Winnipeg’s first female constable started her beat in 1916, which was one of the first departments in Canada to do so. Mary Dunn was 43 years old when she joined. However, women on the job were only given a badge, whistle and mostly dealt with “Morality Officers” and children. They rarely left the station, and when they did, were with a male counterpart. The first one to take on a more traditional role, Clara Donaldson, didn’t join the force until 1941.
Fast forward to today. With the long history, one might think the force might be 50-50 male/female. Far from it. The most recent statistics show there are 226 women on the job, representing 16 per cent of the complement. Here’s the kicker… that’s the highest proportion of female cops in the last five years.
Det. Sgt. Kathy Antymis started her policing career over 20 years ago with the RCMP in British Columbia. She said she’s dealt with a variety of issues during that time. While details weren’t discussed, Antymis said she’s familiar with bullying, discrimination and harassment with the Mounties.
Ultimately, that’s what prompted her to leave and make a lateral move to the Winnipeg Police Service in 2000. Becoming a mom also brought challenges after she returned to work after six months and needed to express breast milk. She had no comfortable place to do that and had to settle for a washroom stall. Despite all that, Antymis says progress has been made, especially with the new building providing officers who are moms several comfortable spaces to pump milk, if they need to.
And if given the choice, she’d pick up the badge again and encourages other women to consider it too, if that’s what they want. Antymis says in male-dominated fields, gender stereotypes are more pronounced. She’s quick to point out where those are quickly put to rest; Antymis told 680 CJOB that there are some great men in the force that can speak to victims and some great women that she’d go into a dark alley with to investigate a crime. She wants to remind people we all have strengths and weaknesses.
WATCH: Women in Policing: Celebrating the commitment and contributions of women in law enforcement and the Winnipeg Police Service
Stereotypes are something Laura Loepkky knows all about. The 23 year veteran of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service was told near the start of her career that she “belonged in the kitchen.”
That didn’t deter the now-senior firefighter, who is an acting lieutenant. She says she used the comments to open conversations to change minds at a much earlier age. Loeppky recounted a tale where a young boy saw her take off her helmet and exclaim, “You’re a girl!” She says she took the time to explain to the boy that women can have careers outside the home.
As for the firefighter that told Loepkky the job was meant for men, a couple of years later, he wanted to set her up with his son. She used the opportunity to set him straight by telling him if his son was raised with the same ideals, they wouldn’t get along. Loepkky also told him it was hypocritical to think she was good enough to date because she was a firefighter, but not good enough to be a firefighter because she was female.
READ FULL SERIES: Shattering glass: Winnipeg’s Women
Loepkky also laughed as she explained how she was to address a seminar and surprised the group upon arrival. She says they were likely expecting a tall, fit, handsome man and in walked a woman, who was also pregnant. She followed in her firefighter father’s footsteps, but would she want her own daughter to? Loepkky says “absolutely,” but only if it was her dream.
While the ranks of women in the WPS is into the hundreds, that is not the case with the WFPS. The first female firefighter was hired in 1987. Today, there are only 52. There are far more women that have become paramedics — from four in 1985 to 123 in 2018.
At the other end of the career spectrum is Samantha Martin. After four years of training, she’s just become a Red Seal carpenter and works for a company she’s clearly a fan of… saying they support women in the trades.
According to Apprenticeship Manitoba, there were only 152 women in the construction trades, which represent just two per cent of all registered construction trade apprentices.
Martin admits sometimes people think she might not know what she’s doing, but, doesn’t give that attitude the time of day.
Martin says, for the most part, she and her colleagues are focused on getting the job done. She adds she doesn’t think about the fact that she’s typically the only woman on the site.
When asked what she is most proud of, she says, making it. Martin says some people couldn’t believe she was going to pursue construction because she knew nothing about the industry when she started. She made a plan as a kid and followed through, she says, even though some said she wouldn’t last. She too, wants to encourage other young women to take up a trade.
LISTEN: 680 CJOB’S Julie Buckingham speaks with Antymis, Loeppky and Martin on working in male-dominated fields.
Tuesday, officials from the City of Winnipeg, the Canadian Armed Forces, Winnipeg Police Service and Manitoba Women in Construction joined Geoff Currier to discuss more ways to attract and retain women to their respective fields.
Join us for our entire series Shattering Glass: Winnipeg’s Women from March 6 to 9 on 680 CJOB.