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


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