This great Foncie photo of two women police officers ran in Sensational Vancouver, in a chapter called “Lurancy Harris’s Beat.” Lurancy was the first female police officer in Canada when she was hired along with Minnie Millar by the Vancouver Police Department in 1912, and one of my favourite historical characters.
The photo and much of the information about early women police officers came from the Vancouver Police Museum. At the time, the women in the photo were not identified, and the photo was thought to be 1940s.
Kristin Hardie at the Police Museum has now solved the mystery and tells me that the woman on the left is Jeanette Heathorn and she worked as a police matron in 1938 and 1939. Bessie Say, on the right, was VPD constable 193 and was employed between 1921 and 1941. That also narrows down the date of the Foncie photo to between 1938 and 1941.
Bessie is intriguing.
According to a 1970 newspaper article that Kristin sent, Bessie who died at 90, was a retired Vancouver city police matron and former first-class constable in charge of the women’s section of the jail.
Before Bessie arrived in Vancouver she had been a prison guard in England and in Australia.
“In her early days she was keen on horse racing and kept up her interest in hockey, going out to games until a year before her death,” notes the reporter. “She was believed the first fully trained policewoman to be employed by any force in Canada when she was sworn in as matron at the city jail in September 1921.”
I don’t doubt it. Poor Lurancy and Minnie were thrown into the job with no training, no uniform and no gun.
And, three decades later when this photo was taken, things weren’t much better. Women didn’t get uniforms until 1947, they weren’t allowed to drive police cars until 1948 (they went to calls on foot or took the street car), and it wasn’t until the 1970s that women had the right to carry firearms and were assigned the same duties as their male counterparts.
Apparently Bessie didn’t slow down after retirement. She was active in the Red Cross during the Second World War, and according to the article, travelled extensively. “She was camping at 84. She took a daily walk, even through last December’s snow.”
Jeanette also lived a long life. She died in 1992 aged 86.
For more about Vancouver’s first woman police officer see Lurancy Harris
For another photo mystery that was solved see: The Story Behind this 1924 photo
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