A career of defining moments
It didn't take long for Donna Morse to prove she earned the right to police the streets of Port Alberni, B.C.
Just weeks out of training, the then 21-year-old member of Troop 17 found herself with a suspect's hands around her throat, squeezing the life out of her at a local fish and chips shop.
Two people had been pushed through a plate glass window of a neighbouring store, when they refused to give money to a large, long-haired blond man. Being a busy day, the detachment dispatched Morse alone. She approached the man inside the shop, and when she touched his shoulder to encourage him to go outside, he jumped up from the table and attacked.
The next thing Morse knew, she was fighting for her life. Using the "ground-fighting techniques" she learned at the RCMP Academy, "Depot" Division, she managed to free herself and get the man in the back of her cruiser.
"I was scared but not scared off," she says. "It showed I was well trained because it was all instinct." The man – well known by the local RCMP – received a sentence of two years less a day in jail.
While it was not the ideal way to prove her mettle, Morse (nee Burns) knows it was a pivotal moment in her early days. "I truly believe this incident solidified my reputation with the other officers and the community as a capable police officer," she explains.
Morse had a difficult family life growing up and left home at 17. She found herself working as a bank teller in 1974 when her mother told her the RCMP was taking applications from women. She could clearly see her potential at the bank was limited – it was only men chosen for advancement training.
Her father was an officer with the Calgary Police Service. Already interested in policing, she immediately submitted an application.
"The process went so quickly, I felt like I was swept up in the momentum," she reflects while sitting in the den of her Vancouver-area home, decorated with the many mementos of her 21-year career with the RCMP. "I didn't really know what I was getting into to be honest."
What she ended up "getting into" was a fulfilling career and one that would ultimately define her and her family, she says.
While in Port Alberni, she met fellow Mountie Ron Morse during a sudden-death investigation and the two became fast friends. When he proposed she didn't hesitate to say yes and the pair were married in November 1975.
"We joke with our kids that our first date was an autopsy," she laughs. The couple, now married for 39 years, has three children.
Their daughter's plan to join the RCMP was thwarted by an injury but she is now a 9-1-1 operator in Surrey, B.C., the RCMP's largest detachment.
When the newly engaged couple told their detachment commander their big news, he was simply "stunned." In less than 24 hours, a staffing officer made the trip from Victoria, B.C., to figure out how to deal with this new twist.
"They really didn't know what to do with us," Morse says. But from that day on, the couple never again worked together, and at National Headquarters in Ottawa, Ont., there was a scramble to write policy to deal with relationships between members in the future.
After retiring from the RCMP, Morse ran security operations for the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch for 19 years. Despite that, she still feels more connected to the RCMP.
"I had good times, bad times, difficult times, but I had an absolutely wonderful career with the RCMP and would do it all over again," she says.
"The RCMP made me who I am."
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