Policing the Iron Horse

RCMP April 1949

Policing the Iron Horse 220-222

By A. H. Cadieux

Theft of goods in transit was common in the early days of Canadian railroading. Today that is changed, and the Chief of the CP.R. Department of Investigation tells how the change came about.

History tells us that in the early days travelling was hazardous. Those whose calling compelled them to tour the country were under the constant threat of thugs and highway men.

The advent of the railway brought to travellers a sense of security based on the companionship of numbers and the well-ordered methods of handling trains. However, thieves who saw danger in molesting passengers were quick to notice that the regular train and yard employees were too busy with other duties to do much towards preventing theft of goods in transmit. The result was that the small group of watchmen and special agents hired to give protection could not cope adequately with the situation. By virtue of contract entered into at the time a shipment is accepted, railways assume, to a degree, liability for the value of the goods, and over the years very large sums have been paid for goods stolen, or otherwise lost.

In 1912 the late Lord Shaughnessy, then Sir Thomas Shaughnessy, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, disturbed by the appalling losses, called upon Mr. R. G. Chamberlain, ex-Director of the Vancouver City Police, to organize a Company protection force which was known thereafter as the Department of Investigation. The following year was principally devoted to its organization, and approximately 400 men, mostly ex-soldiers and ex-policemen, were engaged. There naturally followed many changes before a reasonable standard of efficiency was reached, but the policy of the department, as detailed by Lord Shaughnessy in 1912, has never altered, and to this day it is: “Conduct all enquiries or investigations, except those involving the relations between officials and employees and those which must necessarily be made through the Audit Department.”

The average strength of the C.P.R. Force is about 470, made up as follows: one chief, two assistant chiefs, 12 inspectors, 48 investigators, five staff sergeants, 12 sergeants, 22 acting sergeants, ten security officers, 264 constables, 233 clerks and stenographers. The chief is in supreme command and dictates all matters of protection policy. Only he can sanction the engagement and dismissal of men. One assistant chief has his office in Montreal, Que., while the other directs the protection of the prairie and Pacific regions from an office in Winnipeg, Man. Inspectors, one for each, are in charge of the following C.P.R. districts across the country: New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Algoma, Fort William, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia. Each inspector directs investigations and protection measures for the railway subsidiaries, hotels, wharves and so on, within his district. In addition there is a police inspector in uniform for the eastern region, one for the west (prairie and Pacific region) and one in charge of Angus Works, Montreal; the last mentioned is also chief of the Fire Department for the Works; the duties of the two former are to receive applications for engagement in the force, interview applicants, arrange medical examinations, supervise the selection and distribution of uniforms and accoutrements.

Investigators are selected from among the most able constables and are confirmed in this position after a period of trial and training. Stationed at vantage points along the system, many become very proficient in all types of investigations such as thefts from freight and express sheds, stores, telegraph offices, shops, airline depots and baggage departments; or swindles reported by personnel in Company hotels and on Company steamships. The investigators are sworn in as special constables for the province in which they are stationed, or as supernumerary officers of the R.C.M.P. – if stationed in a province policed by that organization.

Staff sergeants are in charge at points where a number of men are stationed to give protection to important holdings such as West St. John Wharf, Montreal Wharf, Montreal Terminals, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver. Sergeants and acting sergeants visit the constables on duty and also provide added protection by occasionally patrolling points where the Company is unable to give constant police protection. Security officers are attached to some of the Company hotels and have done excellent work in maintaining order under sometimes trying conditions. These men are usually selected from our uniformed staff because of their ability to handle a difficult public.

Constables patrol the Company’s principal stations, yards and wharves. They are sworn in under the Railway Act which gives them powers to act as constables for the preservation of the peace on and about any trains, roads, wharves, quays, lands and premises belonging to the Company, and in all places not more than a quarter of a mile distant from the railway. All members of the department hold certificates of the St. John Ambulance Society, and annually undergo a test of their knowledge of First Aid. The work performed since 1913 has undoubtedly proved beneficial to the Company shippers and travelling public in general, for it has materially diminished losses through thefts of freight and baggage, and maintained a high standard of order on passenger trains, and in stations and hotels. It is appreciated that this desirable standard could not have been attained or held without the generous assistance of the hundreds of police officers under federal, provincial and municipal commands throughout the country.

Owing to the favorable position of our constables across the country, they have frequently been instrumental in the apprehension of suspects wanted by other police organizations. Moreover they have assisted whenever necessary in escorting, on train or ship, dangerous or “important” criminals being transferred from one place to another. Such co-operation is a matter of policy, for the C.P.R. Investigation Department is well aware of the power and strength of teamwork.

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