The secret is finally out, local woman opens up about military career

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

Imagine having a secret job that no one – not even your spouse – knows anything about. That was the reality for Kerry Harper, 63, when she worked with the military after graduating from Fort Frances High School.

Harper has had many jobs over the years, but most recently she has been working as a landfill site attendant.

After graduating from high school, Harper joined the military and travelled to Nova Scotia, where she met her husband who also worked with the military.

“I was in the military for five years. My husband was in for 26 years,” Harper said. “I was an oceanographic operator in the navy. It was a secret job until just a few years ago. We learned and listened to submarines in the water.”

Harper’s husband and family knew she worked at the oceanographic operator office, but what they did not know was that she listened to the ocean to find enemy submarines.

“We weren’t allowed to talk about it,” Harper said. “I couldn’t tell my husband what I did.”

During Harper’s time with the military, there were a few accidents and she had to listen to the records to see if she could find them on the hydrophones. This was done using a machine that would convert the hertz of the noise to paper.

“If we found something, we would listen to it to see if we could hear it,” Harper said. “We were associated with the Americans at the same time. It helped Canada’s and the US borders from Russian submarines.”

After living for five years in Nova Scotia, Harper moved to Germany, where her husband was posted for six years. Because of her husband’s work with the military, the family was always on the move, travelling around the world and living in different places.

Harper did not work in Germany, but when the family moved to Edmonton, she went to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and became a technologist and a surveyor assistant.

“When I moved to B.C., I worked on the highway, just coming out of Victoria, so I helped survey that,” Harper said. “When we moved to Petawawa, I had heart problems so I could not work except for babysitting.”

Harper has lived in many places, including Germany, Vancouver, Nova Scotia, Edmonton, southern Ontario, B.C., Petawawa, Baltimore and Florida. Harper said she has never lived in any place for more than six year, until she moved back to Fort Frances in 2001 to take care of her mother.

Kerry Harper, left, has spent the last 20 years as the Fort Frances landfill site’s primary attendant, but it was only a few years ago that she was allowed to talk about some of the other work she’s done in her life. As a member of the Canadian navy in Nova Scotia, she worked as a oceanographic operator, spending her days listening for enemy submarines. –submitted photo

That’s when she also became the landfill site’s primary attendant. After 20 years of being the clerk, Harper has pulled the plug, despite having enjoyed meeting new people during her job.

“I really like meeting all the people because I had gone to school with some of them. Because of the surgeries I had, I lost a lot of memory,” Harper said. “When I meet someone, I can recognize them, but I don’t know why, so they remind me.”

Harper said going back to the yearbook and identifying people in her graduating class also helps her memory.

Having worked at the landfill site for two decades, Harper also has seen her fair share of bears during the summertime. She said they could get anywhere from 15 to 20 bears per day.

One incident Harper will not forget was when she heard noise coming from the window and went to check it out.

“I looked in and a baby bear was looking in and I was looking out, and we both scared each other,” Harper chuckled. “He dropped and scratched the wall of the building with his nails and took off. They’re very silent and you don’t smell them either. They’re very, very quiet until they get into something. Bears are awesome. Mostly, they just ignore you because they’re busy getting food. They’re not scary.”

Besides work, Harper quilts, volunteers at the Sportsmen Club and is the service officer at the legion. Harper said she has made over 220 quilts and will take time to improve her skills in order to do artistic quilts.

She said she is looking forward to traveling more, spending more time with her grandchildren and going to the Rainy Lake Square market.

That being said, Harper will miss chatting with people and the landfill site.

“I’ve met a lot of people there and a lot of people are regulars,” Harper said. “I won’t see 30 to 40 people a day to talk to. I don’t know names, but I know what they look like and what their cars look like. I don’t know their background, but I know how nice they are and how much information they know.”