TORONTO POLICE IN 1859 -1875
Militarization of the Constables
When Toronto City Council had
finally admitted to the failings of the Toronto Police several years earlier
in 1855, it found that one of the principal problems was the ability and
experience of the Chief of Police Samuel Sherwood:
The Committee are not aware
that any change or want of zeal or activity in the discharge of his duties
(so far as he acquainted with it) has ever been established against the
Chief of Police but there can be no doubt that he has not that authority
over his men or that degree of experience which is absolutely essential to
enable him to enforce a proper system of order and discipline.
City’s committee on the Circus Riot had recommended in 1855 that the
London Police be approached for a candidate from that force to take charge
in Toronto. But when it
came to hire a Chief for the new force in 1859, Toronto instead chose
a military officer and not an experience police officer from the London
Police. The new Police Chief
was William Stratton Prince, a former Captain of the 71st
Highland Light Infantry. There
is a remarkable paucity of biographical detail on Prince and detail on how
his candidacy and appointment unfolded.
His regimental history, however, hints at the qualifications that
Prince brought to the job.
The 71st Highland Light
Infantry was first formed in Glasgow in 1758 and was for the next century
one of Britain’s most battle hardened regiments.
It fought in America during the War of Independence. The regiment
served under Lord Cornwallis in the Carolinas and Virginia, and was included
in the surrender at Yorktown, 17th October, 1781; 1782-83 it fought in
Southern India; Fought at Conjeveram, Porto Novo, Sholinghur, Vellore,
Cuddalore, and Arcot; 1790-1
campaigns against Tippoo Sahib, siege of Pondicherry, Bangalore, Seringapatam; 1805-06
assault landing at the Cape of Good Hope and the battle of Blauberg;
1806-07 assault and capture of Buenos Aires;
1808-09 First Peninsular Campaigns; 1809 Walcharen Expedition;
1810-14 Second Peninsular Campaigns; 1815 at Waterloo took part in breaking
the last charge of Napoleon’s Old Guard;
Army of Occupation, France 1815-17 : England and Ireland 1818-23 :
Canada 1824-30 : Bermuda 1831-33 : Scotland and Ireland 1834-37: Canada,
suppressing rebellion and preventing American infiltration attempts 1838-42
: West Indies 1843-46 : England, Scotland and Ireland 1847-52 : Corfu
William Stratton Prince was the son of Colonel John Prince, who
commanded the forces engaging the rebels at Windsor in 1838, where he
summarily shot rebel prisoners captured there.
If Toronto was more concerned about rebellion and disorder than crime
fighting, then certainly they had a new Police Chief with rebel-fighting
both in his blood and his regimental history.
(See more on William
Stratton Prince on the next
appears that upon closer consideration, London was not an appropriate model
for the Toronto Board of Police Commissioner’s plans for the Toronto
Police. London’s problems and size in 1859 were not comparable to
the situation in which Toronto was developing.
US police forces were more appropriate to the task, and several were
studied, including those in New York, Boston, Albany, and Portland, from
which Boston was finally chosen as the best example applicable to Toronto
for the systemic regulations of police patrols.
The Police Commissioners reported,
“Those of the Boston system
seems the most applicable to the city of Toronto, and that system has
the reputation of being the best and most effective of all the cities in the
The number of constables was
fixed at sixty, being “something under one policeman to each 800
inhabitants, which, as compared with populations, is a less number of
policement [sic] to a given population than the average number in the cities
of the United States to which a reference has been made, while in the city
of London, England, there are 6000 policemen in a population of 2 million,
being one police man to every 333 inhabitants.”
The Commissioners, “found, whenever there is a mixed population and
a good deal of intercourse by travel, that one policeman to about eight
hundred of the population is thought to be necessary.”
The Board also reported,
“In the opinion of the Commissioners no division of labour which
provides less than three changes or reliefs in every 24 hours can be
accomplished without greatly endangering the efficiency as well as the
health and life of the police forces.”
Toronto finally had a municipal night watch.
It was decided to dismiss the entire
police force: “The Commissioners resolved as a first, and the least
invidious step, to dissolve the existing force altogether, and to appoint or
re-appoint to the new force such persons only as after a close examination
should prove qualified to discharge the police duties, giving the preference
in anything like equal qualifications to the members of the old force.”
As previously pointed out, only half
of the old Toronto Police Force were rehired and most were post-Circus Riot
recruits, hired under Toronto’s unilateral board of commissioner
“experiment” of 1857-58 prior to the Province’s amendment of the
Fifty-eight constables were actually hired, of which 5 were
Presbyterian, 8 Roman Catholic including one of the three Sergeant-Majors,
while the remaining 45 were Anglican Episcopalians.
At least forty-two constables were Irish, but the nominal and
descriptive roll is illegible in portions and a final tally is difficult to
determine. (The slightly modified force of the following year shows
forty-four Irish constables in a force of 56.)
Eight had served in the military, while 19 served on other British
police forces, the majority in the Irish Constabulary.
The propensity was to hire constable from outside the community of
HERE FOR THE NOMINAL AND DESCRIPTIVE ROLL OF CONSTABLES ON THE TORONTO
POLICE FORCE IN 1860
This distancing of Toronto police
officers from the inhabitants of the city characterized the new constabulary
from the first order issued by the new Chief of Police on February 10,
No. 1 Police when on their Beat are on no account to loiter or
enter into conversation with passengers in the streets. Should any one address them by asking a question with regards
to the locality of any place they will give what information they may have
in their power as short as possible, and resume their patrol.
Subsequent orders further delineated
the distance Toronto Police officers were to keep from the citizenry:
The men of the Force are given to understand that they
are not permitted to lodge at hotels on any account whatever. Constables must have their own private lodgings and on no
account be seen lounging and talking about bar rooms and public houses.
It will be the duty of the non-commissioned officer to
see that their men reside at the houses of respectable parties.
New appointments will also report personally to the Chief the name of
the parties they board with and the street and number of the house.
The Force are again reminded that residence in saloons and public
houses will not be permitted.
Chief exerted strict control over virtually every aspect of the police
officer's lives. Unmarried
officers were housed in special barracks and those wanting to marry, had to
get approval from the Chief to do so and for their subsequent place of
residence which was restricted to "respectable areas" of the city.
Even how officers ate, was a matter of concern for Chief Prince:
The Chief Constable requests the Constables on taking
their meals will be respectfully dressed or, he will issue an order to
enforce it, he trusts that the majority of the constables out of respect for
themselves and what is due to the respectability of the Force, will report
to the Chief Constable any constable guilty of an act of gross indecency of
this kind, as sitting down with his coat off as conduct of this kind is
nothing more or less than a disgrace to the force and will be treated as
The constables did not take Chief
Prince’s military discipline lightly, even though many had previous
military experience. In 1872
Prince introduced ‘beat cards’ which scheduled minute by minute
where constables were to be on their beat.
The Toronto Police officers threatened to go on strike if Prince and
two sergeants did not resign and the ‘beat card’ system was not
abandoned. The Board of
Commissioners responded by firing the entire force, and when defeated
constables began to trickle in requesting their jobs back, sixteen of them
were not rehired.
In an era when organized labour strikes were rare, it is remarkable
to see the Toronto Police among those attempting to take labour action.
(The Toronto Police would strike again in 1918.)
with their desirable character traits, Toronto’s constables were assigned
a social class category. The
Toronto police officer, in the estimation of Chief William Prince:
be in the prime of manhood, mentally and bodily; shrewd, intelligent and
possessed of a good English education; trustworthy, truthful, and of a
general good character, in order to command a moral as well as an official
influence over those among whom he may be required to act, and subject to
the most rigid discipline; he should, in fact, be a man above the class of
labourers and equal, if not superior, to the most responsible class of
The Toronto Police were thoroughly
imbued with military discipline:
The position of "attention" that position which
the officers and constables will present at all times in addressing the
Bench, and in giving evidence and indeed at all times on being questioned on
points of duty, is as follows: The
heels must be in a line and closed -- the knees straight -- the toes turned
out so that the feet may form an angle of 60 degrees -- the arms hanging
straight down for the shoulders -- the elbows turned in and close to the
sides -- the thumb kept close to the forefinger -- the Head to be bent and
in giving evidence the body, arms and hands to be perfectly steady -- in
fact -- exactly the same
position as a soldier in the Ranks or parade addressing his Officer.
Individually Toronto Police
officers were expected to perform their duties with moderation in their use
In the arrest of criminals and disorderly characters,
drunkards, especially the latter, men are cautioned against the unnecessary
use of the baton when persuasion and a little patience on the part of the
policeman would suppress all violence on the part of those arrested.
This was strictly enforced when a
constable was suspended for giving a prostitute on his beat a kick:
P.C. Taylor was suspended and brought before the
commissioners of police to answer to a complaint preferred against him for
having wantonly used violence to a woman of bad character in Church Street
by giving her a kick. The
commissioners find the complaint is correct and caution the said constable
to be more careful for the future. Violence
is not on any account to be used except in self defense or in prisoners
resisting - and it is absurd to a degree that constables should loose all
control over their tempers on being abused by a drunken woman.
Constables are supposed to be above caring for abuse from persons of
Toronto Police officers were urged towards moderating the use of force in
the performance of their individual duties, they were drilled incessantly in
the use of highly lethal collective force.
Drill took place three times a week and infantry manuals were
distributed to the Sergeant Majors who were expected to drill the constables
in battlefield maneuvers.
The nature of these drills are vividly outlined in this extract of
Chief Prince’s complex orders for the procedure of clearing streets by the
use of highly concentrated and coordinated rifle fire:
The following is the order in which street firing is
conducted, and in order that men should have a theoretical knowledge of the
same as well as practical, the following is a description of the drill with
regard to clearing streets.
The company being in column of subdivisions -- the
commander of the leading subdivision will give the word, "Right (or
left) Subdivision" "Ready" "Present"
"Shoulder Arms" "Four
Deep" and remain steady. The commander of the rear subdivision at the same time giving
the following words of command "Rear
Deep" "by the left,
Quick March." The
subdivision will then advance passing through the opening of fours of the
Front subdivision and when advanced 20 paces will halt.
The commander of the right subdivision will immediately on the left
passing through it, give the word of command, "Front" "Load" then "Shoulder Arms"
"by the left, Quick March” whilst the commander of the then
leading subdivision immediately on the rear one receiving the word Quick
March, will give the word of command, "left Subdivision"
"Shoulder Arms" "Four
deep" -- and the right subdivision forming four deep advancing, will
proceed through the left halting at 20 paces in front, the rear subdivision
at the same time loading as before directed, and thus the subdivisions will
advance and fire alternately.
skirmishing drill, prepared specially also for the Toronto Police Force,
is peculiarly a Police drill. The
expeditious movement of sections or small detachments in close or
extended order from point to point with the fewest possible words of
command is the object sought to be attained.
A section or any portion of a company can be extended or moved to
cover a given point almost instantaneously on a single word of command,
and as readily reformed, without any regard to the position occupied by
the front or rear ranks. All
movements are executed on the double, and have been studied out with a
view to a more speedy and effectual suppression or riots and street
the Irish Catholic population was already singled out as a threat within the
city by virtue of their home history, poverty, ethnicity, and unskilled
labour status, the Fenian Raids and D'Arcy McGee’s assassination in
Ottawa, further cast aspersions on the Irish Catholics and positioned them
as targets of police attention. The
mostly Protestant Toronto constables were often accused of acting with
prejudicial hostility towards Irish Catholics.
But in 1875 during huge Catholic processions in Toronto which
came under attack by armed Orange mobs, the Toronto Police distinguished
themselves not only in their defense of the Catholics, but also for the
coolness in the face of the mobs. Despite
numerous handgun shots and thrown rocks, the police did not return fire and
several constables sustained injuries protecting the Catholic procession.
The archdioceses conducted a large cash collection on behalf of the
constables in gratitude, and the issue of systemic Toronto Police hostility
towards Irish Catholics was put to rest that year.
When in 1878, American Fenian O’Donovan Rossa visited Toronto to
speak at St. Patrick’s Hall, Toronto Police efficiently and coolly
protected him from angry Orange mobs.
In the future, the potential military might of the Toronto Police was
increasingly directed towards threats from labour unions, as it was against
workers during the Street Railway Company Strike in 1886.
Orange vs. Green clashes in the streets diminished, the Toronto Police were
still not about to be deployed as the proactive anti-crime force we
associate with municipal policing today.
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