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History & Museum >Historical Stories


Historical Stories Main

Researched and written by Staff Sergeant Jack Templeman (retired)

It may come as a surprise to many that Manitoba once had a Provincial Police Force. As a matter of fact, at one time or another, every province had a provincial force, but only Ontario and Quebec still retain them. The R.C.M.P. have taken over provincial duties in all other provinces.

The Manitoba Provincial Police had a long history but much of it is unknown because records have been lost or destroyed over the years. A few of their members still survive although their service only goes back into the 1920's.

The Force served Manitoba for sixty-one years, from 1871 to 1932. Only the British Columbia Provincial Police were organized earlier (1858). The Force had many ups and downs over the years and at times almost ceased to exist. Several times the Force was re-organized and finally in 1920, it became a uniformed, well trained and highly respected body of men.

The Force had three name during its existence starting with "Mounted Constabulary Force" in 1871. A year later it changed to the plain "Provincial Police Force". Sometime later it took on its final name of the "Manitoba Provincial Police".

The first "Chief of Police for Manitoba" was Frank Villiers. He served as a quartermaster with the Wolsely Expedition before his appointment. He established a force of twenty-four men to police the province and serve the new courts in the handling and escort of prisoners. These first policemen were paid $30.00 a month for sergeants, $25.00 for corporals, and $20.00.00 for "troopers". Villiers came under attack from the Attorney-General of Manitoba during his first year of service. He was accused of "irregularities and defalcations connected with his discharge of the duties of his office" and he was eventually dismissed in 1872.

The second Chief of the Force was Louis DePlainval who had served as deputy to Villiers. The first reorganization of the Force took place at this time and it was reduced to sixteen members. To ease the loss of manpower, wages were raised $5.00 per month for all ranks. The monthly payroll was $430.00 for the entire Force which by today's standards does not even make up the pay of one cadet constable.

The members were stationed in Winnipeg, Lower Fort Garry, Portage la Prairie, Point Du Chene and St. Norbert. It must be remembered that the province was much smaller at this time and most of the population was centred in and around Winnipeg. The headquarters were first located on Lombard Street but then moved to a building on the west side of Main Street between William and Bannatyne Avenues. The stable on Lombard Avenue continued to be used for their horses. The police building also served as a court house and jail. The cells in the basement were hardly fit for human occupation but they were used to hold prisoners for court or until transferred to the penitentiary at Lower Fort Garry.

DePlainval was a very dedicated person who tried to establish a strong, respected Force. He wrote to the police chiefs in Toronto and Montreal regarding uniforms but there is no indication he was ever successful in getting them. An 1883 picture in the Provincial Archives shows a group of Provincial Policemen at Rat Portage in civilian clothing and just wearing badges on their jackets. Despite DePlainval's efforts to improve the Force, the government was cutting back on expenditures and reduced it again, this time to seven members. In 1873 DePlainval resigned in protest.

The third chief was Richard Power who was also moved up from the Deputy Chief position. Power was also faced with government cuts and in 1874 he was the entire Force himself. In part, this was brought about by the establishment of the Winnipeg Police Department which took over the responsibility of maintaining law and order in the growing city of Winnipeg. In 1875 an additional member was taken on strength but the Force remained only a token for a number of years.

Chief Power was the first Provincial Police officer killed on duty. In 1880 while he was returning an escaped prisoner from St. Boniface, the man jumped on the gunwale of the boat and capsized it throwing them both into the Red River and they drowned.

The fourth Chief was Charles Constantine who served from 1880 to 1885 when he left to take part in the Northwest Rebellion with the 91st Winnipeg Light Infantry. Following the Rebellion, he joined the N.W.M.P. as an Inspector and went on to becoming one of their most famous officers.

Very little is known of the next two Chiefs, R. Latouche Tupper and J.M. Clark. It appears the Force continued to be token in size.

The seventh and longest serving Chief was E.J. Elliot who took over in 1885 and remained as head of the Force until 1920, some twenty-five years. During this time it appears that Chief Elliot was mainly responsible for town constables who were also sworn "In and For the Province of Manitoba". These men were commonly known as "fee constables" as they were only paid by the province when actually engaged in work for the province outside of their towns. This was usually on escort duty for $2.00 a day.

In addition to the "fee constables" Chief Elliott apparently was responsible for a border patrol between 1906-1910 when the first mention of uniforms being worn is made. No pictures of this patrol have been found to date. A border patrol was again mentioned in 1917 when the services of the R.N.W.M.P. were withdrawn for war service and the prairie provinces took up the duties of watching for aliens crossing from the United Sates.

The coming of Prohibition and all the problems it presented Brought about the final reorganization of the Provincial Police into the trained, uniformed force that is remembered best. A new Provincial Police Act came into force and on February 1st, 1920, Colonel J.G. Rattray became the eighth Chief of Police. He used his military title and at the same time became the " Commissioner of Provincial Police" according to the Act.

The Force started with forty-four members. Constables pay began at $1,260.00 and worked up to $1,440.00 per year. Sergeants earned from $1,500.00 to $1,620.00 while Inspectors received $1,920.00 to $2,400.00, the Commissioner received $4,000.00 and a clothing allowance.

The Force increased to six-eight members in 1922 but suffered some problems and this together with government cut-backs in 1923 saw it reduced considerably, for several years. In the late 1920's the Force built back up and reached a strength of eighty-five members and staff by the time it was disbanded in 1932.

Pay had remained the same from 1920 until 1928 when the basics increased to $1,500.00 for Constables, $1,800.00 for Sergeants, $2,400.00 for Inspectors and the Commissioner received $4,800.00.

The main duties of the Force related to the illicit liquor trade, traffic patrol for the ever growing number of vehicles and protection of the rural communities from gangsters who often operated over the border from the United Sates robbing banks in the southern towns and terrorizing the citizens. Gun battles all across the prairies were not uncommon.

The enforcement of the Liquor Act was to cost the lives of two members of the M.P.P. and the wounding of a third member in a 1920 raid in St. Boniface soon after the new Force had began. The story of this incident which eventually became an international manhunt will be told in a separate article.

The roaming bank robbers were the indirect cause of Colonel Rattray being relieved of his duties in 1922 along with an Inspector and a sergeant. The Force received a tip of a planned bank robbery in a town near Brandon and they failed to act in time to prevent it. The local citizens had taken up arms and shot it out with the bandits themselves. The uproar brought discredit to the Force and led to an investigation that resulted in the resignations.

For two months in the fall of 1922 the Force was without a Commissioner but Inspector of Detectives George Smith was seconded from the Winnipeg Police Force to serve in an acting capacity.

The ninth and last Chief or Commissioner of the Force was Colonel H.J. Martin who also used his military rank. He remained at the head of the Force until it was absorbed by the R.C.M.P. and he carried on his career in that Force. In all, seventy-four members transferred to the R.C.M.P.. They remained in the province and in most cases in the same detachment. One former M.M.P. officer who transferred soon after became one of the victims of a bloody week-end crime spree that finally concluded in Alberta leaving seven dead including four policeman.

Along with the takeover of most of the personnel, the federal government also agreed to purchase all the stores and equipment of the Force for the sum of $20,000.00. The long list of items included everything in the detachments as well as the offices in the Law Courts Building. Many detachments listed homemade desks and chairs indicating that budget restraints are not new to police departments. There was also three Thompson sub-machine guns, tens rifles, seventy-six revolvers and a quantity of handcuffs, billies and Sam Browne belts. The twenty-six patrol cars in use were mostly Fords but there was also three Whippets, an Essex, a Nash, a Hupmobile, a Dodge and a Chev. The thirteen motorcycles in use were Hendersons. The northern detachments turned over three railway track cars as well as four canoes.

In return for the federal government maintaining a force of 125 R.C.M.P. officers in the province, the provincial government agreed to pay $100,000.00 per year. This kept up until 1937 when the contract went up to $150,000.00 and the strength went up to 150 members.

Although the Force was involved in many cases, perhaps one of the most famous was the arrest of Earle "The Strangler" Nelson in 1927. Nelson was wanted by Winnipeg City Police for the murders of a young girl and a woman as well as twenty-plus other murders across the United Sates. Members of the M.P.P. arrested him walking within sight of the border near Killarney. He escaped custody but was re-captured by the M.P.P. and then brought to Winnipeg on a special train that had gone out to join the search. One of the original arresting officers, Bert Sewell, and one of the escorting officers, Jack Harmer, are still living in Winnipeg. Nelson was turned over to the Winnipeg Police and as a result of their investigation he was convicted and hanged ending his reign of terror. Although Winnipeg Police usually get the credit for putting an end to the Strangler, if he had not been caught by the M.P.P., he may have made it safely across the border and continued his murderous ways in the United Sates again.

This article on the Manitoba Provincial Police only touches on some of the history. Much will never be known but it is hoped that more can be gathered and recorded so that these pioneer policemen will receive a place in the history of Manitoba along with other pioneers. They were scattered about the province in one and two man detachments working long and tiring hours. Theirs was a 24 hour a day on duty or on call. Often their wives were called upon to help or serve as matrons. These were the days before police radios and communications were at best just a telephone. The dedication and initiative of these men led to many good arrests and services to the communities.

Now all that remains is a few pictures in the Archives, old newspaper clippings, a few of the old badges and the memories of the few living members. That gallant Force deserves a better fate.

For more information about Canadian Officers who have given their lives in the line of duty - see the Canadian Association of Chiefs Of Police Memorial Page.

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Last update: July 11, 2011

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