The Mountie experience through an artist’s eyes
‘I have pride in the RCMP,’ says career officer’s wife of her exhibit of paintings
While she wasn’t a member of the RCMP, being married to one gave Carleen Ross a bird’s-eye view of what it is to be a Mountie.
Now she is hoping to give the public a glimpse of what she observed through a series of paintings collectively titled From Sea to Sea.
“To me, it was a story that needed to be told, but in a positive way ...,” she says. “(The series) was my way of basically expressing and getting my story out about the RCMP. You see so much in social media, negativity with police. And being a member’s wife and knowing the other side, it was upsetting to me. So most of my art, I try and focus on the beauty, and try and find colours in it.”
Carleen — born in Regina and raised largely in Alberta — met her would-be husband in Sherwood Park 21 years ago, when Kelly Ross was about eight years into what would be a 24-year career with the national police force. (He is now retired.)
When Carleen first thought up the series, she planned to paint her husband in uniform. But, with a background in wildlife painting, she ultimately decided to tell the story through bison — an animal with a long association to the RCMP.
The series of six paintings takes the viewer through an RCMP career in symbolic fashion, bearing titles like The Recruit, Morning Shift, On Patrol and Remembrance.
For Carleen, it wasn’t simply a study in what it’s like to be a Mountie; it tells her story as a spouse, as well.
“It was seeing the world through what my husband did ... the morning shifts, seeing him get up so early in the morning and seeing him exhausted, but doing the work, getting it done,” she says.
Kelly spent some time at smaller detachments where he would often be the sole available local member on shift, the nearest backup often some time and distance away. Carleen remembers learning to deal with the realities of overnight phone calls that would awaken them and have Kelly responding to a call with only a few hours sleep.
“There were some shifts that he was gone for 24 hours ...,” she recalls. “And I think that’s something that the public doesn’t see. I would call and just be like, ‘Are you in a ditch? You’re still there. OK. I’ve just got to make sure you’re still alive. Where are you?’ There are some (calls) that they came across something that was bigger than they expected, and the next thing you know they’re gone 24 hours doing their job.”
Carleen also learned to cope with the worry that would creep in while her husband was out on patrol and sometimes unreachable by phone thanks to poor cell coverage in rural areas.
“There was lots of worry, but we were lucky ...,” she says. “We’ve known a lot of members that weren’t as lucky.”
By the time the couple had their children, Kelly had transferred for the last time and was no longer in patrol duty.
While there were negatives, Carleen says they were outweighed by the positives — such as seeing a crowd in Barcelona, Spain erupt into cheers upon seeing her husband and his fellow Mounties marching in their red serge.
“I have pride in the RCMP,” she says. “I look at it for all the fantastic things that they do represent. So to me, it’s nationalism, it’s Canada.”
From Sea to Sea can be seen at the RCMP Heritage Centre throughout 2017. The originals, as well as 150 prints of each (in honour of Canada 150), are available for purchase.