The Red Deer detachment of the Alberta Provincial Police in the late 1920’s. Back row: Bill Finley, unknown, Bob Marles. Front row: Sae English and Vic Peterson (Red Deer Archives P4083)

The Red Deer detachment of the Alberta Provincial Police in the late 1920’s. Back row: Bill Finley, unknown, Bob Marles. Front row: Sae English and Vic Peterson (Red Deer Archives P4083)

Michael Dawe: All the western provinces had their own police force at one time

The provincial government recently announced a formal investigation is being launched into the possibility of creating an Alberta provincial police force.

Perhaps because of the very long association of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (first known as the North-West Mounted Police in 1873) with Western Canada, many people have likely forgotten, for many years, Alberta did have its own independent police force.

In fact, at one time, all four western Canadian provinces had their own provincial police services.

The oldest, and longest lasting, provincial police force was in British Columbia. It was originally established in 1858 when B.C. was still a Crown colony. After B.C. joined Confederation in 1871, the provincial police continued to operate for many decades.

The service provided policing in rural areas and 40 municipalities, in addition to its general provincial police responsibilities.

In 1950, the B.C. Provincial Police was disbanded. The province contracted the RCMP to take its place. It is rather unclear why the decision was made. Some people said it was necessary to deal with issues arising from the Cold War, such as foreign espionage.

Others claimed the provincial government thought the RCMP would be cheaper. There were several who said it was because the B.C. government was concerned about a possible unionization of the B.C. Provincial Police.

Regardless of the motivation, the dissolution of the BCPP was very unpopular, particularly in rural areas and in the municipalities that had used it for their local policing.

The second oldest provincial police force was in Manitoba. The Manitoba Provincial Police was created in 1870 when Manitoba entered Confederation.

A chronic problem for the MPP was underfunding. When the provincial government found itself in financial difficulties, it often cut back funding to the police. At one point, the government even sold off all of the MPP’s horses.

One solution adopted in Manitoba was to use so-called fee constables. These were municipal police officers who were paid by the provincial government, but only while they carried out provincial policing duties. After the onset of Prohibition, the MPP was reorganized and strengthened.

It continued to operate on that basis until 1932. With the economic hard times of the Great Depression, the provincial government decided to save money by disbanding the MPP and replacing it with a contract with the RCMP.

The Saskatchewan Provincial Police was organized in 1917 during the First World War and after the imposition of Prohibition (the general ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol).

The government was never that strongly invested in the SPP. In 1928, the government decided to return to using the RCMP for provincial policing. The SPP was disbanded.

The Alberta Provincial Police was also organized in 1917. The decision was largely based on the manpower shortages due to the war and because of the wish of the RCMP to concentrate on national security and the war effort.

Another big factor was a reluctance of the RCMP to start enforcing provincial liquor laws under Prohibition.

A decision was made to divide the APP into five geographical divisions. B Division was created for central Alberta, with Red Deer as the regional headquarters.

The APP primarily covered criminal and Prohibition cases. Red Deer kept its own municipal police. The Red Deer Police Department generally handled such things as licensing and bylaw enforcement.

The APP was kept busy enforcing Prohibition. In the mid-1920s, the Red Deer area recorded some of the highest rates in the province of illegal stills, bootlegging and other liquor infractions.

With the onset of the Great Depression in 1930, the Alberta government, like other governments, faced severe financial difficulties.

Despite tight budget controls, the cost of the APP had risen to many times the amount the province had previously paid to the federal government for the contract with the RCMP.

In 1932, the provincial government finally decided to disband the APP. It negotiated a new contract to get provincial police services from the RCMP. Under the new arrangement, Red Deer remained a regional headquarters.

In 1943, Red Deer city council decided to disband the city police department for both manpower and budgetary reasons. A contract was then signed with the RCMP to provide municipal policing. The provincial and municipal police contracts with the RCMP have continued to this day.

Red Deer historian Michael Dawe’s column appears Wednesdays.

Just Posted

Red life-ring with splash
Started from the bottom: How a family business started and grew in central Alberta

By Carina Moran We started our business in the basement of our… Continue reading

Shiree Appleman
Innisfail RCMP looking for missing woman

Innisfail RCMP is asking the public to help locate a woman who… Continue reading

Rotary Club of Red Deer logo.
Red Deer Rotary Club hosting tree planting event later this month

The Rotary Club of Red Deer will host a tree-planting event later… Continue reading

New admissions have been suspended for Engineering Technology diplomas (Instrumentation, Electrical and Mechanical) and the Transitional Vocational Program at Red Deer College. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Developmentally disabled impacted: Red Deer College suspends program

Transitional Vocational Program comes to an end

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

Bo’s Bar and Grill owner Brennen Wowk said the hospitality industry is looking for more clarity from the province around what conditions must be met to allow for restaurants reopening. (Advocate file photo)
Frustated restaurant owners want to know government’s reopening plan

Restaurant owners feel they are in lockdown limbo

Welcoming cowboy boots at the historic and colourful Last Chance Saloon in the ghost town of Wayne near Drumheller, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. The bar and hotel are up for sale. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘It was a going concern’: Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale

WAYNE, Alta. — Built during the First World War, it survived the… Continue reading

A letter from a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 is shown in an undated handout photo. A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to solve the mystery of whether a letter in a bottle that washed up in New Brunswick in 2017 was indeed from a young victim of Titanic shipwreck or simply a hoax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, N. Beaudry, UQAR *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Real or hoax? Quebec scholars probe mystery letter allegedly from Titanic passenger

MONTREAL — Researchers from Université du Québec à Rimouski are trying to… Continue reading

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau takes part in a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication between the federal Transport Department and the Canadian Transportation Agency regarding passenger refunds throws into question the independence of the CTA, an arm’s-length body. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Emails reveal close communication between government, transport regulator on refunds

OTTAWA — Advocates, experts and opposition MPs say correspondence showing close communication… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo shows off a vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Toronto on Friday, March 12, 2021. Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions from anyone concerned about second doses of Oxford-AstraZeneca or any other COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Family doctors say they can answer vaccine questions, after Trudeau recommends them

Several family doctors and physician associations across Canada say they welcome questions… Continue reading

The Olympic rings float in the water at sunset in the Odaiba section of Tokyo, Wednesday, June 3, 2020. A new Leger poll suggests Canadians are divided over plans to send athletes from Canada to the upcoming Olympic games in Tokyo as Japan grapples with climbing COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Eugene Hoshiko
Canadians divided on sending Team Canada athletes to the Tokyo Olympic Games: poll

OTTAWA — A new poll by Leger and the Association of Canadian… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Insert your name here

Back in the Paleolithic Era when a McDonald’s cheeseburger was 29 cents… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
Job search: Write a request that will get accepted

Last Thursday, when I logged into LinkedIn, I had nine connection requests… Continue reading

T-shirt with vaccine shot. (Contributed photo)
Letter: Hand out T-shirts with vaccine shots

I made myself a graphic T-shirt recently after getting my vaccine shot.… Continue reading

Most Read