Museum Musings – Prince Albert Police Service – further instability in the early years

by Fred Payton

In my last column, I discussed the initial instability which plagued the establishment of the Prince Albert Police Service.  The citizens of the community and the individuals who filled the position of town constable often had very different expectations of the duties which should be performed, and the lack of a formal job description exacerbated the situation.  Also, initially, each member of the town’s council felt entitled to provide direction to the constable, often resulting in that person receiving mixed messages.  By 1900, appropriate bylaws and the establishment of a three person police committee had helped to improve the overall situation.

By the time that Robert Jones was appointed Chief of Police at the beginning of the 20th century, in addition to the Chief the town was being policed by four constables, a special constable, and a scavenger.  The latter person was responsible for the removal of manure from the streets, filling potholes, and other duties which were assigned to the police simply because the bylaws which had been passed by Council made them their responsibility.

Although improvement in the overall direction of the police force was evident, the citizens of Prince Albert were not always impressed.  There were still enough citizens who did not appreciate the laws of the town being enforced where they were concerned.  As these people were voters, the members of the police committee could be swayed by the citizens’ concerns.  After a particular decision made by the committee, with which Chief Jones disagreed, he resigned.  The committee managed to persuade him to remain in his position until his replacement could be hired in order to provide some stability to the police service.  They then chose not to advertise for a new chief.  As a result, Jones’ resignation was eventually determined to be null and void and he remained in his position until his retirement in 1906.

When Jones retired, the new chief, Alex Forsythe, made it quite clear that the existent police accommodation was far from acceptable.  He led a tour of inspection by the police committee, which led to the Town Council expending some money to make improvements.  Forsythe also worked to obtain uniforms and other necessities for his constables, which led to improved working conditions.

Citizen concerns were also addressed during his term as chief, including reducing theft within the community, and working with the North West Mounted Police to control prostitution.

Forsythe was eventually appointed Crown Prosecutor in the Police Magistrate’s Court, and resigned from his position as Chief of Police in May, 1909.  He was succeeded in that position by B.J. McDermott.

McDermott also found the condition of the police station to be unacceptable.  Like Forsythe, he led a tour of inspection by the police committee, who again reported to Council (now a City Council).  Again, money was made available to improve the conditions, but they still remained less than salubrious,

McDermott was considered to be a progressive leader of the police service.  He reorganised the force, reducing it in size and hiring new members. By 1910, the chief only had an assistant constable and two constables serving under him, along with a special constable.  He also established a Cooperative Police Commissary through which his staff could purchase certain equipment, including batons.  In addition, from his budget he was able to purchase new clothing and equipment for the constables, including four sets of summer uniforms, winter uniforms, overcoats, waterproofs, caps and fur hats, as well as summer and winter boots.  He also bought a cap and a fur hat for himself as chief, and two pairs of handcuffs.

Although a bylaw precluded the carrying of firearms within city limits, McDermott arranged for the sale of small revolvers through the commissary, and he allowed his staff to carry them while on duty.

The improvements which the chief managed to make for his constables did not, however, result in greater stability.  It would appear that the majority of the constables had been hired more for their physical abilities than for their mental capability.  Conflicts arose between the police and some citizens, and between the constables and their chief.  McDermott was also prone to cursing in public places, contrary to a city bylaw.  As a result of one particular public occasion, he was censured by the police committee.  McDermott resigned, and refused to rescind his resignation even though the committee attempted to convince him to retain his position.

McDermott’s replacement, Arthur Edward Danby, had been his assistant constable.  Born in England on October 11th 1871, Danby had joined the Rotherham County borough police force at the age of 18.  He rose to the position of chief constable, Bedford borough, but resigned from that position in 1909 before moving to Canada.  Danby was a member of the CPR railway police in Montreal before joining the local police as the assistant constable, bringing with him training from Scotland Yard in the use of fingerprinting, as well as knowledge of criminal law and magisterial procedure.

Like his predecessors, Danby took the members of the police committee on a tour of the police facilities, pointing out how inappropriate they were.  Either he was far more persuasive than the previous chiefs, or the members of the police committee were more willing to listen.  Immediate plans were made for a new station, and by 1913 the police service was fully moved into the new building, a building for which the architect won a national award for its excellence of design.

It was a three-story building, with police offices and cells on the main floor.  Above was the magistrate’s court and an apartment for the police chief.  The upper floor was initially used as barracks for the constables, although in later years it too became apartments.

Danby must have considered himself fortunate to have been able to have managed to have a purpose-built police station constructed.  His timing could not have been better.  The council of the new city was in the midst of a boom period, and anxious to show the outside world just how progressive and modern a community Prince Albert had become.  But the expenditures entailed, including the construction of its new fire hall and police station, were soon to pale in light of the money poured into the construction of the La Colle Falls dam.  How unaware Danby was of the effect that that project would have on the stability of the police service.  But that would not be for a few years yet.

In the meantime, the usual complaints filed by those who felt the police were unfairly targeting them led to what was considered by the police and the police committee to be a smear campaign.  Ultimately, it led to the establishment of a judicial enquiry into the police service and its chief.  Although numerous allegations were brought forward, each was found by the appointed judge to be completely without foundation.  When the enquiry did not result in the action expected by the malcontents, a petition demanding the chief’s resignation was circulated.  However, a further petition supportive of the chief and the police service appeared to have considerably more backing.  The politicians of the day maintained the status quo.

It was not until 1917 that the fall-out from the city’s extravagance really impacted the police service.  City Council passed a motion on October 15th of that year which would result in the dismissal of all members of the force effective December 31st.  Based on support from the community, council rescinded the motion on December 28th

The financial pressures facing the city did not, however, disappear.  As a result, by 1918 the force was reduced to six members, including the chief.  The manpower level was not increased until 1920, when two additional constables were approved.  Another constable was added in 1921, but in 1922 Danby was denied any further manpower.

By October of 1923 the force consisted of seven persons, including the chief.  The police committee, feeling the financial pressures of the city, decided that one constable would have to be released from employment, but transferred the licence inspector back to the force as a constable.  This resulted in Danby having to resume duties as the licence inspector.  Danby felt overwhelmed by the situation and submitted his resignation effective January 31st, 1924.  The city could not afford to hire a new chief, and the police service was made the responsibility of the sergeant, who resigned his position on February 13th.  A constable was then given the responsibility of managing the community’s policing, but this arrangement lasted only until February 28th.  Effective March 1st, 1924, the Saskatchewan Police Force assumed responsibility for the policing of Prince Albert.

Two constables of the Prince Albert police service were transferred to the supervision of the Provincial Police, although they were still paid for by the city.  A third constable was transferred to the position of licence inspector, and returned to working out of City Hall.  The city’s police vehicle was rented to the provincial force.

The Saskatchewan Police Force was already headquartered in the former Prince Albert Club on 12th Street West.  As a result, the purpose-built police station now housed the Prince Albert Board of Trade, the Agricultural Society, and the city’s Health Department.  Hugh Sibbald and F. Lawrence occupied the apartments on the upper floors.  By 1929, the building had become known as City Park Apartments, still home to Sibbald but also to Stanley Sinclair and W.L. Loomis.  By 1932, it had returned to use as the Prince Albert Police office, and the Juvenile Court, but still housed the Agricultural Society and the Board of Trade, as well as the Saskatchewan Motor Club, the Keewatin Club, and two apartments.  Even into the 1940s, long after the policing of Prince Albert had once again become the responsibility of the city force, the building retained the title City Park Apartments.

The Saskatchewan Provincial Police remained responsible for enforcing the law in the city until they were disbanded in 1929, at which time the RCMP assumed responsibility until such time as the city could reorganise and fund its police service.  This reorganisation was completed by mid-March of 1929 when Frank Leslie assumed the role of Chief of Police.

If you are interested in further information about the Prince Albert Police Service, I invite you to visit the Rotary Museum of Police and Corrections.  That museum, as well as the other local museums, are now open for the summer.  We have incorporated all of the requirements of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, so you can safely visit any of the museums between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. any day of the week between now and the end of August.  We look forward to seeing you!