Margaret Gilkes' Ladies of the Night

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary through the eyes of writers

Calgary's old police headquarters at 323 - 7th Ave SE, taken in the 1920s. The building was demolished in 1962 to make way for an addition to old City Hall. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Collection)

Calgary's old police headquarters at 323 - 7th Ave SE, taken in the 1920s. The building was demolished in 1962 to make way for an addition to old City Hall. (Photo: Calgary Public Library Community Heritage and Family History Collection)

After the war, 29-year-old Margaret Sadler returns to Calgary to begin a career as one of the city’s three female beat cops. Her territory will centre around “The Drag” – a stretch of Ninth Avenue East frequented by prostitutes and their pimps. She’ll frequent the rundown hotels, ladies’ beer parlours and seedy apartment blocks of the city’s East End, and visit a smoky den above a hardware store her colleagues call the Gonorrhea Race Track. She will quickly come to know the people who haunt these streets by name. But here she is on her first day in February 1946, reporting for duty at the “glowering old police station” behind City Hall.

 

It was six o’clock on Saturday night. Swirling pebbles of dirty snow stung my face and a biting February wind sliced through my newly purchased civilian cloth coat. I pulled my light felt hat further down over my eyes and shivered as I stood hesitating at the foot of the worn concrete steps leading to the small entrance porch of the City Police Station.

The old tight feeling hit my stomach. I’d thought I was through with that quick stab of fear when I left England and the V-bombs behind. “It’s watching me,” I muttered, looking from the pale-eyed, barred basement windows of the jail glowering up at me, to the narrow leering ones above.

The city police station had done a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde about-face since two days ago when I had come to be sworn in at an old four-story brick building sitting solidly on its sandstone foundation. Now it was a living breathing thing in the gloom of the street, daring me with hostile eyes to step inside.

 

Margaret Gilkes, Ladies of the Night: The Recollections of a Pioneer Canadian Policewoman (Hannah, AB: Gorman & Gorman, 1989)