This article is an overview of the development of policing in the Maritime provinces and a commentary on the potential of such research to augment our understanding of the urban past. Police records, it is argued, are important social indicators which can reveal more than crime or fear of crime in a community. The article discusses police records and statistics; 19th century urban policing; early 20th century themes such as technology and Prohibition; the role of the Provincial police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the region; police and labour and police organizations. It concludes that researchers should be sensitive to both 'hard' and 'soft' police policies and pay special attention to the police service role.
L'auteur presente une vue d'ensemble du developpement de la police dans les provinces maritimes en meme temps qu'un commentaire sur l'utilite du type de recherche qu'il mene pour la comprehension de l'histoire urbaine. Selon lui, les archives de police contiennent des renseignements sur la societe qui vont bien au dela des donnees sur le crime ou sur la peur du crime. Il analyse les archives et les statistiques de la police: l'activite policiere en milieu urbain au XIXe siecle; certains themes qui surgissent au debut du XXe siecle, comme la technologie et la prohibition; le role de la police provinciale et de la Gendarmerie royale du Canada dans la region etudiee; les rapports entre la police et les syndicats, et les organisations policieres. Il conclut que les chercheurs devraient s'interesser a tous les aspects de la mission et du travail de la police, et en particulier a sa fonction de service a la population.
Law enforcement has a long history in the Maritime provinces, but academics have turned to the subject only recently. In this case the region does not lag behind-the history of policing and criminal justice in general, rich areas for social and urban historians, have not received much attention nationally. This paper, drawing on examples from the Maritime provinces, argues that an examination of police history is essential for understanding the urban, and rural, past. What follows is not a history of policing in the region but an overview and commentary on the potential scholarly contributions of such research. The majority of the population generated few records of its own, thus historians must consult the records of institutions--the courts, prisons, hospitals, churches, schools and charities--and the local press. Institutional documentation can suggest not only the concerns and attitudes of officials, but also the social relationships between different segments in society. As legally coercive institutions that meet social problems face to face, and maintain a system of records, police departments are a useful historical tool. The reconstruction of police organization and work can provide important insights into the power relations, social mores and urban culture of the past. (1)
In the past two decades, a number of historians and social scientists have written on the history of Canadian policing. With the exception of R.C. MacLeod's study of the early North-West Mounted Police, few monographs display a critical spirit. Official or 'in-house' histories are generally anecdotal and lacking context, but they contain useful information. (2) Dahn Higley's recent history of the Ontario Provincial Police is a welcome improvement over most commemorative works and the vast majority of books on the RCMR Peter McGahan's Crime and Policing in Maritime Canada, largely a reproduction of nineteenth and twentieth century urban police records, shows the diversity and complexity of the evolving police function. (3) Municipal police history is a relatively new field. In the United States the urban biography approach has been popular since the publication of Roger Lane's Policing the City: Boston, 1822-1855 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967). In keeping with the methodology of social history, the most common Canadian approach has been the case study, the examination of specific police departments or themes in certain eras. To date articles of this type have appeared on Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Saint John and Charlottetown. (4) In addition, there are a number of books and articles on other criminal justice topics, such as the lower courts and prostitution, and on other areas of social history that are relevant to police history (in particular, working class history). (5)
The social history categories that intersect with police history are numerous, but three are of special mention for Canadian research: social class, ethnicity and religion, and the service/regulatory nature of policing. As a social institution, the police have reflected the complexities and ambiguities of society--it would be poor scholarship to group all their actions as the enforcement of class-based justice and mores. A rosy view of the police, a la Andy of Mayberry, would likewise be misguided. Many social historians in the 1970s and 1980s developed a form of tunnel vision, viewing education, charity, and other institutions as plots against the working class. Legal scholars should tread carefully into this territory, but two questions should be pursued: what was the police role in class relations and where were the police in the class system?
Ethnicity and religion, like social class, are important analytical categories for nineteenth and early twentieth century Canadian society. At present, large metropolitan police departments are under fire for poor relations with and insufficient recruitment of racial minorities. The Metropolitan Toronto Police was not headed by a Roman Catholic police chief until 1989. This was not a coincidence. Historically departments in English Canada were dominated by Protestants (many of them Orangemen or Masons) and a large proportion of the arrested were Catholics. Of course ethnicity, religion and class tended to overlap, as in the case of the Irish Catholics who filled Saint John's nineteenth century police court. Police appointments reflected local politics, which often were related to sectarian loyalties. Where Catholics and Protestants were roughly equal in number, as in Charlottetown, the patronage was shared. (6)
Administrative overviews, accounts of scandals, corruption, dramatic incidents and colourful characters have their place in police historiography, but one of the most important areas of inquiry is the social role of the police. What, above all, did they do on a day-to-day basis? Not only is this area often undramatic, it can be exceedingly difficult to research, as police records cannot always be taken at face value. The urban police came to fill a service and welfare role, much of it unanticipated. Bylaws were enforced, family disputes settled, lost children returned to parents, stolen property recovered and defective street lights counted. Transients were housed overnight in the police stations. Discounting the largest category of charges, drunkenness, the police recorded relatively little criminal activity. The institution's symbolic presence and service function, not its crime-fighting capacities, were its most important attributes, something that legal scholars should appreciate. (7)
Institutional records present a number of interpretive and methodological problems. The main published source for researchers is the annual report of the police department, usually prepared by the police chief, sometimes by town clerks or magistrates. Basic primary sources, if extant, include books or registers covering occurrences (incidents or persons encountered on patrol or responding to a call) charges (arrests and summonses), personnel (duty rosters, pay and personnel information) and equipment. These can be supplemented by the records of magistrates' courts, jails and prisons. When the researcher encounters a large body of detailed documentation, it is tempting to exaggerate the activity and influence of an institution. As a bureaucracy grows, the amount of documentation it produces, much of it of a housekeeping nature, proliferates. The great bulk of police work, unfortunately, went unrecorded, particularly in the smaller centres. Until the post World War II years, most departments in the region had less than five men and the chief or marshall often held other positions such as tax collector, truant officer or health inspector. Municipal reports contain seemingly useless statistics on persons doing business without a license, stolen bicycles, unlocked doors, untagged dogs, encumbered sidewalks or the careless handling of dynamite. Most of this material is mundane or even eccentric but some of it can serve as social indicators. (8)
A good example of police documentation as a social history source are the recorded activities of the region's few policewomen (in 1947 they constituted less than 2% of the national total). Peter McGahan has published a 1960s Saint John policewoman's log; a similar document exists for Halifax policewoman May Virtue. The appearance of specialized records devoted to female deviance is an indicator of the moral reform and women's movements of the early twentieth century. (9)
Virtue's occurrence book for 1931-33 offers a fascinating glimpse at the underside of the city in the Depression years. Virtue did not make arrests, but acted as a police department moral and welfare officer in cases involving girls and women. She attempted to patch up domestic disputes, appeared in court with female prisoners and warned young women who appeared morally offensive. Some of the entries are laconic, but speak volumes in terms of the daily routine of the police department in certain areas of the city. They also shed light on women and the law, a research area that includes domestic violence and sexual assault:
Sept. 21, 1931. Called at 8 Elevator Court. Mrs. Lomas living with Art Hardiman. Warned this woman against keeping Hardiman in her house.
Sept. 28. Coleman Ricker complained that his daughter Gertrude is on the street; a warrant issued.
Sept. 29. In court with Annie Debay, wife of Milton, charge of Vagrancy. Annie is feeble minded. Served 3 months C.P.
Oct. 2. Called 23, 24, 26, 28 Grafton St., reported by Dept. Chief all these houses unfit for human habitation.
Dec. 4. Called 219 Market St. re girl going around with married man-he denies having anything to do with it.
Virtue's institutional connections were many and included the City Welfare Bureau, the Health Department, the Children's Aid Society, the Juvenile and Police Courts, the Truant Officer, the Nova Scotia Pension Board, the Coverdale Home for Girls, the City Home, the Salvation Army and Catholic orders …