In 1906, Red Deer’s Town Council decided that the town had grown enough to establish a 24-hour police service. They subsequently hired Red Deer’s first police chief, George Rothnie.
Rothnie was a tall, imposing man. A native of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, he had served seven years with the British constabulary. In the 1890’s he joined the military serving with the Royal Engineers. He later joined the South African Constabulary and served during the Boer War. After the war, he came to Canada where he spent three years with the North West Mounted Police. He moved to Red Deer on April 1, 1906.
Rothnie continued his strong interest in the military. While still police chief, he joined the 15th Light Horse Regiment of the militia. He was eventually appointed a lieutenant. Later, he helped with the formation of the Red Deer Independent Squadron of the 15th Light Horse.
While in South Africa, Rothnie had become good friends with Sir Robert Baden Powell. In early March 1910, he got a letter from Baden Powell asking if he might be interested in forming a Boy Scout troop in Red Deer. Shortly thereafter, Rothnie held an exploratory meeting in his home on 56th Street. There was such enthusiasm for the concept that on April 19th, 1910, a Red Deer Boy Scout Association was formed. It was the first Boy Scout association in Alberta.
The movement quickly took off. There were soon three patrols organized. A big boost came on August 23rd when Baden Powell himself made a brief visit to Red Deer. He provided many suggestions regarding the new scout troop. He also had a pleasant time reminiscing with Rothnie about their time together in South Africa.
Another V.I.P. visit took place in August 1910 when Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Prime Minister of Canada, made an official visit to Red Deer. Laurier met with dignitaries of the Alberta farm movement, such as Red Deer’s James Bower, president of the United Farmers of Alberta. Laurier also drove the first spike for the Alberta Central Railway. Rothnie acted as one of the Laurier’s escorts during the visit.
In the fall of 1910, Rothnie had a rare but dangerous experience in the police cells. A prisoner began making a disturbance, pulled a revolver and shot at Rothnie’s head. Fortunately, the gun misfired and Rothnie was unhurt.
In November 1910, Rothnie decided to resign as police chief and take a new position as police chief in Kamloops, B.C. The new job paid $110 per month while Red Deer had only been paying him $75 per month. Once in Kamloops, Rothnie became a captain in the 31st British Columbia Horse. He also became a co-founder of the Kamloops Boy Scouts.
With the outbreak of World War One, Rothnie enlisted and soon joined the Lord Strathcona Horse. In June 1915, he was wounded when a shell exploded next to him, flinging him into the air.
Although he had a severe concussion, he escaped from the hospital to return to his men. However, as he was still so dazed that he could not distinguish a pick from a shovel. He went back to hospital and was later given three months leave in Canada. On his way back, the ship he was on was torpedoed and sunk. He survived.
In May 1916, Rothnie joined the 102nd Battalion and was given the rank of major. In October 1916, he led his company over the top in an assault at Regina Trench. He was hit with a barrage of shells and killed instantly. Because there were no remains, he has no known grave.
There are not yet any streets or parks named after George Rothnie in Red Deer, although his name is on the list as a potential name for the future.
Nevertheless, as we gather on Remembrance Day to remember all those who served and lost their lives in war, we can pay tribute to the great courage and supreme sacrifice those such as Red Deer’s first police chief, George Rothnie demonstrated.
Michael Dawe is a Red Deer Historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.