were barracks inspections – it was dreaded because something would be found wrong and you were made to account for it and likely disciplined. Either individually or the whole troop – just to prove a point that it’s all teamwork. The bed had to be made just a certain way with no wrinkles and set out correctly. Clothes had to be hung in the closet in a certain order, pressed and fine. Books needed to be orderly on your desk and hats on pillows just so.
It was all such a pain in the butt, we couldn’t see the reasoning, but….it did teach discipline, I guess. We were cleaning maniacs; it seemed like everything was always requiring cleaning, over and over again – day in and day out. Check out the barracks and our life in pictures – never again.
The curriculum covered some 85 subjects that involved such matters as Federal statutes, criminal code, regulations of the Force, giving evidence in court, report writing, typing where I achieved 35 words a minute on an old-style typewriter, first aid, firearms instruction with revolvers & rifles to target standards, swimming & water rescue, and unarmed combat, arrest procedures and defensive driving to name a few. Let us not forget the relentless drill lessons – march, march, march boys. It was very much a semi-military environment with marching drills and marching parades daily, saluting of commissioned offers, and learning to operate in a team environment.
What sticks out for me was the physical aspects of unarmed combat, various control holds to apply, and the defensive tactics for personal protection and arrest procedures. Defensive driving was grueling but useful to learn how to operate police vehicles correctly and in high-speed pursuits and vehicle stops. The academic side was just reading and studying with the worry that tests might not be passed and you would be discharged for failing standards. Perhaps this is where I also got to understand the meaning of dress, grooming, and the importance of working together to achieve outcomes. It is funny that if you were pushed to achieve what was required to do on your own I am sure most would quit but in a team environment others help you to achieve and keep the team going.
With a young fit body and constant exercise, the routine visits to the mess hall were anticipated and large quantities of food were devoured. There wasn’t much time for meals so we learned quickly to devour our allotment with speed – not good for digestion I am sure. Mess food if you have ever experienced it fills you up but gets to be very routine and boring after 6 months. Outings on weekends when you might get a “pass” always included a feast at a local hotel or restaurant. The Vagabond Inn was a regular hang-out for the troop to have beers and a feed.
The pedantic nature of the training staff regarding how I & other troop mates maintained and wore our uniforms had a lasting impression on me. This is where I learned to wear the day-to-day “service order no 1” uniform as well as the “review order”, the famous red coat seen in many Hollywood Mounties. It’s nice to now be retired in shorts and a tee shirt – with this as only a memory.
Graduation was the culmination of some very hard work and a feeling of pride and accomplishment. On the 8th of September 1969 after commencing training in February the troop “passed out” (graduated) as it was called. Families and friends from all over Canada arrived to take pride in what their respective favorites had accomplished.
This day was full of physical demonstrations of arrests, unarmed combat, water rescues, and marching drills to show off our new-found skills, fitness, and coordination to family, and friends we could now march as a One-Troop of 28 in step and we were most impressed with our prowess in our dress parade demonstration.
We had made it, but we were different people than when we started – some didn’t make it – the pressure was too much or the life was not for them.
We marched forward with determination to accept our Police badge – our identity and demonstration of our new authority.
We were fit, tougher, and more resilient and had learned to use a strong vocabulary as well. We had been cautioned that when at home remember not to use any new inappropriate words around the dining table.
With our badges and bravado we were ready to take on the world – but first, a banquet and dance to celebrate. As I recall the festivities at the then Vagabond Inn was appropriate and full of fun to respect this momentous graduation.
One of the vivid memories I have is of the small chapel at the end of the parade square. Inside it was a magnificent wood panel and stained glass structure – a quiet place to escape and reflect. I sometimes visited when things got tough or seemed impossible and thought about what would life bring after this – if I made it?
After some 47 years, Troop 23 of 1968/69 organised a reunion in Regina that is being held from 8 to 11 August 2016. A large number, around 16, of the troop were located by the organizers and many agreed to attend. Unfortunately, I am not one of those attending but I am sure the ones that do go, will be sharing many memories of these bygone days. They will get together to reminisce and tour Depot to see how it is these days, watch the noon parade and check out the heritage center. Some meals will also be enjoyed at some old favorites.
There is a reunion website if anyone is interested in some then-and-now pictures – we have all aged somewhat: http://www.troop23-68-69.ca/
Ottawa – My First Posting
After graduation, I was posted to Ottawa and the Protective Security Division – a stint as a protective security guard on Parliament Hill, Ottawa.
This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for my first Policing post, but this was what I had been ordered to do and it was at least a change from the recruit days. My memory of my time in Ottawa was that it was spent either on guard duty, both day and night in the cold winter and hot summer. Red Surge on the day shifts for tourists depending on your post and normal uniform otherwise.
It was an ego boost to have the tourists taking pictures with you and a great way to meet people – answering all kinds of questions. Other posts involved securing and controlling entry to certain buildings, doing patrols of the Parliament Hill grounds, and checking for any untoward activity. There were some inquiries, lost property, and the like. It wasn’t real policing in my mind and I was anxious to leave after my tour of duty was up.
Days off were good times for checking out the nightlife of Ottawa and Hull, Quebec across the river. I was fairly close to home so got to visit family and friends easily for the six months after my training. After that, my ties with my youth and hometown faded as I began my postings around Canada.
After our six months of recruit training, this new life was great, and time to let loose and party. As I recall once I graduated I was able to purchase my first car. Having been raised in a family with cars and trucks around a service station I was used to operating all kinds of vehicles. I was very proud of this new ride and felt I had grown up. I used this also for my next posting to Winnipeg when I again drove out of Ontario to my next policing adventure.