As a travel writer, I’m honoured with opportunities to experience some pretty amazing places.   The RCMP training facility in Regina, Saskatchewan was super cool! Here’s what I found.

Careened around the obstacle course in a police car.  Check.  Shot a gun.  Check.  Thoroughly embarrassed myself in defensive tactics training.  Check.  That was me, a cadet for a day at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) “Depot” Division in Regina, Saskatchewan; the very place that every RCMP officer is trained.  This was back in 2013 and at the time, the new and thoroughly impressive Commanding Officer, Assistant Commissioner Louise Lafrance, rolled out the red serge carpet for me, ten other writers, and a Regina businessman.

RCMP cadets for a day, training

RCMP cadets for a day

 

RCMP Depot Division, Regina, Saskatchewan, mountie training

RCMP “Depot” Division, Regina, Saskatchewan

This novel approach to open wide the depot doors to interested parties, complements Lafrance’s plans to attract many more people to the organization.. When working on recruitment in a previous position in the Canadian Central Region, Lafrance attracted some 9,000 applicants in one year.    There were only 7 troops on base when I visited, and with completed construction of a new dormitory the base will accommodate up to 20 troops. Lafrance will also encourage more women to enter the force; there were 77 female cadets when I was there. And when asked about being a female commanding officer at depot Lafrance said, “we are beyond talking about that, it’s time to move forward.”

Lafrance also aims to improve the reputation of the force. Some of the press that the RCMP has received in recent times is “so hurtful”, said LaFrance. The force receives 7000 calls a day across the country and she stated, “we don’t hear about the good stuff”. About the RCMP’s incredible officers, she said, “It’s our process that gets us these people.”

That process can take up to a year and a half. Time-consuming background checks are done on every member of an applicant’s immediate family, and rigid physical and psychological standards must be met. For every ten applications, one might be accepted, and after the commencement of training there is a 12% attrition rate. Surprisingly, there are no age restrictions although 18-34 year olds are targeted for recruitment. A woman in her mid-fifties and her daughter were recently cadets together! The entire 24 weeks at depot is basically one long job interview; if you don’t meet the minimum requirements you will be failed although great efforts are made to help cadets succeed in areas of weakness.

A day in the life at RCMP “Depot” Division is both invigorating and grueling. Our mentor and guide for the day was Corporal Dan Toppings and he showed us to our single dorm rooms, used for regular members who are at depot for training courses. Actual cadets sleep 32 to a room (coed). Forewarned about the importance of pressed clothing, we all spent time at the ironing boards in preparation for the 5:30 am wake-up time. After a quick lesson on marching as a troop, we left-right–left-righted it (a laughable sight) to observe the morning parade. Afterwards, I visited the Tailor Shop to get my new fatigues hemmed. It’s a huge department kept busy altering clothing, notably to take things in.   One cadet reportedly lost 67 pounds in training!

Corporal Dan Toppings, RCMP "Depot" Division

Corporal Dan Toppings, RCMP “Depot” Division

 

Corporal Dan Toppings rocking these beautiful boots. We visited the workshop where they are produced.

Corporal Dan Toppings rocking these beautiful boots. We visited the workshop where they are produced.

 

The RCMP Tailor Shop, mountie training

The RCMP Tailor Shop

Five minutes for breakfast, and then it was time for drill class. My heart was pounding while the drill sergeant and two corporals berated us between instructions, all part of the training plan to prepare cadets to maintain composure in the face of adversity. Display perfection in appearance and in response to commands, or face pushup punishments and we did a lot of those! Fortunately, breathing, blinking, shivering and sweating are tolerated.

Corporal Penny Hermann was one of our drill instructors at "Depot"

Corporal Penny Hermann was one of our drill instructors at “Depot”

A quick change into judo ghee and we rushed to learn defensive tactics. I took a head jolting harmless kick to the nose by the instructor, protected by gear so it didn’t hurt (much) but it sure woke me up. We kicked, jabbed and punched bags and dummies but in the end it was we who were beaten. Back into uniform we attended an applied police science class and received a rundown of the curriculum. A robbery occurred before our very surprised eyes, a simulation after which our observation skills were tested.

Defensive tactics training, mountie, RCMP

Defensive tactics training

In regulation shorts and t-shirts we next humiliated ourselves in the fitness and lifestyles class, captured on camera by CTV News Regina. After we changed clothes yet again, we headed over to mess, exhausted, and had a whole 15 minutes for lunch. I met a 21-year-old cadet, Katie Comley, from Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia in the cafeteria queue. With only two weeks under her new RCMP issued belt, she was following in the footsteps of her brother, “he got in young too”.  She told me that training was “pretty much as I expected”.

After lunch, in the Simulation and Judgmental Training Unit, I hit a few pedestrians and did a few two many 360’s in my virtual reality police car. I did somewhat better at target practice with what looked and felt like a real gun but was loaded with computer technology, not bullets. We learned that it is sometimes after the first firearms class that a cadet will choose to leave, once faced with the reality that he or she may be required to take another human life. It was, however, emphasized that the most important tool of an officer on duty is his voice. Corporal Toppings explained, “If a police officer learns to control their voice, emotions and learns to reason with clients, there is a much better chance that a non-physical confrontation will take place. In my 23 years of policing, I can count on one hand the number of times that I have been forced into a physical confrontation.”

Gun practice, RCMP Depot, mountie, training, cadet

Gun practice

In the beautiful Saskatchewan sunshine, we observed the Sergeant Major’s parade, a marching of troops including the band and open to the public.

Preparing for the Sergeant Major's Parade, RCMP Depot, training, cadet, mountie

Preparing for the Sergeant Major’s Parade

 

Sergeant Major's Parade

Sergeant Major’s Parade

 

Sergeant Major's Parade

Sergeant Major’s Parade

After that photo op, we went to the Advanced Driving Track. Maneuvering the two serpentine tracks and the skill pad in a police car was the highlight of the day! I didn’t knock down a single pylon thanks to from my ruggedly handsome instructor, Corporal Nathan Rondeau (he ordered me to say that). One of my colleagues found the motion too much and became ill.

RCMP driving instructors

RCMP driving instructors

With gratitude, we received our “Cadet for a Day” diplomas from Commanding Officer Lafrance, in the oldest building in Regina and the venue for all RCMP graduations.

We received our diplomas in the oldest building in Regina

We received our diplomas in the oldest building in Regina

Ryan Urzada, the final diploma recipient, came to depot as the first participant in the new program “Send Your Boss to Boot Camp”, which raises money for the RCMP Heritage Centre. (A Ryan Gosling look-alike, he was a shoo-in when we elected our troop leader.)  As Urzada accepted his honours, Lafrance said “you look exactly like you belong. You’re the guy we’re recruiting.” She spoke to us proudly and said, “people from all over the world come to see how we train”.  And regarding an RCMP graduation she said, “nothing equals it for pride in being a Canadian”.

Ryan Urzada, Regina businessman and RCMP cadet for a day

Ryan Urzada, Regina businessman, and first participant in “Send Your Boss to Boot Camp”

We were honoured to attend a regimental dinner at the RCMP Heritage Centre, a wonderful tourist facility.  I was delighted to be seated with Ron Ferguson, a 30 year RCMP veteran, who told me that he volunteered at the heritage centre twice a week. When I asked him about career highlights, he quickly mentioned escorting a young Justin Trudeau to school from 24 Sussex Drive.

RCMP veteran, Ron Ferguson

RCMP veteran, Ron Ferguson

 

RCMP regimental dinner

RCMP regimental dinner. Commanding Officer Louise Lafrance second from left.

 

RCMP regimental dinner. A place is always set to remember the fallen officers.

RCMP regimental dinner. A place is always set to remember the fallen officers.

Visit the RCMP Heritage Centre Museum in Regina.  It’s right next door to the training facility.  Click here for more information.

Do you have what it takes to be an RCMP officer?