TORONTO POLICE IN 1834 - 1860
"Formidable Engines of Oppression"
1834, when Toronto was incorporated officially as a city, most Torontonians
lived and worked between the Don River on the east, and Bathurst Street on
the west. The lake was a closer
to the city—the shoreline was where the Esplanade is today and Queen
Street on the north, was roughly where Toronto ended.
The population of Toronto at its founding was 9,200, and there were
78 licensed taverns, about 1 per every 120 men, women, and children residing
In other words, the city had not yet earned its reputation as the
puritan and sober, "Toronto the Good."
Street looking West from Jarvis circa 1845 -- oil painting by John Gillespie
Toronto was ostensibly racially homogeneous, composed of a common English,
Scottish and Irish ancestry, its population was nonetheless divided along
class, religious and ultimately ethnic lines.
Power and politics in colonial Upper Canada, was dominated by a
mostly English elite, consisting of representatives of the Crown, government
officials and clerks, doctors, architects, bankers, financial officers,
teachers, military officers and engineers.
Almost all the powerful English were Anglicans.
Where one prayed, often reflected how one earned his income.
The men who met each other in the boardrooms of the Bank of Upper
Canada, tended to worship together at the Church of St. James on the corners
of Church and King Streets.
the simplified model of Toronto’s ethnic composition, the Scottish come
next, often representing leading merchants, future manufactures, and
publishers—the middle classes of varying wealth
was the flood of Irish immigrants that was going to put a crack in the
placid Toronto status quo. The
Irish arrived bitterly divided amongst themselves into Protestant and
Catholic camps—and that was before the potato blight made its
contribution to the divisions and spilled millions of rural Irish immigrants
into the cities of North America.
to this volatile mixture in Toronto, would be the figure of the Orange Irish
it was first incorporated in 1834, the City of Toronto, referred to back
then as "the Corporation", was run as a small oligarchy of local
politicians—the Family Compact.
It was like a 'city-state' within the confines of Upper Canada,
almost in the Italian Renaissance-era tradition.
The Mayor and Toronto Aldermen, held the positions of Magistrates
along with their elected office and commanded the absolute personal loyalty
of the Toronto Police. In 1841,
a Provincial Commission of Inquiry into politics in Toronto, would report:
We have carefully perused the enactments under which the
City of Toronto was originally incorporated… and we find the power thereby
conferred on the Civil Magistrates, the very use of which by men of any
class, party, or persuasion, could hardly be other than an abuse. The Corporation combines within itself, Legislative, Judicial
and Executive functions. It
appoints its own officers, remunerates them at discretion, and discharges
them at will. It makes its own
by-laws, enforces the same by its own Police, and executes them through its
own tribunals... In all these
cases, the City Police or the City Officers appear to be so closely
identified with the Magistrates on the Bench, and the whole machinery of
justice so completely monopolized in the same hands, that it would be
impossible for the most immaculate body of men in the capacity of
Magistrates, to avoid imputations engendered by the doubts, the cavils, and
the want of confidence which such a system must infallibly entail.
City Council retained for itself the formidable power to hire Toronto police
officers. Each Alderman had the
right to appoint a number of constables in his ward, resulting in a police
force hired entirely through a system of political favours. The Toronto police force was partisan, corrupt, and inept.
There were no standards of recruitment and no training, and even
though uniforms were first issued in 1837, one contemporary recalled that
the Toronto Police was "without uniformity, except in one
respect—they were uniformly slovenly."
March 9, 1835, Toronto retained five fulltime constables—a ratio of about
one officer for every 1,850 citizens.
Their daily pay was set at 5 shillings for day duty and 7 shillings,
6 pence for night duty—a substantial raise to the 2/6 paid previously to
Constables were appointed for a duration of one year, coinciding with
the term of office of the alderman nominating them.
The constables’ annual pay was fixed at £75 per annum in 1837, a
lucrative City position when compared to the Toronto Mayor’s annual pay of
1837 there was a rebellion in Toronto led by the city’s former mayor,
William Lyon Mackenzie. There
are no historical records that reveal what role the Toronto Police played in
the suppression of the rebellion which was confronted by the militia while
Toronto’s garrison was dealing with events in Kingston.
Nonetheless, it is one of those historical paradoxes, that while the
rebellion has been unfairly and so far universally dismissed by historians
as a farcical comedic opera, its effect would resonate on politics and
Toronto police policy for more than a decade to come.
It would position the Toronto Police as a touchstone of the struggle
between the Provincial-Municipal jurisdictions over the security within the
confines of Toronto.
nature of this jurisdictional conflict became quickly visible when in
October 1838, a force of 500 rebels with American supporters launched an
incursion into Upper Canada at the Detroit-Windsor frontier.
The Lieutenant Governor, speaking for the Province, asked the Mayor
to convey a message to Toronto’s City Council that there was “an
imminent danger of an immediate invasion of this Province and an attack upon
this City by the Rebels and Pirates”.
The Mayor told the Council:
I am commanded by His Excellency the Lt Governor
to communicate to you that in consequence of information of a conspiracy
to invade this Province entered into by a numerous body of foreign
Brigands, His Excellency had thought it right to take immediate steps for
the protection of the City in anticipation of the employment and
organization of an adequate Militia force.
Aldermen rejected any Provincial role in organizing its citizens for the
defense of Toronto, and responded to the Province:
the opinion of this Council the most effective mode of seconding the views
of the Provincial Government in protecting the city from the consequences
of any attack which may be apprehended from the foreign Brigands alluded
to in the Communications from His Excellency the Lt Gov to the Mayor
yesterday date, will be to increase the strength of the Police force of
this City and that therefore ten extra police Constables be forthwith
appointed by this Council and that the City Magistrates immediately
prepare a code of instructions for the government and guidance of said
a kind of one-upmanship, the Province responded to the City directly,
offering to pay for an additional twelve constables in Toronto, but not
without first pointing out the inadequacies of the Toronto Police, and
advising the City that the Province via the Lieutenant Governor should
approve the new constables:
The Council [Provincial Executive] are fully aware
of the necessity which exists for an augmentation of the Police for the
City, which at present appears inadequate as well for the purpose of
discovering and defeating the machinations of the enemy without the active
intervention of the Military…
therefore respectfully recommend to your Excellency to communicate to the
Mayor of Toronto that should the City Council think fit to appoint twelve
additional Constables, to be employed for such period as Your Excellency
may deem necessary, Your Excellency will engage that the necessary
increased expenditure will be defrayed by the Government.
would feel pleased if the City Council previous to making the appointments
finally would communicate the names of the proposed constables for your
cagey alderman did not take long to both accept the offer while at the same
time bristling at and rejecting the Province’s attempt to regulate the
appointment of the constables. Toronto
Resolved that this
Council relying with every confidence upon the exertions of the Government
to protect the public peace and ensure the safety of this Province are
induced to believe that it is necessary that this City should be furnished
with a Police force greater than in ordinary times would be required.
The Council heartily approve
of the prompt manner in which the Government have offered to defray the
expenses of twelve additional Constables, but relying as they do upon the
zeal of the Mayor and Alderman of the City under any circumstances, while on
the one hand they express their thanks to the Government for their liberal
offer of Twelve additional Constables, which they accept, they conceive that
any change in the present system of Police regulations which would interfere
with the duties of the Mayor and Aldermen would be inexpedient as well as an
infringement of the Act of Incorporation.
Rebellion of 1837 and the subsequent incursion at Windsor in 1838, would
transform the Toronto City Police into a strategic objective in the struggle
between the Province and the Municipality.
Any “infringement of the Act of Incorporation” by the Province
was to be staunchly beaten back by the City for decades.
Furthermore, the Rebellion gave a context to the Toronto Police as a
defensive force against rebellious external enemies. Later, as we shall see, this function would be
refocused towards what were to be perceived as potentially rebellious forces
from within the community. Crime
fighting itself, was low on the agenda of perceived functions for the
principle political factions fought for power in Toronto during this time:
the Tories, who represented the entrenched old establishment, and the
Reformers, who represented the rising new middle class establishment.
Making things more complicated, was the growing presence of a
powerful secret society in Toronto: the
Orange Order, an ultra-Protestant movement born in the conquest of Ireland
and the ensuing conflict between Catholic and Protestant there. Its pro-England, proud trinity of crown, empire, and
Protestantism, provided its members an ideological tradition that was
reformulated in the context of local Toronto issues.
were at least twenty-six riots in Toronto between 1839 and 1860.
Almost all of these riots involved the Orange Order in some manner.
The Toronto Police constables, of which at least half were members of
the Order, and all of whom were appointed by mainly Orange supported
politicians, would act in not only in favour of the Orange factions in these
riots, but sometimes participated in the riots as offenders as well.
matters worse, incumbent Tory politicians were routinely using the Toronto
Police as a private army to suppress their opposition Reform candidates.
In October 1839, Toronto constables were marshaled to break up a
Reformist meeting at 'Davis's Temperance Tavern.'
In December 1840, the Reformist paper Examiner trumpeted,
“The reign of the present corporation is emphatically one of terror.”
A meeting of a Reformer candidate and supporters at a tavern on Yonge
Street was cancelled when Toronto constables, reinforced with “specials”
armed with clubs, occupied the tavern and dispersed the meeting.
In the following years, numerous legal political meetings and
Reformer rallies were violently broken up by the Toronto Police, on orders
from incumbent Aldermen. Toronto
Police constables would be personally transported in wagons by Tory aldermen
at the reins, and set loose to attack Reform candidate meetings.
The incumbent aldermen had personally nominated each of those Toronto
constables to his post.
was in March 1841, when election violence in Toronto would finally spark a
Provincial inquiry into the City and its police.
At that time, the Mayor and Chief Magistrate of Toronto was George
Monro, a wholesaler, a Tory pew holder at St. James Cathedral, a director in
several banks in Upper Canada, and a member of the Orange Order.
When Provincial elections were declared, Monro and a compatriot,
Henry Sherwood, ran on a Tory ticket for the Toronto seats in the new
Parliament. The weight of the
Orange Order and the Corporation city machinery was thrown in behind their
campaign. To everyone's
surprise however, they lost to the Reform ticket of Dunn and Buchanan.
day after the election, the Dunn-Buchanan faction decided to stage a victory
parade down Church Street, and past the defeated Mayor Monro's offices in
the City Hall which stood on King Street near Church at the time.
Near the corner of Church and King, was the Coleraine Tavern, which
during the election was kept as an 'open house' for Monro's faction.
Several Orange Order Lodges also held their weekly meetings in the
Coleraine. Witnesses testifying before the Provincial Commission stated
that they saw a group of strangers armed with knives, sticks, and various
firearms going in and out of the tavern on the morning of the parade.
The investigation later identified these men as members of the Orange
Order in Scarborough, brought over in a wagon that morning by the owner of
the tavern under the instructions of Samuel Sherwood, Henry’s brother.
(We will encounter Samuel again shortly.)
this was occurring some eighty yards away from Mayor Monro's office.
Several witnesses testified that they ran to Monro asking him to send
some constables to the parade route, and for him to go to the Coleraine and
calm his supporters down. Monro
refused and kept twelve of the twenty special constables hired that day,
positioned inside the City Hall. The
remaining eight were not to be seen anywhere.
the parade began to make its way past the Coleraine Tavern it was attacked
by rocks and bottles thrown by Monro supporters from inside. Eventually the parade halted and began to threaten to attack
the tavern. At that point, a
shot was fired from a tavern window, and one of the Dunn-Buchanan supporters
was killed. Troops were called
out to restore order while the murderer was never identified and the Toronto
Police remained conspicuously absent. Charles
Dickens who was visiting Toronto during this period later wrote of the
One man was killed on the same occasion and from the very
window whence he received his death, the very flag which shielded his
murderer (not only in the commission of his crime, but from its
consequences), was displayed again on the occasion of the public ceremony
performed by the Governor General, to which I have just adverted.
Of all the colours in the rainbow, there is but one which could be
so employed: I need not say
that the flag was orange.
their report later that year, the Provincial Commission investigating the
events and the administration of Toronto began by highly criticizing the
efficiency in general of the Toronto Police:
The City of Toronto possesses no Night Watch.
The necessity for such an institution is obvious.
Within the last 3 weeks, one burglary and robbery to the amount of
1000 pounds has been committed. This
burglary was effected in a house immediately opposite to the Police
Office, and an iron chest containing the money, removed without
observation or subsequent detection.
defense of the Corporation, Charles Daly, the Clerk of the Peace, responded
to the accusations. He
proceeded to point out that fighting crime was not the main function of the
It is not their duty as Constables to detect infractions
of the Provincial or Civic Laws, or to lay information on breaches of the
same. If they witnessed any
such infraction, they would be duty bound to mention it to the Magistrates. There is no summary punishment under the Law for resisting
the Police in the execution of their duty.
There is no Night Watch beyond the two Police Constables on duty
during the night. They are
appointed by the Corporation and removed by the same body at pleasure. I consider the present Police force adequate for the daily
protection and peace of the City; but as far as the prevention of crime and
security of property is concerned, I think it be increased with advantage at
night. If the increase is made
at all to be effective, it must be extensive.
I doubt if the increase would be agreeable to the citizens or if they
would consider it repaid by the security conferred.
Provincial Commissioners focused on the system where city aldermen appointed
police constables in Toronto. In
view of massive testimony about Toronto Police constables attacking
opposition party events and workers, and their conspicuous absence during
the violence at the Coleraine Tavern, the Inquiry concluded:
It is evident that a force thus constituted must be
liable, in times of political excitement, to be employed as political
instruments in behalf of those to whom the Corporation or a majority of
the Corporation may be friendly. The
authority legally invested in these men, their habitual intercourse with
the lower classes, the impression that they possess the ear of their
employers, the favouritism they may be enabled to suggest, the petty and
indirect tyranny they may be permitted to exercise, all combine to degrade
a force of this nature into formidable engines of oppression.
Commission further focused on a method of coercion more subtle than the
policeman's baton: liquor
licensing. By the time of the
1841 Inquiry, the number of taverns in Toronto licensed to sell liquor or beer
was 140; one tavern for every fifty-two Torontonians over the age of sixteen.
The administration of liquor licensing was one of the duties of the
Toronto Police. Those
tavern owners, who did not cooperate with the Tory politicians, soon found
that their liquor licenses were not renewed upon expiry.
Mixed into this formula, were also all the 'beer dispensing'
licenses, and unlicensed facilities, which the constables would see fit to
handle at their "discretion."
Making matters even worse, some liquor licenses were held by
witnesses testified how their establishments were denied liquor licenses or
had their licenses revoked when they failed to support the Tory party.
The Inquiry concluded:
The power of licensing or rather of deciding upon the
qualifications of applicants for licenses--a power in the discreet and
uncompromising exercise of which so much of public morality and good order
depends, will and must be inevitably abused if entrusted, to the caprice
of an elective Magistracy. It
will be prostituted to seduce the wavering, to reward the compliant, to
punish the refractory. The
influence exercised by Tavernkeepers at public elections, is notorious,
and we feel that the means which the existing Corporation have employed
for securing or coercing this influence are sufficient to justify the
taverns were the central focus of vote gathering power.
Dispensing intoxicants and gathering together a consensus, a tavern
in 19th century Toronto, was as powerful a political tool, as television is
today. It is for this
reason, that the Reform movement took an anti-alcohol stance in its early
political platform. By breaking the tavern-based vote-focusing machinery of
the Tories, the Reform movement hoped to seize power for itself in future
elections. However, once the
Reformers aligned themselves with the religious Temperance movement in their
bid for power, they found themselves permanently locked into an anti-alcohol
platform on moral grounds, rather than political or strategic.
It is in these events, that we find the roots of today’s stringent
liquor laws in Ontario and the foundation of the future puritanical
Toronto the Good.
towards the "Coffin Block" at Front and Church Streets along the
shoreline, circa 1845. (top)
Building seen in sketch still surviving to be photographed in 1873. (above
Current "Flatiron Building" built in 1891 on the same site.
the Provincial Commission turned its attention to the Orange Order in its
The officers of the Corporation and the Police, are for
the most part open and avowed Orangemen.
Orangeism has become the watchword and symbol of the party which
supports the Corporation, and the most efficient if not the
indespensable recommendation to civic favour or employ.
At the late Election, Orangeism was the Shibboleth of the
Corporation party. At the
riots which ensued, Orangemen systematically brought into the City from
the surrounding country were the most conspicuous actors...
therefore, conclude this Report, without expressing our earnest
conviction, that the existence of Orangeism in this Province, is a great
and growing evil, which should be discountenanced, denounced, and
repressed, by the exercise of every authority and influence at the
disposal of the Government.
the report was published, Ontario quickly introduced legislation attempting
to suppress the power of the Orange Order and regulate electoral conduct.
During elections the exhibiting of party flags and colours was
outlawed, as was election bribery and the carrying of firearms.
In 1843 the Parliament further introduced the Party Processions Act
and the Secret Societies Act, which was aimed at suppressing the Orange
(The latter was disallowed by Britain as the Act failed to
distinguish the Orange Order from another even more influential but less
vitriolic secret society, the Order of Free and Accepted Masons.)
But there was nobody to enforce these Acts.
Certainly not the Toronto Police, for as Charles Daly testified
above, it was “not their duty as Constables to detect infractions of the
Provincial or Civic Laws, or to lay information on breaches of the same.”
1843 City Council increased Toronto’s police strength to eight
permanent constables. Two
stations were established where a constable was kept on duty from 8 a.m. to
2 a.m. the next morning. The
other constables patrolled in nine hour shifts but no night watch was
specter of the 1837 Rebellion reappeared again in Toronto in 1849 with the
introduction of the Rebellion Losses Bill and the return to the city of
William Lyon Mackenzie. Rioting
ensued and the homes of prominent Reformers were attacked, although the mobs
stopped short of burning them down. (In
Montreal the Parliament building were set on fire.)
Once again, the Toronto Police were conspicuously absent while at
least two Tory Aldermen led the rioters.
Mayor George Gurnett eventually called out the troops to restore
order, for which he would be severely criticized by the Toronto City
1849 it was approaching ten years since the Election Commission Report, but
little was done to remedy the relationship between Toronto’s aldermen and
the city’s police constables. The
Provincial government was moving very gradually in dismantling Toronto’s
city-state administration. In 1849 it introduced the New Municipal
Corporations Act, which placed Toronto’s local criminal judiciary—the
Police Magistrate’s Court—under the control and pay of the Province.
But the Province timidly appointed Toronto’s Mayor, George Gurnett
to that position.
the Province’s ambitions, the fact remained that Toronto was a key source
of electoral power in the Provincial Parliament and throughout the 1840s and
most of 1850s, Toronto elected Tory, not Reform candidates to the
Legislative Assembly. The
Province hesitated to force reform on the Toronto Police system, despite the
continual abuses. In 1852,
matters only became worse: the
City appointed Samuel Sherwood as Chief of Police.
Samuel was the brother of Henry Sherwood, whose defeat along with
Monro had sparked the 1841 election riot.
Samuel Sherwood had been implicated during the Provincial inquiry in
the organizing of the armed group inside the Coleraine Tavern which opened
fire on the passing victory parade.
Now in 1852 Sherwood was rewarded with the position of Police Chief of
Toronto, an appointment he would hold until 1859.
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