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Review

Tragedy on Jackass Mountain

By Charles Scheideman

No Easy Ride: Reflections on my Life in the RCMP

By Ian T. Parsons

March 6, 2014

Review By Bonnie Reilly Schmidt

       

 

 

 

 

In 1889, when John G. Donkin penned Trooper and Redskin in the Far North West, the first Mountie memoir for popular audiences, he initiated a long tradition of highly favourable and uncritical accounts of life in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) written by former Mounties. Tragedy on Jackass Mountain by Charles Scheideman and No Easy Ride by Ian Parsons are two recent — and revealing — additions to this canon.

Scheideman and Parsons provide insights into the daily working lives of the men of the RCMP in the 1960s and 70s, a time when Mounties still conducted their patrols while wearing riding boots, spurs, and Stetsons, even though the RCMP had long-since abandoned the horse as a mode of transportation. It was an age when solving crime was often achieved with the help of the public, a good sense of humour, and a lot of common sense. Both authors spent considerable time policing in rural British Columbia during this period, and anecdotal stories about their general duty work in the province’s Cariboo, Thompson, and Kootenay regions make for interesting reading.

As rookie police officers, Scheideman and Parsons faced a number of challenges including the bad behaviour of some of the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who supervised them. Scheideman remembered one NCO who routinely engaged in the unauthorized use of police vehicles (196-97). And Parsons recalled an NCO who struggled with alcoholism, drinking part of his evidence from a liquor seizure (53). He also recalled one corporal who was known for entering homes on First Nations reserves without a search warrant (79). Indeed, Parsons is refreshingly passionate about the complicity of the RCMP in the oppression of First Nations people, a rare occurrence in Mountie literature (135-44; 147-49). 

Although they relate entertaining stories, both authors also recount horrific incidents that remind the reader that policing is a gruesome and stressful occupation. Scheideman, for example, recalled having to collect the missing limbs of three young children who survived being hit by a train so that doctors could re-attach them (147). And Parsons, in a rare display of emotional vulnerability not usually found in Mountie memoirs, admitted that he still experiences nightmares as a result of some of his investigations (101).

Women make brief appearances in both memoirs. Although Scheideman does not mention female Mounties, he does devote a short chapter to Mountie wives or, as they were known, the “Second Man” (128). In small detachments across Canada throughout most of the twentieth century, Mountie wives were expected by the RCMP to work alongside their husbands in the running of the detachment with little or no pay. According to Scheideman, the RCMP did not need to officially acknowledge the work of Mountie wives because the practice was so widespread (130). But this determination minimizes the contributions of the women whose labour enabled the RCMP to police vast expanses of territory for decades for the cost of a single police officer’s wages.

While Parsons devotes just three paragraphs to the work of female Mounties (153-54; 163), he does address the issue of sexual harassment in the book’s final pages. Parsons claims that he did not “detect” the abuse of female Mounties while employed by the RCMP (220). He speculates, however, that those female Mounties who used their verbal skills and humour to deflect harassment earned the respect of their male colleagues (220). Parsons clearly places the onus for managing the harassment of female Mounties on the women; he fails to consider that male Mounties should simply stop the practice. His response illustrates how the harassment of female Mounties by male police officers was so normalized in RCMP culture that senior officers such as Parsons failed to recognize it as such.

Despite their shortcomings and omissions, readers interested in firsthand accounts of the daily working lives of mounted police officers will be intrigued by the contents of these memoirs, where the male Mountie continues his dominance of the history of the RCMP.

No Easy Ride: Reflections on my Life in the RCMP
Ian T. Parsons
Victoria: Heritage, 2013. 240 pp. $19.95 paper

Tragedy on Jackass Mountain: More Stories from a Small-town Mountie
Charles Scheideman

Madeira Park: Harbour, 2011. 224 pp. $24.95 paper