HANTS COUNTY, N.S. — Looking back on her time with the RCMP, Staff-Sgt. Dianne Stairs says her career has come full circle and she’s ready to see what retirement brings.
The affable officer who currently leads the detachment in Windsor and West Hants, will officially hang up her hat July 2. Her career, which has spanned more than 30 years, both began and finished in the Valley region.
Where it all began
Stairs grew up in the countryside of Hawkshaw, New Brunswick. At 18, she applied for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She didn't know anyone on the force and had very limited exposure to what a career with the RCMP would entail. Still, she was drawn to the profession, noting it would be a better fit than becoming a teacher or a nurse — common jobs for women in the early 80s.
“I saw that as something where I could be of value, where I could help out people. That's what drew me to that,” said Stairs.
But, there was a freeze on new hires at the time, so Stairs went to the University of New Brunswick to pursue a computer science degree.
In 1985, at age 21, the RCMP came calling and Stairs joined.
Upon graduating from depot, Stairs and a few of her colleagues spent about half a year in Ottawa with the Executive/Diplomatic Protective Services. Her first official posting was to the New Minas RCMP detachment, where she worked from March 1987 until June 1994.
“For most people, your first posting is usually your best. It's your most memorable. For me, it was too,” said Stairs, who was a general policing officer while in the Valley.
“The Valley was an excellent place to live, community-wise. The work was diverse but not so busy that you couldn't take time to learn and do things properly. I had a lot of great mentors there as well.”
She left for a posting at the divisional drug section in Bedford, but was soon promoted to corporal in charge of the Arichat RCMP detachment on Isle Madame on Cape Breton island. It was the first time a woman was in charge of a detachment in Nova Scotia.
The detachment was small, with three members and two local support staff that Stairs said were invaluable in contributing to her success.
While at the standalone detachment, Stairs had her hands full. She supervised the members, took shifts, worked investigations, plus kept up on the office work and made sure the department was cleaned and maintenance work was done.
Stairs went on to be the corporal in charge of operations at the Musquodoboit Harbour detachment but was soon promoted to sergeant and took on an Atlantic regional position dealing with Grievance/Harassment/ADR. That was in the summer of 2000, and her role dealt more with the human resources side of policing. During her time there, she became an acting staff-sergeant.
In 2008, she got promoted to staff-sergeant and worked with informatics — the IT business solutions side of policing in Nova Scotia.
Staff-Sgt. Dan MacGillivray, the district commander of Annapolis County District RCMP, first met Stairs during her time in Cape Breton and their paths have crossed numerous times during their careers, including while he was working with the RCMP’s criminal operations section.
“I would deal with issues around operational policy but quite often, issues around operational policy would have some nexus with our informatics and retaining data and video recordings and all of those things,” said MacGillivray.
“For the in-car video systems in our vehicles, Dianne was responsible for all those programs.”
Stairs remained in that position until she transferred to H Division traffic services in January 2013, where she was in charge of Southwest Nova and Halifax.
In January 2016, Stairs moved to the Windsor rural detachment and has been working in the region ever since.
“It was kind of like a full circle, coming back to the Valley where I started,” said Stairs.
“It just brought back a lot of old memories, those old feelings about why you started your job in the first place, why you wanted to be a police officer.”
The best part of retiring from Windsor is that she got to work with some very dedicated individuals, she added.
“There's a good group of members here, and employees — the detachment assistants. They are really providing a good service,” said Stairs.
“It's really nice to be able to work with people who have a good work ethic and want to do their job and are happy doing their job. It makes my job so much easier, and that's trying to give them whatever they need — the tools and the training and the equipment to be able to do their job to the best of their abilities.”
MacGillvray said he often discussed policing with Stairs since the Annapolis and Windsor detachments were quite similar.
“She was always a great sounding board for me. I could call her and take advantage of her experience, and vice versa. She would reach out to me and discuss certain issues. I always appreciated that,” he said.
“She has a lot of experience and knowledge… very sound judgement, common sense — all those great attributes,” he added.
When reflecting on her career, Stairs said one of her most memorable assignments was when she served as an aide-de-camp in 2006 for Lieutenant Governor Mayaan Francis.
“Every new lieutenant governor has a visit with Her Majesty. I assisted the lieutenant governor of the day for the visit to Buckingham Palace,” said Stairs, describing the drive to the palace and waiting in the red room.
It wasn't her first brush, nor last, with royalty or important political figures. Stairs had served as an aide-de-camp with several previous lieutenant governors, including Myra Freeman (2000-2006), Francis (2006-2012), John James Grant (2012-2017) and current Lieutenant Governor Arthur Joseph LeBlanc.
Stairs has training in covering internationally protected persons, and has played that role on numerous occasions, including during Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Halifax in 2010, where Stairs served as an aide-de-camp; and Prince Charles and Camilla’s visit in 2014.
“If you're trained, you can be deployed to certain events that they need people with those skills, whether it's driving or (being a) bodyguard or (providing) site security,” said Stairs.
She was involved with the G7 summit in Halifax in 1995, the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in 2001, the G8 summit in Kananaskis, Alberta in 2002, and the most recent G7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec from June 7-9. She was in Quebec for two weeks for that assignment.
Stairs joked that she wouldn't be answering any questions about U.S. President Donald Trump.
“When you're there, you're doing your job. You're not really looking at them. You're looking at what's around, if there's any threat,” she said, noting she did see him and other world leaders “fairly up close.”
That laser focus on her work has helped Stairs as she's climbed the ladder, earning each promotion.
Stairs said she's happy with how her career progressed and suggests people looking to join the RCMP should meet with members first to understand what they do. Then, they need to question why they want to join.
“Is it a career or is it a job? There's a lot of challenges and demands and if you're in it for the wrong reasons then it's probably not going to be as rewarding as you'd like,” said Stairs.
“By the very nature of it, you're supposed to be looking out for other people, helping them out in times of need, or showing compassion, or having initiative and skill sets to be able to investigate some really difficult or really horrendous crimes. You have to have something behind that other than just yourself and your self-interest because that won't carry you through.”
Stairs said everyone is asking her what she'll do in her retirement, and she's not sure yet. But, she said, she plans on staying in Mount Uniacke.
“I'm going to putter around the house, spend some time with family — that's long overdue — and just do that until I get so bored that I'll ask myself, 'OK, what do I want to do now?'” said Stairs.
Volunteering is high on that list, and she's already agreed to stay on as a board member for the Hants County Senior Safety Association.
“I don't necessarily want to go onto another job or need to. I think volunteering is somewhere it's needed.”
She is very much an outdoorsy person, enjoying hiking, kayaking, geocaching and a little bit of gardening. She loves animals — she has a 13-year-old golden doodle that she adores — and may pursue volunteering with an organization that helps pets or wildlife.