© RCMP photo
Sandra McNeil is seen following the awarding of the Second Man Award in St. John’s.
Sandra McNeil got her welcome to the life of being a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer’s wife during a remote posting in Labrador back in 1985.
Just after she and officer Paddy McNeil got married, McNeil joined her husband in Mary’s Harbour. Growing up in Port aux Basques, McNeil said she had never sat on the back of a snowmobile because her family never owned one.
“I got on a plane and I flew to Mary’s Harbour, Labrador with a pair of high heel shoes on, mind you,” said McNeil. “When I got off I said, ‘So where’s my ride?’”
It was winter and there were no roads in the community and McNeil was directed to a waiting snowmobile.
“I get on the back of the Ski-Doo with my high heel shoes on, we go across the pond and the Ski-Doo went through the ice,” she said. “I went up to my waist in water and my husband says, ‘This is our honeymoon, welcome to Mary’s Harbour.’”
It was in that small coastal community in southern Labrador that McNeil became what is known as a “Second Man” — wives of officers who ultimately served as unpaid members.
They answered phones, searched female prisoners, provided meals to prisoners and opened their homes to visiting senior officers, court judges, doctors and nurses.
On Friday, the Pasadena woman was one of 22 in this province to be recognized with the RCMP’s Second Man Award. Nineteen of the award recipients, including McNeil, attended the award presentation by RCMP Assistant Commissioner Tracy Hardy, commanding officer in Newfoundland and Labrador, at RCMP headquarters in St. John’s.
McNeil served in Labrador with her husband for seven years — in Mary’s Harbour from 1985 to 1988, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay from 1988 to 1989 and in Nain from 1989 to 1991.
She said, starting out in Mary’s Harbour, for 30 months out of 36 it was just her and her husband at the detachment. As for the service she provided, McNeil said she did what was needed.
“I didn’t find it any different as being the normal housewife,” she said. “It just came as your normal daily routine to help out your husband when it was needed.”
Still, some of the things she did were far from normal. While in Nain, she recalls there being a double homicide, and at the same time a lot of break-and-enters where taking place in the town.
“My bedroom window was set up with five different alarm systems. When a break-and-enter would take place I would call by portable radio to Paddy and say, ‘Paddy there’s a B&E taking place at such-and-such a store.’
“I actually fed prisoners at my own dining room table,” she added. “I had five at one time (in Nain).”
After Labrador, the family — which by then included daughter Nicole — moved to Corner Brook where McNeil’s husband was posted to the RCMP’s major crime unit. That was followed by postings in Deer Lake and Baie Verte. It’s at the mention of Baie Verte that McNeil recalls an unusual event involving a cold case her husband had been working on.
“I had a body part ... ” she starts to say, and then pauses to ask her husband if it’s OK to continue. With a yes from him she went on. “I had a body part in my fridge. That was very unusual right? I don’t think too many people have body parts in their fridge.”
But even with that statement, she’s unable to stop from adding a little laugh. While in Baie Verte, the McNeils lived in attached quarters with the jail cell and the office on the other side of her kitchen wall. From there the family transferred to Antigonish, N.S., and it was there that Paddy McNeil retired at the rank of staff sergeant.
The couple then moved back to Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I had to come back to home,” she said. “There’s no place like home.”
Her thoughts on the award?
“I was very honoured to be a recipient,” she said, but added she doesn’t feel like she needs to be recognized.
“I just felt that it was part of my life. A lot of the things I did in those isolated communities, I did it because, if I didn’t go to the office to hang out and help do the work, I would spend a lot of lonely hours by myself. When I signed on that dotted line and got married, I had no idea where the journey of life was going to take me.
“Having said that, I wouldn’t change not one single thing.”