Trailblazing Officer Passes Away

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 12:43 p.m. September 25, 2015
Updated: 12:55 p.m. September 25, 2015

A Toronto Police Service and Canadian law enforcement trailblazer has passed away.

An old black and white photo of a woman sitting in an office in an old police woman uniform,
Ferne Alexander, who retired at the rank of Superintendent, was the first woman to be appointed the rank of Inspector by a Canadian Police Service.

Ferne Alexander, the first woman in a Canadian police service to be appointed to the rank of Inspector, died in a Lindsay hospital on September 19. She was 88.

Just three women were with the Service when Alexander joined in 1952 as a third class Constable.

At the time, she hailed her historic promotion as a victory for policewomen.

“I never dreamed we would be anywhere,” she said, after cracking the glass ceiling on July 9, 1963. “We were treated as poor relations. I suppose women go through the same thing in any field that has been dominated so long by men.”

She said she had discovered the secret of working in a man’s field.

“When you are a woman in a man’s job, you learn to wait for the right time before you make suggestions,” she pointed out in an interview 52 years ago.

Alexander retired on September 1, 1983 at 55, as a Superintendent, a rank she held for four years.

“I remember her name as it was often mentioned in my home as I grew up,” said Superintendent Liz Byrnes, who joined the Service three decades ago. “My dad joined the job in 1947 and my sister followed in 1971 and - like all women at the time - went to the Women’s Bureau. Ferne Alexander was legendary. My dad always spoke about her with the greatest respect. The job for women in policing during that era was much different. I was told by my sister, who is now retired, that before any woman was hired, she was interviewed by Ferne.”

She was the trailblazer for policewomen aspiring to be senior officers. It’s because of her that many of us have attained the heights we are at.

Superintendent Diane Miller, Court Services unit commander, was hired three years before Alexander retired.

“I never knew Ferne, but I most certainly knew of her,” said Miller. “She was the trailblazer for policewomen aspiring to be senior officers. It’s because of her that many of us have attained the heights we are at.”

The TPS Women’s Internal Support network paid tribute to Alexander, whose body was interred after a private family graveside service at Fenelon Falls cemetery.

“We sincerely appreciate the contributions Superintendent Ferne Alexander made, not only to the Toronto Police Service, but to women in policing across the country,” said Inspector Suzanne Walsh, the W-ISN chair.  “As we approach National Police Officer Memorial Day on Sunday, September 27, Fern and her commitment to policing will definitely be in our thoughts.”

Since Alexander’s historic appointment, women have been elevated to senior roles in the organization in the last 15 years

Kris Kijewski became the first female president of the Toronto Police Service Senior Officers Organization in 2001 and, four years later, she was promoted as the first female civilian director.

Jane Wilcox was the first female Sex Crimes unit commander, Brenda Radix was the first female civilian promoted to the position of unit commander in charge of the Property and Evidence Management unit, Judy Sandford became the first woman to head the Records Management Services Unit and Kathryn Martin was the Homicide Squad’s first female unit commander.

Wilcox and Sandford are retired.

In December 2009, the formerly male-dominated Records Management Services Unit was transformed to an all-female management team, with the majority of its members being women.

The Service’s Women’s Internal Support Network was established five years ago.

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