Kingston Police

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A Police Force Is Born

Throughout the early part of the nineteenth century, Britain struggled with ways in which to govern its Canadian colonies, just as communities within the colonies struggled with the form of government under which they would exist.  In 1838, Kingston was incorporated as a town with four wards.  The Town Council was composed of four aldermen and four common councillors.  The Mayor was chosen by the Common Council, which also had the power to appoint the High Bailiff. 

The Union Act, 1840, which took effect on February 10, 1841, united Upper and Lower Canada into the Province of Canada and, for a period, changed the fortunes of Kingston.  When Kingston was designated as the capital of the united Province of Canada, the population of the town grew rapidly, and construction of a grand Town Hall was begun.  In that year, the Town Council also had great concern over the level of crime and the efficiency of the constable system to deal properly with soldiers, sailors, boatmen, and the growing number of transients and immigrants.  In September 1841, a Report of the Grand Jury on the State of the Gaol urged the Mayor and Common Council to rectify the “unprotected condition of the Town of Kingston in regard to its police and afford the necessary security of the inhabitants.”  The Council resolved to establish a permanent paid police force.

Initially, the force was to be created on a trial basis for six months, beginning November 1, 1841; an advertisement placed in the Chronicle and Gazette on October 20, 1841, stated:

Notice is here by given, that application will be received at this Office until 7 o’clock on Monday Evening next, the 25th of Oct. instant, from such persons as are desirous to fill the situation of SUBCONSTABLE in the NEW POLICE FORCE authorized to be established by the Common Council, from the 1st day of November next to the 1st day of May 1842.  There are to be four SubConstables with a salary of £60 per annum each, and a suit of uniform at the disposal of the council.  The police force to be commanded by the High Bailiff of the Town.  The form of application will be by petition accompanied by certificates of character, recommendations, etc.

By order of the Mayor and Common Council.

On December 20, 1841, the Common Council of Kingston moved to make the force permanent and passed “An Act to establish a Police Force in the Town of Kingston,” which stated in part:

Whereas from the great increase in the trade and population of Kingston, and for the preservation of good order and the public morals therein, it has become necessary to make further provision for the Police thereof.

The first force consisted of a High Bailiff / Chief Constable, Samuel Shaw, and four subconstables:  James Brophy, John Chace, John Paisley, and John Lambert.  Since there were no suitable quarters available for the new force, the Midland District allowed it space in the Court House and Gaol located at the corner of King Street and Clarence Street.

It is interesting to note that the Town of Kingston was experiencing some financial problems at that time in attempting to cope with expansion.  The new police force, only a few months old, was referenced in a letter sent from the Common Council on April 12, 1842, to several insurance companies in Kingston.  In this letter, which sought financial assistance from the companies to expand Kingston’s “Fire Companies,” Council pointed out that:

Council . . . established a Constabulary Police Force at very considerable expense who have already been found efficient in giving an early alarm in cases of fire, and who from constant observation they are making in all parts of the town, can make a report of any combustible materials . . . likely to promote or communicate fire.

The court records of the day indicate that the small force was kept busy in pursuits other than watching for fires, including such infractions as pigs at large, dumping refuse on the market, drunkenness, and disorderly conduct.  It would also appear from these records that there was a noticeable rise in arrests for being drunk and disorderly after the new force came into being.  In the court records, the accused were often described as being so drunk that the constable had to “hire a cart” to bring the person to the Station House.  Dealing with the drunk and disorderly must have been a sizable task for the five-man force, considering that in 1842 there were 136 licensed taverns in Kingston and its suburbs, serving a community of approximately 8,000 to 9,000 inhabitants.  In the early 1840s, a Select Committee investigated the problem and reported that, on one street, over a distance of 180 yards there were “no less than thirteen licensed tavern or drinking houses, four of which adjoined each other” (City of Kingston, Report Book 1842–46).  These taverns and drinking houses served as meeting places for the working class and poor of the community, providing companionship and amenities not available at home.  The sale and consumption of liquor in Kingston must have been a difficult problem for the Council to address:  it was reported in the British Whig on March 3, 1854, that the sale of liquor licences in 1853 accounted for over 10 percent of the city’s total revenue, giving Council a vested interest in the consumption of alcohol.

As 1844 dawned, times began to change in Kingston.  The seat of government was removed from Kingston, and property values dropped as a result.  The substantial debt incurred in building the Town Hall was not being met.  As a cost-cutting move, Council decided to abolish the police force, which by this time had grown to six subconstables.  In a letter dated April 9, 1844, to Chief of Police Samuel Shaw, the Clerk stated:

I am directed by the Common Council to inform you that they have come to the resolution to do away with the Police Force, from and after the first day of May, and you will please, therefore, inform each of the SubConstables that their services will not be required after that period.

This position apparently was reconsidered quickly, and it was decided instead to reduce the size of the force and to decrease wages from £60 to £40.  Another letter was sent to Chief Shaw on May 2, 1844, which stated:

that the Common Council at their meeting, on the 29th ultimo, resolved that the Police force should be reduced to four subconstables at £40 each per annum and clothing from the 1st instant[,] SubConstables John Paisly and Isaiah McCandle being discharged from the 30th. . . .

Because of this reduction, the Clerk of the Peace was informed that constables would no longer be attending the courts, a service apparently provided by the force.

The plans for the new Town Hall included space for the police force.  The force moved into its new quarters in the basement of the Town Hall when it opened on November 21, 1844, and the Police Court was also held in the Town Hall basement.  The force’s accommodation consisted of one large day room and four cells, and these cells still exist today.  In commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the Kingston Police in 2016, renovations to preserve and restore these original police holding cells were completed so that areas around the lockup could provide historical context through an accessible modern gallery showcasing some of the heritage collection belonging to the Kingston Police.