You never know who might walk through your front door – especially when your front door is open to the public.
This past Friday, we were pleasantly surprised to see Simma Holt – one of Vancouver’s most interesting women – walk through our door.
Simma Holt came to visit the Museum with a vivacious group of 80-and-90-year olds from the Seton Villa Complex. The joy of giving a tour to seniors is that they often have valuable insight into the very historical events you’re relaying. Holt is the epitome of this statement, as she was a renowned journalist for the Vancouver Sun for a number of years. She certainly brings plenty of insight – and some great stories.
Our programmer Brad was discussing the Museum’s Fallen Officers’ display with the group, and Simma piped up: “I was there when Officers Boys and Leddingham were killed, and when the media showed up, their guns were still smoking!”
Even more interesting is Holt’s part in the history of the Vancouver Police Department’s female officers. Holt is well-known as a journalist who was always rooting for the underdog, and she had the kind of public voice that could really bring around change. Bring about change, she did.
In the late 1960s, female police officers were slowly being taken off the streets and being brought into call and radio rooms. A spike in public demonstrations (aka: the explosion of youth radicalism) during this time brought about a mentality that the Department had to use every ounce of their manpower to deal with the public. Eventually, at the end of the decade, you simply didn’t see female officers working in the public. Of the 812 officers in the Department in 1972, nine of those were women, all of them working inside.
Well, once Holt got a whiff of this trend, it was straight to the press!
Articles titled “Letters Tell a Tale of Woe”, “Policewomen Wanted”, and “Policewomen tied to Desks” were all published within three months of each other in 1972/3. This, along with pressure from within the Department and from local women’s groups, resulted in a drastic and essential change. In 1973, on an “experimental basis”, female officers were sent out into the operational field alongside their male peers. It was an experiment gone perfectly. The women proved they were up to the job of being full-fledged police officers, and gender never again determined an officer’s place within the department.
Simma Holt seems to have been at the right place at the right time, and with the right amount of “screw that!” attitude to really help make a difference. Her influence within the female ranks of the VPD lingered for many more years, as multiple female officers site her outspoken articles as their inspiration for joining the Department in the mid-1970s (including now-retired Deputy Chief Carolyn Daley – the highest ranking female VPD officer to-date).