Written by: Justin Brett
‘First’ can mean a lot of things in the world depending on the scale you use. There can be the first ever in general, the first in a country, and at the smallest, the first in a town. This doesn’t necessarily diminish any of them, of course, as being a trailblazer can be difficult regardless of the size of it. A good example of this is Lois Beckett, Sault Ste. Marie’s first female police officer, and as it stands one who set the record for the longest service of her gender.
Beckett was sworn in as a policewoman in 1949. This was an official term at the time, as women were not given the rank of Constable upon joining until 1962. The arguable sexism of this did not stop Beckett from staying on the job, although in 1961 she did switch from Sault Ste. Marie’s police force to that of neighbouring Tarentorus.
Ultimately both of these and Korah Township’s police would unify in 1965. It was then that Beckett would receive some unpleasant news that would shape her career to come: upon returning to the unified Sault Police Force she was denied entry to the Police Association and reclassified as a Clerk-Typist rather than a Constable. This meant she would be working in the same field as civilian staff, rather than her fellow officers.
Naturally Beckett was not going to take this lying down, and in fact ended up taking it to the courts, aiming for equal rights, pay and status for women in policing. In 1969 her efforts began to pay off, with the arbitration board ruled she was entitled to a constable’s uniform and pay. Even then, however, it took until 1976 to be allowed into the Police Association, and was still required to work at the switchboard. A year later Beckett would sue for discrimination and win.
For the remaining fourteen years of her career Beckett would continue work as an officer, receiving several commendations to her name. She would end her career working in the Property and Exhibits department of the force, which dealt with the control of objects taken into possession by the police. You can see an image of her work in the department on this page.
Beckett would retire in 1991, but was not content to rest on her laurels for long. In 1996 she would run for Mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, which would have been another first for woman. She was unsuccessful, but even the elected mayor, Steve Butland, acknowledged that above all else she was a pioneer. Lois Beckett would pass away in 1998 at the age of sixty-eight, and in recognition of her accomplishments the flag at city hall was lowered to half-mast. It is not easy to be the first at something, particularly as a woman, but she managed to accomplish that admirably.