An Arresting Collection – Glass Plates

Written by George Dill-Jones, VPM Curatorial Volunteer

The Vancouver Police Museum has recently completed a 3-year digitization and rehousing project. Over 400 glass plate negatives are now scanned, stored in archival quality materials, and available for research!

VPM Archival photo N01958

VPM Archival photo N01958

If you’re interested, we’d like to tell you a bit about what them:

History of Glass Plate Negatives

Glass plate negatives, the precursor to plastic film rolls, were the primary medium on which photographic images were captured from the 1850’s until the 1920’s.

Although photographic processes were first developed in the early nineteenth century, it was not until the 1850’s when Frederick Scott Archer developed the first wet plate glass negative that a widespread interest in photography was established.

In use from 1851 until the 1880’s, wet glass plate negatives were produced by coating a plate with collodion, a solution made of cellulose nitrate and ether. The glass plate was then put into a bath of silver nitrate in order to transform the collodion into more photosensitive silver iodide. At this stage, the photographer had about five minutes to expose the plate in a camera before the solution dried. Finally, the wet plate was developed in a dark room and coated with a varnish for protection. In the 1870’s, the wet plate method was abandoned in favour of the more convenient dry plate method.

First developed in 1871 by Richard Leach Maddox, the dry plate method involved the application of a light-sensitive gelatin emulsion to the plates. The plates were then allowed to dry and could be used for up to several months, unlike the wet plates that had to be used immediately. The glass plates in our collection are of the gelatin dry variety. Dry plates were used extensively up until the 1920’s, when the more convenient celluloid roll film became widespread.

Our Project

Original packaging


Original packaging










Most of the glass plate negatives in the museum’s collection consist of mug shots and personnel photos taken around 1910 to 1930. In order to preserve the negatives for the future and to facilitate easier access to the images, we felt that it was important to get high resolution digital scans. Not only does this make them easier to view and research, it also reduces the need to handle the originals, meaning that they can stay safe and well preserved in their archival materials.

The glass plates were removed from their original boxes and scanned and saved as both positive and negative images. Each glass plate was given a unique number and any information, including the condition of the plate (for example, was it broken, are scratches or fingerprints present), and anything written on it (such as the names of individuals) was noted and added to a database for future reference. Once the images were saved and the data recorded, the glass plates were each rehoused in individual paper sleeves and placed in archival boxes for storage.

Lots of padding and archival boxes will keep the plates safe for decades to come

Archival envelopes ensure that the plates are protected from acidic materials

Now What?

We’ve very happy to have completed this digitization project. It’s nice that we’ve made new items available for research and use, and that the originals are being housed in a way that will keep them around for much longer than they would have been in their original boxes. But in some ways the work has just begun!

Who are these people? What stories can these photos tell? For the mug shot photos, we cannot wait to find out why they were arrested! There is a lot of research ahead of us…

The use and publication of mugshot photos is tricky. Just because someone was arrested, does not necessarily mean that they did anything wrong. Innocent until proven guilty right? So names and any other identifiers for the mug shots will have to remain restricted unless we can find documentation that shows that the person was actually charged with an offence – in which case the information is in the public domain.

But before we dive back into our history books and archives, here’s a quick word from the museum’s curator:

“We hold these items in trust for the people of Vancouver, and it’s a real success to show that we’ve met the highest standards of care and accessibility for them. Thanks to the hard work by our collection volunteers – namely Anna Tidlund and George Dill-Jones – the story of Vancouver has become a bit more complete.”

There’s always lots going on here at the Museum, so make sure you stop by to see what’s new. And if this project sounds like the type of thing you might want to get involved with, don’t hesitate to check out our volunteer page!

Some of our Favourite Photos


VPM Archival Photo N01583


VPM Archival Photo N01535


VPM Archival Photo N01580


VPM Archival Photo N01700


VPM Archival Photo N01863


VPM Archival Photo N01921

Policing Vancouver in WWI – Part 4

The War Years were Rough Years for the VPD

The scale and influence of World War I cannot be exaggerated. Never before had the politics, armies, and lives of every continent been so entangled, caught in the war’s insatiable appetite for resources and destruction. On the local scale, citizens of the young and optimistic city of Vancouver were not only swept up in it all, they delved headfirst into the fray.

In previous posts from our Policing Vancouver in WWI series, we’ve looked at where Vancouver fit in the grand scheme of the War to End all Wars, who the first VPD officers were to volunteer, and how pivotal those four years were to the City. Today, we’ll be exploring the new challenges and responsibilities put on the VPD during the war years of 1914-1918.

Excerpts from the Chief’s Order Books and Annual Reports tell a four-year tale of struggles to man the Department with a severely limited budget, additional responsibilities, and the need to adjust to swiftly changing laws and regulations. The most telling excerpts are listed below:


Reduced Manpower

With pride, the enthusiastic response from VPD officers to join the war overseas was fostered and supported by officials, but the reality of losing manpower was difficult to manage. Chief MacLennan stoically writes in the 1915 Annual Report that the Department was running 31 under its Authorized Strength. By 1917, the pressure of a reduced Department became more apparent in the words chosen in the Annual Report:

“In addition to the forty-one men who volunteered for active service prior to January 1st 1916, twelve men have since joined, making a total of fifty-three men who have been granted indefinite leave for this purpose. This total does not include several men who have resigned their positions to join their old regiments in the Old Country. The places of these men were not filled, and we are now running on an average of 200 men, which is forty-nine men under the latest authorized strength.”


Reduced Budget

In addition to a low roster, the Board of Police Commissioners handed down multiple budget cuts to the Department. This not only affected the pay of individual officers, but the efficacy of the squads and units.

November 18, 1914, Order No. 860:
“The Board of Police Commissioners have this date temporarily reduced the rates of pay of members of the Department on the following basis, as a war measure, to take effect from November 19th, 1914:
“Over $300/month a reduction of 30%
From 200 to 299/month a reduction of 25%
From 100 to 199/month a reduction of 20%
From $75 to $99/month a reduction of 15%
Under $75/month a reduction of 10%
“In connection with the above order I might state that the Committee has assured me that the reduction is temporary, and that the estimates for 1915 are being made out on the old rate.
“I especially request that the members of the Department refrain from voicing their opinions in regard to the reduction, as it will not help matters.
By order, Chief Constable McLennan”

June 25th, 1915, Order No. 965:
“By order of the Police Commissioners the following scale of wages will go into effect from June 1st, and will continue until times warrant a return to the old rate:
(Sample rates listed)
Chief Constable: $225/month
Detectives: $105/month
1st Class Constable: $95/month”

July 16th, 1915, Order No. 980:
“On the recommendation of the Board of Police Commissioners, the Mounted Squad will be reduced from the present standing of eleven men to five men from August 1st or next.
“Sgt. Long will recommend what men will be kept on the Mounted Squad; also what five horses will be disposed of; his recommendation to be in July 20th.
By order, Chief Constable McLennan”

The VPD's Mounted Unit was severely reduced during WWI. Here, the unit prepares for parade in 1910. Archival photo P01294

The VPD’s Mounted Unit was severely reduced during WWI. Here, the unit prepares for parade in 1910. Archival photo P01294

1917 Annual Report:
“At the beginning of the year we were instructed to be as saving as possible, and the estimated expenditure was cut down almost to the breaking point, and after that the City Council saw fit to deduct the sum of $7,802.00 off the total, but by running short-handed we are able, at the close of the year, to show some balance unexpended.”

Despite a cut budget and salaries, individual officers were still able to make more than one charitable donation to the cause of the Great War, and they continued to organize and carry out an annual Christmas Festival for the City’s poor children.

August 5th, 1915, Order No. 992:
“At a meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners held August 3rd, the following resolution was heard:
‘That this board expresses to the members of the Police Department our deep appreciation for the handsome donation subscribed by them for the purchase of one machine gun and a half.’
“The following resolution has also been passed:
‘That in the event of any other members enlisting for service in the war, that they be assured that their positions will be maintained for them until their return to duty, and that the Chief Constable strongly urge on the men, particularly the single men, who have only themselves to look after, to enlist for the service.’
“By order, Chief Constable McLennan”


It’s difficult to say if it was the wage cuts that prompted the creation of a labour union within the Department, or if it was a result of the general pattern of unionization in Vancouver (read more about this in our last post). But unionize they did:

July 3rd, 1918, Order No. 1350:
“By Order of the Board of Police Commissioners, a ballot is to be taken to decide the wishes of the majority of those men eligible to join a Union which is now proposed.
“All men will answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as the question appears on the ballot proper, and an umpire and two scrutineers are appointed to see that votes are taken fairly.
“The votes will be taken as the different shifts are paraded, beginning at or about 4pm this date.
“The ballot will be secret.
“By order, Chief Constable McLennan”

1918 Annual Report:
“In July the members of the Department, below the rank of Inspector, formed themselves into a labour union affiliated with the Trades and Labour Council, although such action was strenuously opposed by myself, my objections being submitted to the Board at the time. Although, so far, nothing serious has resulted therefrom, since being recognized by the Board, it had a tendency to disrupt the workings of the Force for sometime, and subsequently drew criticism of the Department when labour disputes arose.”


The Vancouver Police Union still thrives today, nearly 100 years after their formation.

Increased Duties

The struggles continued. The Great War added responsibilities to the Department’s daily schedule, as did the vote to implement Prohibition in BC.

1914 Annual Report:
“During the year, several important matters out of the ordinary routine of police work came up, which affected the Department very materially.”

August 13th, 1914, Order No. 801:
“The following telegram has been received from the Chief Commissioner of Police at Ottawa. Order in Council passed August 2nd prohibiting the operations of all private wireless telegraph stations whether operating under license or otherwise. Please therefor see that all such are dismantled and wires removed from within your jurisdiction.
“All Inspectors will see that the above is complied with at once.
“By order, Chief Constable McLennan”

1916 Annual Report:
“Owing to the War we have had considerable work in addition to the ordinary routine. We keep a register of alien enemies who report to the Department once every two weeks, and in looking after them it takes up the entire time of one man. A Board dealing with aliens, comprised of the Dominion Immigration Agent, a military officer and myself, meet in my office at 2pm each Tuesday.”

Read more about alien enemies in Vancouver here.

1917 Annual Report:
“Many labour disputes were settled during the year, which necessitated a great deal of attention by this Department, as was also the case in connection with the Military Service Act, and other duties concerning the Great War.”

Young and trouble Fred (Frank) Darrack failed to report as an Alien Enemy, and was sentenced to pay a $77.50 fine or spend three months in an internment camp.

Young and trouble Fred (Frank) Darrack failed to report as an Alien Enemy, and was sentenced to pay a $77.50 fine or spend three months in an internment camp. VPM Archives


September 19, 1917, Order No. 1223:
“A lecture in connection with the Prohibition Act is to be given by Mr. R.S. Maitland, Prosecuting Attorney at 4:30pm in Courtroom at Police Headquarters Thursday 20th. No 1 and 3 Reliefs and all members not on actual duty, are to attend.
“Will endeavour to arrange a lecture for No. 2 relief later.
“By order, Chief Constable McRae”

October 5th, 1917, Order No. 1233:
“All members of the Department are hereby requested to report any violations of the Prohibition Act which may come to their notice and Sergeant and Constables will be held largely responsible for the enforcement of the Act in their respective districts and beats.
“Until further notice, all cases, where they suspect liquor is unlawfully trafficked in, are to be reported to DCC Leatherdale or Inspector of Detectives as speedily as possible with necessary particulars, excepting cases requiring immediate attention (where much must be left to a man’s own judgement). Any Constable should if possible get the assistance of a Sergeant or other officer to investigate. In all cases where constables are in doubt as to violators’ appearing on summons they should be brought to the notice of DCC Leatherdale or Inspector of Detectives for discussion.
“By order, Chief Constable McRae”

1918 Annual Report:
“A great many matters somewhat foreign to regular Police work occupied the attention of the Department during the year, and with a depleted staff, we were called upon to burden many additional responsibilities. The extra duties caused by the Great War, Labour Disputes, Enforcement of the Prohibition Act and the formation of a labour union by members of the Force, all added to make the year a particularly strenuous one.”

As difficult as things were at home for members of the Vancouver Police Department, it paled in comparison to the horror being lived on the battlefield in Europe. In the next instalment of Policing in Vancouver in WWI, we’ll commemorate the nine VPD officers who did not return to their city and loved ones after the war, having made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield.

On this Remembrance Day, and every other day, we are every grateful for the dedication and sacrifice made to preserve the peace, both abroad and at home. Lest we forget.


VPM Archival Photo D00030


Sgt. McKinnon’s crazy car chase and dandy doodles!

Written by Naomi Nguyen, VPM Curatorial Assistant.

During the collections rehousing project done this summer several police training notebooks from the 1940s and 1950s were unearthed from among the artifacts. One in particular caught my eye as I was flipping through on my way to depositing it in the archives. It was Sergeant Jack W. McKinnon’s training notebook for the Supervisor’s class from 1957.

What grabbed my attention were the comic like illustrations at the beginning of each section. At first I thought they were printed title pages, a part of every officer’s notes, but soon realized Sgt. McKinnon was a talented artist with some doodling time during class. But Sgt. McKinnon’s talents extend far beyond paper. His brilliant illustrations led to the rediscovery of a dynamic member of the force who won “wild gunfights” and was behind the wheel in the “Foster car chase” in the late 1930s – the days of the “Blue Sedan Bandits”.

IMG_4988  IMG_4986

Jack W. McKinnon was born in 1903 and joined the Vancouver Police Force as a constable in 1930. By 1935 he was acknowledged for his courage with the award of an engraved gold watch for “Conspicuous Gallantry” for his role in the car chase and capture of the Blue Sedan Bandits.


In the summer of 1935 Sgt. McKinnon (then Constable) was Chief Foster’s official driver. Together they spent their evenings out on prowler calls and patrolling the streets of Vancouver’s summer night life. Sergeant McKinnon had recalled that summer in a newspaper article from 1959 saying: “I worked 16 hours a day […] those were the days of the ‘Blue Sedan’ and ‘Silk Stocking’ bandits, when it was not uncommon to have 10 hold-ups a night”. The “Blue Sedan Bandits” or “Silk Stocking Gang”, so named for the type of car they favoured and stole as getaway vehicles and the silk stockings they used as masks, were an annoyance and embarrassment to the VPD. The gang had been preying on local shopkeepers all summer and managed to escape the VPD’s grasp every time. But on the evening of September 21st the Blue Sedan Bandits were finally busted.

A smoking police car riddled with shots and broken glass has stopped in the middle of the street as if from a screeching halt. In front of the police car an equally wrecked blue Sedan is piled up on the sidewalk with all four doors left swung open. Across the scene two policemen are in hot pursuit of four bandits running for their lives. One officer shoots and a bandit falls. The other three escape amid the chaos of their fallen member.

Reads like a scene from CSI: Miami doesn’t it? Imagine that street being 6th Avenue and Maple Street right by the railroad tracks and the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 178, a little up from Delamont Park and Kitsilano Community Garden. Imagine it being a cool Vancouver evening at around 10:30pm when the tail end of summer meets the beginning of fall.

What started as a regular patrol turned into a car chase and shootout when over the radio Sgt. Foster and Cst. McKinnon heard that the bandits had struck again at Mitchell’s Drug Store, close to their location. They were driving over the Granville Bridge when the call went out and they looked up to see the robber’s freshly stolen blue sedan coming toward them from the other side. Cst. McKinnon flipped the car around and the pursuit started.

They raced east down Broadway. The bandits were not giving up without a fight. They broke the back window of the sedan and men with silk stockings over their heads began shooting at Cst. McKinnon and Chief Foster through the smashed glass. The chase went on through Kitsilano for almost 4km with the bandits shooting at them with revolvers and a sawed-off shotgun. At Maple Street and 6th Avenue the bandits took the corner too quickly and smashed their getaway car into the sidewalk. All parties jumped out of their vehicles and the pursuit continued on foot.

IMG_4970   IMG_4969

It was Cst. McKinnon who brought down the first Blue Sedan Bandit. He fired his revolver and shot Elmer Almquist in the shoulder. Almquist was arrested but his accomplices managed to disappear into the darkness. Later that evening two more arrests were made when Almquist squealed on his fellow stocking-clad bandits, but the fourth man was never identified. They had finally caught the bandits.

From the Vancouver Sun article (October 21, 1935) of concluding court sentences for two of bandits the punishment was as follows:
“Almquist was sentenced to seven years on one charge of shooting with intent to kill; five years to run concurrently for robbery with violence in connection with the holdup of Mitchell’s drug store the same night. The 15 strokes of the paddle were ordered in connection with the holdup in which Mrs. Mitchell, wife of the store owner, was the victim, being in charge of the shop at the time. Gates received five years concurrently on each of three charges of robbery with violence and 15 strokes of the paddle for hold up of the Mitchell store.”

Sgt. McKinnon’s wild story is only one of the millions hiding in the Vancouver Police Museum’s collection and archives. I wonder what we’ll stumble upon next!

And here’s the man himself:


The Chameleon – A closer look at the shape-shifting imposter

Written by Naomi Nguyen, VPM Curatorial Assistant.

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Photo IDs for “Edward Meier”

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Photo IDs for “Joseph Bellmore”

The “Chameleon” was a beloved exhibit, on display at the Vancouver Police Museum since the 1980s. It was recently taken down to make room for our feature exhibit Bridging the Gap: Vancouver’s Youth & the Law, giving us an opportunity to give these artifacts a closer look.

This collection of artifacts opens up the world of an impostor’s tools of the trade. These artifacts are real evidence collected by the Vancouver Police Department in the conviction of two local men back in 1977 who were masters of identity theft. The assortment of ID cards, passports, driver’s licences, and passports highlight a time when paper, ink, an eye for detail, and an inclination for crime was all that was needed to create a mythical life.

One of the men, known as the “Chameleon” had fourteen names:

1. Kenneth Norman Bates
2. Reginald Edward Shaw
3. Barry Lyne Hanson
4. Paul Edward Moore
5. Robert William Barnes
6. Edward Lewis Allen
7. Robert Frank Allan
8. Edward John Wheeler
9. Fred Alfred Smolen
10. Donald James McQuade
11. David George Sprague
12. Edward Clarence Meier
13. Joseph Bellmore
14. William Brotherton

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall

Photo IDs for “William Brotherton”

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Photo IDs for “Reginald Shaw”

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Photo IDs for “Kenneth Norman Bates”

His place of birth could have been Montreal, Regina, or Detroit, depending on what day you found him. He could have been an Australian, Canadian, or American
depending on the year. He also appears to have had many, many wives (but if they were fictional or real-life accomplices we don’t know!). The passports he used are filled with stamps from around the world with stops in the Bahamas, Jamaica, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Australia, the Philippines, and Portugal to name a few. Quite the globetrotter, he was also skilled at lock-picking and used this knowledge to add an extra level of luxury to his travels, helping himself to upgraded rooms and unattended safes.

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Lock; Lock Pick; Overall; Front

The original lockpicks the imposters used to open doors and safes as needed for their particular characters

The identities he took over were all real, albeit deceased, persons – “once a birth certificate is obtained, by whatever means, the others are relatively easy to get.” stated the original exhibit label.

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Blank birth certificates from Saskatchewan – the police collected two stacks of blank birth certificates from the impostor’s briefcase.

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Blank birth certificate from Manitoba

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Blank birth certificate from Nova Scotia

Each of his personalities came with up to six pieces of tangible identification, the bulk of it often being government issued documents such as driver’s licences, birth certificates, passports, and social insurance cards. It is difficult to know which of these are authentic and which were created by him or for him, adding to its significance. In his briefcase he carried blank forms of birth certificates and driver’s licences from around the country, apparently always prepared to start a new life if need be.

Identification; Chameleon; Forgery; 1977; 1970s; Overall; Front

Blank forms collected from the impostor’s briefcase ready to be filled out with his new identities – Quebec Driver’s Licences, BC Temporary Driver’s Licence, Ontario Driver’s Licence

He often used similar addresses and repeated personal information such as birth dates and photo ID which says a lot about the system he was swindling at the time. It seems impossible in today’s day and age to imagine someone getting away with fourteen different identities, especially in such a short amount of time. Today everything is connected with online records and microchipped ID cards and electronic passports.

The “Chameleon” definitely lucked out with the old system. For a while at least.

To look through more of the museum’s collection that is stored out of sight, visit our online collection, and share your stories:

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Address & Hours

Vancouver Police Museum

240 East Cordova Street
Vancouver, BC V6A 1L3


Tue. – Sat.: 9 AM – 5 PM
CLOSED on Sundays, Mondays, and Stat Holidays


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