Women lead the way in new exhibit at the Vancouver Police Museum

Photo of VPD police women
Vancouver Police Museum photo of police women

This year the Vancouver Police Museum is marking the centennial of women in policing in Vancouver. The exhibit is especially devoted to those who left their mark.

The museum has brought together a collection of artifacts, photographs and classic uniforms to bring the stories of women within the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to life.

Housed within an architectural dream with criss crossed ceilings and stained glass windows, the museum is in the historic city morgue and Coroner’s Court building in downtown Vancouver.

Coincidentally, the centrepoint of the exhibit, the display of the evolution of women’s uniforms is where the judge would have sat.

What visitors will see

“First thing you see is the evolution of the female uniform. From what a woman would have worn in 1912 all the way up to what the female members wear today,”  said museum curator Kristin Hardie.

Vancouver women paved the way

The VPD was the first police force in Canada to have women officers. In 1912 Lurancy Harris and Minnie Millar became the first police women in the VPD – and the first in Canada. Since then more and more women have joined the force, and as such play an increasingly important and active role in policing.

“If you really look at the society in 1912, to have two women being given full police authority, it is really quite innovative for their time,” said Hardie.

While it was innovative to accept women, it was not completely egalitarian. When the term “policewoman” was introduced to the VPD it turned out to be a roadblock to equality rather than a term of acknowledgement. “Police officers” were eligible for advancement, “policewomen” were not.

It took another 61 years for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to start accepting women to their ranks.

Becoming equal

In 1957, women were granted equal pay to match their male counterparts.  Competition for promotions and rank advancement were again opened to women, and the rank of Corporal was added to the Women’s Division.

In 1973 the British Columbia Police Commission granted women the right to carry firearms, and to be assigned regular patrol duties like their male counterparts.

In 2012, 24 per cent of the officers in the VPD were female and the department has full gender equality. Officer roles, responsibilities, opportunities for promotion and assignment are all gender-neutral.

The exhibit is on now.

In this soundslide, curator Kristin Hardie gives a tour of the women in policing exhibit on now at the Vancouver Police Museum.

Reported by Angela Holubowich 

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