After over 31 years of service with the Vanderhoof RCMP, Ruth Stewart is retiring from her role as detachment service supervisor — a support position as on-call as any front-line uniformed officer.
On Feb. 10, 1986, Stewart stepped into the detachment for her first day of work as a general clerk, and her duties included front counter phone service, taking complaints, transcribing statements, and preparing reports to the Crown. Assuming her latest role 10 years ago, she worked for nine detachment commanders over the years.
“I’ve always been in the background, as our role is a support staff,” she said. “It’s not a derogatory term, as we support members. Making sure everything is in working order, I look at it as an important role. We know what’s going on and we don’t speak of operational files. Sometimes they ask us for something and it’s already done.”
Her job had both good and bad impact on her family.
“It’s not a job where you go home at 4 p.m. and shut it off,” Stewart said. “It’s more to be available, for an example for a serious crime file, they needed something throughout the night and I ended up coming in.
“My role is support and oftentimes when they call me, they need it right away.”
She recalled an incident where one day, many cell phones and landlines were down due to network problems.
“We had to do it the manual way and I was okay with that because that’s how I started,” she said. “You can’t say you’re on your day off; you just go.”
With the job over the years, she learned to treat everyone with courtesy and respect, no matter what, in her dealings with people.
“Whether it be trauma or other situations, it may be stressful for them file reports but simple for us to go through the process, as we do it every day,” she said. “To assist people in time of need, whether it’s simple or tragic, and to listen.”
It also taught her to think in bullet form, in order to not overload officers from initial complaint to the investigation process.
“Say you’re a complainant and you told me a story. I think of the bullets who, what, when, where, why, and I gave the members the information in the same way,” she said. “In the initial stages you don’t want to give them too much information; this is who, what happened, and what they wanted.”
She enjoys providing officers with the tools to carry out their operations and one of the most satisfying part of the work is its changes.
“Some work you make a list, and you get through it. Here you never know what’s going to happen when someone walks in,” Stewart said. “Everyday is uniquely different.”
Changes in operation, not in size
The detachment’s size increased only slightly since her start — now up by two officers — but Stewart witnessed many other changes such as increased reporting documentation and younger RCMP members joining the local detachment. At one point, there were more female than male members.
“We are a good detachment to teach people, as a little bit of everything happens here,” Stewart said. “It gives them opportunities.”
While she can’t share the most bizarre complaint she’s taken over the years, one of her most memorable moment during her career was becoming a witness for a triple homicide case.
“The accused was at the counter and I approached with the usual, “Can I help you,” and it started from there,” Stewart said. “It puts me in a mix, but not conflict, as you’re technically like a civilian witness but also treated as a police witness. As one lawyer said,
‘You started the chain of the story because the accused spoke to you first.'”
Another moment that stood out was her 20th anniversary with the RCMP, and a recognition certificate was presented to her in Prince George by then B.C. divison’s comanding officer Bev Busson, who was not only the first woman to be commissioned, to become divisional commanding officer, to be named deputy commissioner of a region, but also the first woman to lead the RCMP — becoming the 21st commissioner in 2006.
“It was like meeting a celebrity,” Stewart said. “I knew of her career and it was awesome to have her to present the awards. She was very personable and for me, she was historic.”
In the office, James Dyck will be taking over the role of detachment service supervisor. Stewart doesn’t know yet what her next steps would be.
“I’ve worked 42 years, knowing exactly where I’m going,” she said. “I’ve been told to give it six to 12 months before make a decision. There are lots of things I want to try; like things I like to do when I grow up!”
She recalled a quote from her sister who retired two years ago, saying, “You miss those Friday afternoons, and relish Sunday nights because I don’t need to go to work on Monday.”
She’d also miss the camaraderie of the RCMP crew.
“Even though members change regularly, you build the rapport and friendships,” Stewart said. “The internal support we have for each other, such as when your children get sick, your workmates help where they can.”
From the crew
Detachment services assistant Kathy Morin was first trained by Stewart 20 years ago.
“People got mixed up when I answer the phone, as we answer it the same way,” Morin said adding that they became personal friends that not only helped with work but also personal matters. “I was very impressed at an incident where she was running the radio, on the phone; I was amazed at how many things she could manage at the same time, and then tell you what we need to do.”
“We’ll miss her knowledge.”
“She’s proactive with safety equipment.”
“During her time here, she put together the best-looking detachment in the district.”