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The rise and fall of the Hamilton Parks Police

March 2017

The Hamilton Parks Police Force was a special constable force that patrolled parks within the City of Hamilton, Ontario, from 1943 until 1963.

In reaction to a rise of vandalism and other criminal offences in the early 1940s, Hamilton Parks superintendent Fred Marshal hired George James in 1943 to patrol Gage Park, making him the first Parks Policeman.

James quickly developed a friendly, positive environment in the park, which had an almost immediate effect of making the park safer.

With the encouragement of Marshal, James recruited two other men and expanded the program to other parks throughout the city.  Sworn in as special constables, they would patrol the parks at irregular hours on 14 hour shifts, interacting with park visitors and catching minor offences before they became bigger offences and problems; everything from children misbehaving to property damage, first aid response and “prowlers and drunkards”, detaining them until the city police could attend.

The duties of the parks police were limited to simply keeping order in the parks, not to solving crimes, which was left to the city police, who would also provide backup to the special constables if needed.

The Hamilton Parks Police became “the envy of many other communities in the country,” according to information provided by the Hamilton Public Library/Archives.

By 1955, the Hamilton Board of Parks Management was considering disbanding the parks police force due to the cost, but ultimately did not as it would cost too much to contract the city police.  The Board did ask for financial assistance from the city.

The issue came up again in 1958, but once again it was decided to maintain the parks police due to concerns that Hamilton Police wouldn’t be able to properly patrol the parks, which the board feared would return to the same state of crime and disrepair that prompted the force to be established in the first place.

In 1960, the parks board settled the matter and elected to maintain the parks police, which was later expanded to a six-man force.  The board felt that the special constables knew the parks and the troublemakers better than the city police.  However, the city police didn’t tended to look down on the parks police officers, which lead to tensions between the police forces.

By 1963, the fortunes of the special constables took a negative turn.  The parks police became involved in a labour dispute over among other things, higher pay and bargaining rights.  The board took a hard stance and in response, disbanded the Hamilton Parks Police on 28 June 1963.

The six special constables were re-designated as parks custodians with no police authority or arrest powers.  All reference to police was removed from their uniforms.

No attempt was made by the parks board to amalgamate the parks police into the Hamilton Police Force as it was felt that the former special constables couldn’t meet the qualifications of city police officers.

A citizens group sought to have this decision reversed, but to no avail.

By January 1964, three of the six former parks police officers had resigned their new positions as park custodians.

Policing of the city’s parks fell to the city police, but it wasn’t until 15 May 1967 that Hamilton Police assigned motorcycle police officers to patrol the parks for eight hours each day.

In October 1966, Mr. Justice Edson Hains, speaking before a Supreme Court hearing, recommended the re-establishment of the park police force in the wake of the convictions of Lufti Ajro of Manslaugher for a shooting death in Gage Park and the attempted rape of a 9 year old girl in Dundurn Park by Pasquale Ciarmoli.  Nothing came of his recommendation.

Sources courtesy of the Hamilton Public Library/Archives:

“Park police needed to curb violence,” Hamilton Spectator, 4 October 1966.

Clipping Files. Hamilton – Parks – Parks Police. Local History & Archives, HPL.

Hamilton Police Department Scrapbook. vol. 9. p. 37. Local History & Archives, HPL.

Steel Shots. August 23, 1963. p. 5.

City Historical Records, RG 10, Box 7 – Parks Police

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/hamilton-parks-police/

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