Let Justice Be Done: The Alberta Provincial Police, 1917-1932

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For a brief period in the early twentieth century, Alberta had its own provincial police force similar to those still found today in Ontario and Quebec. Despite building a reputation as one of the most efficient police organizations of its kind in the world, the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) is mostly forgotten today, leaving behind only faint traces of its accomplishments a century later.

The Provincial Archives of Alberta (PAA) is reviving the APP story through its latest exhibit: Let Justice Be Done: The Alberta Provincial Police, 1917-1932. Open to the public from February 15 to June 17, 2017.  The exhibit tells the story of the APP’s creation, effectiveness and ultimate demise through various historical documents, artifacts and photographs.

This exhibit is just one of many put together by the PAA – a unique facility within the network of provincially owned historic sites and museums – that works to acquire, preserve, and publicly make available records from government, individual people, families and organizations for researchers of all ages.

With less than two weeks to opening, here is a small sample of the APP history:

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Beginnings

Policing of Alberta began in 1874 with the arrival of the North-West Mounted Police, known after 1904 as the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP).  By 1916, the RNWMP was struggling to fulfill its responsibilities.  The demand for soldiers to fight in the First World War reduced the number of recruits, and the organization was forced to undertake increased duties for border security, intelligence gathering, and surveillance of suspected enemy aliens without additional resources.  The passage of the Liquor Act in 1916 introduced prohibition to the province, further increasing the force’s responsibilities. On November 29, 1916, the RNWMP gave the Government of Alberta notice that they would withdraw from provincial policing duties effective January 1, 1917.

With little time to plan, the Government of Alberta obtained an extension of the agreement to March 1, 1917 and quickly passed an order-in-council and accompanying legislation to create the Alberta Provincial Police.

The APP in practice

The Alberta Provincial Police Act of 1917 required officers to be British subjects between the ages of 21 and 36 who were able-bodied, of sound mind, and could read and write the English language legibly. Officers were also expected to attend church, avoid work on Sunday, stay out of debt, and refrain from agricultural pursuits. Similar to those undertaken by their predecessors in the RNWMP, the duties undertaken by APP constables within each detachment were wide-ranging and included investigations involving murder, manslaughter, sexual assault, missing persons, neglected children, arson, illegal hunting, property theft, liquor trafficking, prostitution, public health, prairie fires, stray animals, and censorship of movies.

The Liquor Act and its establishment of prohibition proved to be one of the most difficult aspects of law enforcement in the province at that time; prohibition was extremely unpopular, and the public was generally unwilling to help the APP in its enforcement of the law.  The repeal of prohibition in 1923 and the passage of the Government Liquor Control Act of Alberta in 1924 eased tensions and contributed to an improved relationship between the APP and (most) Albertans.

To find out the rest of the story, and why the APP was dissolved, check out the exhibit at the PAA located at 8555 Roper Road, Edmonton, AB. The exhibit is open between February 15 and June 17. Admission is free.

For more information about the PAA, visit their website or connect with them on Facebook.

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