When you first encounter Elenore Sturko wearing short sleeves, it’s hard to miss the words Esprit de Corps running across her right forearm in black, cursive letters. On the surface, the tattoo may seem like a remnant of her time as a reservist in the Royal Canadian Air Force, but dig a little deeper, and it becomes apparent that to her the phrase means much more than that.
“When I was getting the military indoctrination talks, the phrase really connected with me because I love teamwork,” says the 40-year-old as she sits on a big, brown sofa in her living room, surrounded by pictures of her three kids: Henry, four, and twins Minka and Bill, who are almost two.
A big smile stretches over her face as she remembers her days in the Air Force, where she served as a reservist from 2006 to 2009. It was there, she tells EDGE, that she found her sense of purpose and place, and where she cemented her passion for service and teamwork.
“I found my niche,” says Sturko, who received an award for camaraderie from her peers during basic training. She now practices teamwork as communications officer at the Yellowknife detachment of the RCMP, where she is the frontline between the force and the media. “I found that there’s a genuine sense of public service both in the forces and in the RCMP, because you’re really doing something that’s going to help people.”
Sturko says she’d internalized the concept of esprit de corps long before joining the military.
“When I worked in television, we always worked as part of a production team to put the news on together, and that was probably my favorite part of [it],” says Sturko. And when she was in a band (as a singer): “Being in a band is also teamwork. You’re all coming together to make a beautiful sound.”
Born in Winnipeg, Sturko spent her childhood moving around western Canada with her family. She first came to Yellowknife in 2004, arriving from Winnipeg to work at the CBC.
By then, she’d been in media for over a decade, but even though she had a successful career, there was something about working in journalism that just didn’t make her happy.
“It was never my dream to work in media,” says Sturko, who met her partner Melissa here in Yellowknife. “I always wanted to be either in the Canadian Forces or in the RCMP, because people in my family were in both those forces.”
In order to fulfill that dream, in 2006 Sturko decided to join the Canadian Forces as a reservist, and did basic training in Yellowknife. She was immediately hooked, especially after her platoon’s sergeant told her that creativity and artistry were essential components to a successful career in the military.
“I thought that in the forces you were an automaton, but it’s not true,” she says, adding that most military and police assignments are all about finding creative solutions. “How you get there relies on your thinking, your skills, teamwork, and problem solving. So that really connected with me, because there’s room for all this creativity.”
She liked basic training so much that in 2007 she quit her CBC job, and started working full-time as a Class B reservist with the Canadian Ranger Patrol Group in Yellowknife. After two years with them she applied for a position in the RCMP. She was stationed in Langley, B.C. for almost three years, before coming back to Yellowknife in 2012.
Now, she is a Constable at the local detachment of the RCMP, where she’s been in charge of the force’s media relations since September 2014. Part of her job consists of organizing community outreach projects with Aboriginal policing partners throughout the territories, but most Yellowknifers might recognize her name from the media, where she is often quoted as the official voice of the RCMP.
But being in the public eye isn’t always the easiest thing for Sturko.
“It’s more stressful to me than doing regular policing, because I’m always overthinking and I worry so much more about what people think about the RCMP,” she says. “I wish that we could open the window a bit more, so people could see exactly what policing here is like.”
What were your first impressions of Yellowknife?
It was the end of March, and as I was flying in the first thing I saw was the tank farm that was by Con Mine. It was cloudy, so I couldn’t see how beautiful the landscape was. All I saw was this industrial gas thing, and I was like [grunt!]. I remember too it was also really cold, and I walked downtown to see what the city was like, but it was so cold my face was cracking. So when I got back to my hotel, I sat down and was like “What have I done!?” But I was excited anyway, and I did fall in love with Yellowknife because it is so beautiful, but it was different from what I first expected.
What’s your favorite thing about Yellowknife?
Yellowknife is great; the people are great. Something that struck me when I first started working as a police officer here is that people are willing to help. People really care here, and there’s a real sense of community, and I think that’s one of the things that makes Yellowknife such a special place.
Another of my favorite things is that it’s a mixed bag of cultures. We have Inuvialuit, Gwich’in, Dogrib, Dene, and people from different cities across Canada and from around the world. It’s such a mixture of cultures, and that’s what I like about it.
What’s your least favorite thing about Yellowknife?
The cold is a bit too long for me here. It’s almost like a childbirth scenario for me, because you forget the pain; summers are so great, but by the end of January, I’m like “Oh man, you know what would be really great right now? If summer started.”
How do you spend your summers?
We love camping, and our kids have been camping since they were babies. We spend a lot of time outside, and now that the kids are getting older, I hope to introduce them to things like Folk on the Rocks. That’s how I grew up and that’s what I love.
Sturko with her children
How do you survive the winters?
We usually try to take a vacation. My parents are snowbirds, so we go down to Arizona. My kids are pretty young, so while we’re here we tend to spend a lot of time at the museum, wrecking up the little play area that they have there.
What kind of opportunities did you find here that you wouldn’t find anywhere else?
When I was living in Vancouver and Winnipeg, I didn’t really get a sense of the indigenous population, whereas here it’s just so common. And that’s such a great opportunity for my kids. They’re certainly going to get a flavor of Dene culture by living in Yellowknife and be exposed to things that they may not have a chance to learn about in the south, because there are so many distractions. South of the 60 it’s all so urban: you go to the mall and get your Starbucks, but here since we don’t really have that influence, we’re also more likely to go out on the trail or get our kids outside on the beach.
Are you a Yellowknife lifer?
I don’t know if I’ll be here for the rest of my life, but Yellowknife will always be a big part of my life. The nature of my job could have me moving, but I’ll stay here as long as I can and it will always be a part of who I am, no matter where I end up.