With her steely-blue eyes, she looks at me, not staring, not opposing but just looking with confidence and clarity of thought. I look back at her in comfort but questioning how this woman came to be the person she is today. As I write this, I must question and you must question too, why I even write of her eye-colour. What relevance does this have to the story? None – absolutely none.
Her eye colour and appearance have nothing to do with the story and yet I and many others would start off a story in such a fashion. Why? Because she is a woman. Although society has made some great strides in the equalization of the genders, it still has been a long battle for many and this includes the case for women in the military.
Barb McManus (Gillis) is now a Lieutenant Colonel, strong in character and demanding of respect. If she were a man neither her appearance nor her gender would even come into question or be an issue. For this woman and many other women like her who have made tracks and pathways on new territory, she has faced discrimination that was and is reflective of society and the changing role of women. She did what she could under the circumstances and dictates of a somewhat restrictive system.
Back in the 1970s, Barb was looking for a summer job. She found one as part of the YEP – Youth Employment program sponsored by the Treasury Board of Canada. What motivated her was the fact that the previous year, she had been working as a mother’s aid and only made $60.00 a month and with joining up for this summer job, she would make $60.00 a week. The only reason women were allowed to join that year was because of a federal government initiative where women could and would be included as part of an affirmative action program. It was a reflection and changing perspective of how women could be more as part of society and the many different jobs that women would now be allowed to do. Up until then, women were allowed in the military only as part of the Canadian Women’s’ Army Corps.
Barb joined an all-female platoon for basic training, followed by an infantry course to be a reconnaissance (Recce) soldier. She underwent training that happened to be members of the Fort Garry Horse (FGH) Regiment that summer. It did not matter which trade she would eventually go into, all women were part of this original training regimen. After the summer, she was given the choice to continue and to join as part of the Canadian Armed Forces. Due to influence from a good friend, she ended up with the Fort Garry Horse. There she underwent crewmen training.
At an exercise in Shilo, women were not allowed to be part of the exercise and were to stay in the garrison area to go over the same training they already had done previously. They decided, as a group, to leave the barracks and head out into the field with their gear and training in hand. They were accepted and included by the unit although some other units looked very disapprovingly and questioned why these women were in the field in the first place. This first act started the ball rolling in terms of women being more inclusive in the military and being allowed in a field operation setting. She took numerous other courses and training and soon afterwards becoming a patrol commander at a militia concentration exercise in Wainwright in 1974.
She went on to then to teach the crewmen course and eventually became a Warrant Officer having come up through the ranks. She held numerous posts from Regimental Quarter Master (RQM) to Transport NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer), to Chief Clerk and Acting Training Warrant.
Finally in 1981, she commissioned as an officer and became a Lieutenant. By the time she was a Captain, she was also having children of her own. She was the Training Officer, the Garrison Officer and the OC (Officer Commanding) Headquarters Squadron. At that time, Lieutenant Colonel Hasiuk was trying to make changes on the women’s behalf as there were still numerous restrictions to the upward mobility of women in the military ranks. The system would not budge and so Barb McManus (Gillis) had to move over trades to being a Services Logistics Operations Officer. She continued in rank from Captain to Major and eventually into the position as the Company Commander of the Brigade Training Company.
Finally, she became the Lieutenant Colonel, Commanding Officer of 17 Service Battalion, serving for two terms, the first being 1998 to 2002 and the second time, 2008 to the present. As Lieutenant Colonel she also now currently serves as the Chief of Staff for 38 Canadian Brigade Group.
She has been overseas for United Nations duty in Egypt in the 1970s and in 2010 where she taught a United Nations Staff course in Kenya to African Nations. Recently, Lieutenant Colonel McManus (Gillis) served in Afghanistan as part of the Tri-Partrate Joint Intelligence Operations Centre (TJOIC) dealing with sensitive and challenging issues in a very diverse geographical area with complicated situations among tribal members on both sides of the border.
Her children have followed in the family’s footsteps. Her daughter is Sergeant Caitlin McManus, Platoon Warrant of the 17th Field Ambulance as a Medic and works for JPSU – Joint Personnel Service Unit. Her son, James McManus is a Master Corporal with the 735th Communication Squadron which is part of the 38 Signals Regiment and recently returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Her other son, Andrew is also a Master Corporal with the 38th Service Battalion as a Supply Technician. Barb’s ex-husband, Tim McManus was the Commanding Officer of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.
So, as one can see, this woman who fought to be part of the military has had a hard path working up the ladder of the male-dominated military world. It is only recently that women have been legally allowed to be in combat roles and it was not until 1989, some 20 plus years or so after the women held their own position of deserving to be contributors in the field exercise. Finally, in 2002, Canada permitted and accepted all women into every trade possibility. Women were finally integrated in the Canadian military.
Lieutenant Colonel Barb McManus has been influential in providing training to some of today’s Canadian military leaders. People like Lieutenant Commander Lynn Bradley, Brigadier General Jaeger (former Surgeon General) and Brigadier General Craig King received basic training, or some form reserve and/or regular force training from this incredible woman. She has a continuing impact on the military in so many respects and in many ways not seen or spoken of. Thank you to this woman and calibre of person for being not only a contributing member of Canadian society, a positive reflection of women but also a great addition to the Canadian military.
For More Information
For more information about the people and history of the Fort Garry Horse Regiment, a recently released 100th Anniversary Centennial books are available for sale from the Fort Garry Horse Regimental Kit Shop or the Fort Gary Museum located at McGregor and Machray in Winnipeg. Call ahead for days and time as to when it is open.