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Early Staff


 Prisoners faced harsh conditions at the Nicholas Street Jail

A look at the growth of roads in Ontario

Celebrating Canada's 150th birthday with a look at policing 'then and now' in Ottawa

Throughout its history, Ottawa Police has valued the work of volunteers

Dawson Hebert-Arsenault (with records from A History of the Ottawa Police by Gilles Larochelle)

At one time, policing in Ottawa was handled entirely by volunteers. These were good-willed members of the community who supplemented their daily labour with police work at night.


In the beginning, Bytown was a brutish logging town that was feared across North America. There was a large group of labourers in the area working on Colonel By's Rideau Canal. These men would take to drinking late at night and brawling until the early morning. Tensions between Irish Catholics, French Catholics and Anglo-Protestant groups were high and would often flare into brawls.

The militia on Barracks Hill (present day Parliament Hill) couldn't be called on for every minor disturbance that took place in town. So in October 1835 the Bytown Association for the Preservation of the Public Peace was formed and boasted over 200 members.

These volunteers would take part in duties such as night watches, and transporting prisoners to the courthouse. To cover costs for prosecuting and transporting offenders, a subscription fund was started. As a result of in-fighting, missed night-watches, and a lack of provincial support, the Association was disbanded after only a few years.

The first official police force was the Bytown Police, made up of nine men plus a head constable. These first constables were paid on a "per-service" system, which meant they were only paid for successful arrests.

The next hundred years or so would be a period of industrialization and modernization for the Ottawa Police. The small size of the force meant there wasn't the time or energy to incorporate volunteer members. During this time, the role of volunteers was minimal.

By the 1970's though, the Ottawa Police mandate had expanded to include more aspects of public safety. With this new trend of public safety came a multitude of crime prevention programs. Volunteers were used as part of these new programs.

One notable volunteer group is the "Ottawa Police Chorus". Started in 1972 with thirty men, it was first called "The Ottawa Police Male Chorus". The group later became open to women and members of the community.  Today, they perform at a variety of events each year. In addition to police functions, they can be booked privately to perform at weddings, funerals and musical concerts.

Today, hundreds of volunteers help the OPS with their daily activities and special events.  


Police Venturers

There is the Ottawa Police Auxiliary, 20 members strong. They are a voluntary group of personnel that are trained to ride with and assist on-duty officers.

Youth between the ages of 14-18 can join the Police Venturers program to volunteer in a more educational and age appropriate way.

Volunteers also work in our Community Police Centres, where their role is to engage the community and assist in public safety promotion and education.

For some, volunteering is a way to learn about a future career. For others, it is about the personal satisfaction that comes from making a difference in the community. They are a valued part of our organization and Ottawa Police is happy to recognize our volunteers past and present for their contribution and service.                        





Prisoners faced harsh conditions
at the Nicholas Street Jail

By Lysia Filotas 

Before Ottawa's first jail became a hostel, it was housed in the basement of the city's new courthouse, on property donated by prominent landholder Nicholas Sparks.

In response to years of criticism about a lack of space in the existing jail, the Nicholas Street Jail, designed by architect Henry Horsey, began operating in 1862.  

Although the three-and-a half-storey building was designed to be imposing, prisoners were more intimidated by the appalling living conditions that accompanied time behind bars. Prisoners of the Nicholas Street Jail didn't have much to do besides aimlessly wander the gaol's corridors or wait for the next day in a cell that didn't have any heating, lighting, ventilation or toilets.

The Nicholas Street Jail was home to murderers, the mentally ill and those incarcerated for minor infractions such as drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Old records from the jail cite foul and argumentative language as reasons for imprisonment, especially if you were heard insulting or arguing in public.

Back in the early days, there were no separate laws for children. They faced the same charges as adults, although judges were more likely to go lenient on children, unless he or she was a repeat offender. All children under age 12 were housed in the women's side of the prison. The youngest prisoner at the Nicholas Street jail was just six years old.

It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that the Ottawa Children's Aid Society was in place to protect children. Prior to this time, mothers who were jailed would have to bring their children with them while they served their sentence. However, a judge was more likely to fine a woman rather than imprison her if she had a family.

Prison conditions were harsh and unsanitary. Freezing cold in winter and stifling hot in summer, the jail was a breeding ground for illness and disease. Many of the inmates died while incarcerated.

Beyond the small, uncomfortable prison cells lay the gallows, which served as a grim reminder to would-be criminals of the possible consequences of committing crimes.

Three people were hanged at the Nicholas Street Jail, the most well-known being Patrick James Whelan, who in 1869 was punished for the murder of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, one of the founding fathers of confederation. This was the last public execution performed in Canada and was witnessed by over 5,000 people.

In 1933, William George Seabrooke was hanged at the jail for shooting a garage service employee in a robbery that took place two years earlier.

The last death sentence carried out at the gaol was that of Eugene Larment. He was hanged in 1946 for the murder of Ottawa Police detective Thomas Stoneman.

After more than 100 years in operation, the Nicholas Street Jail, its doors were closed in 1972 due to the appalling living conditions. The inmates were moved to the newly-opened Ottawa-Carleton-Regional Detention Centre in Blackburn Hamlet.  Ironically, after the building was renovated and opened as a hostel in 1973 a new work program was offered to inmates to do some of the building maintenance.  

Today, the jail has been converted from a cold and dreary gaol to a bright and welcoming hostel. Despite this new-found use, much of the building remains undisturbed. Indeed, the gallows have been left in their original state and many of the prison cells have not been changed.

Hostellers and members of the public can go on guided tours to see for themselves the unpleasant conditions in which the prisoners lived. 


A look at the growth of roads in Ontario

By Carol Macpherson

Ontario's first transportation systems weren't anything like the highways we see today. Indigenous people travelled using the vast waterways; canoeing them in summer and walking across the ice in winter. This system was so practical that people like explorers and military men who came to this land followed suit.

police officer directing traffic

By the early 1800s, roadways were needed to open new areas for settlement, provide the military the means to move from place to place and to cultivate commerce. However, because various levels of government couldn't agree on who was responsible for roads, many were opened and then abandoned due to lack of maintenance.

The invention of the automobile provided a new mode of roadway transportation. It didn't take long to gain popularity. In 1907 there were only 2,131 cars 

registered in Canada but by the start of WWI less than a decade later, they were in excess of 50,000 in use.

Provincial legislation around automobiles was introduced in 1903.  Speed limits were set at 15 mph (almost 24 km/h) and owners were now required to register their vehicles. The enforcement of these laws fell primarily to municipal police forces.Rideau and Dalhousie Street in 1860

Driver's licences came into effect in 1909, but for some reason, only chauffeurs driving other people's vehicles needed them.

The first cross-country trip by car was undertaken by Thomas Wilby and Jack Haney in 1912. It couldn't even be called a road trip, since there were only 16 kilometres of paved road in the entire country at the time. It took them 52 days to travel from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Alberni, British Columbia.  

As it is with most car trips, the two travellers did not always get along. Wilby wrote a 290 page book about the adventure and never once mentioned his driver by name. Haney's account of the trip notes that not once did Wilby help change a tire or push the car out of the mud, even though it happened hundreds of times.

All of the new roadways and the number of vehicles using them made traffic control necessary. For the first few years, it would have been the duty of police officers to direct the traffic through busier urban intersections. Then in 1925, the first set of traffic lights in Canada went into operation in Hamilton, Ontario.

Ottawa's first roadways

Richmond Road may be the oldest road in Ottawa. Built in 1818, it connected the military settlement at Richmond with Richmond Landing, just below the Chaudière Falls on the Ottawa River in what was then known as Bytown.

In his 1896 book "The History of the Ottawa Valley", the Rev. John L. Gourlay wrote:

"We never heard why these distinguished colonists chose the banks of the Jock in preference to those of the Rideau or the Ottawa. They arrived at the Richmond landing in 1818. Under Sergeant Hill, they organized to cut the road from the Flats, the place of their encampment, to the Jock, ever since known as the Richmond Road."

old downtown OttawaMany of the streets laid out by Colonel John By when he was building the Rideau Canal remain to this day. Wellington, Rideau, Sussex and Sparks Streets are all part of that early road system.  

Today, there are 5,661kilometres of roadway in Ottawa, as well as 233 kilometres of transitway and highways. That's pretty incredible when you consider the coast to coast distance across Canada is 6,521 kilometers.

These roadways continue to be patrolled principally by the Ottawa Police Service and some roadways in the city such as 400 series highways and the parkways fall under the jurisdiction of the RCMP and OPP. 

Celebrating Canada's 150th birthday with a look at policing 'then and now' in Ottawa

By Lysia Filotas
(with records from 'The History of the Ottawa Police' by Gilles Larochelle)

It's hard to believe, but the city of Ottawa in its many forms, has been around for longer than Canada has been a country. Our community was actually established in 1855, a full dozen years before confederation. 

In celebration of our country's birthday, we will be taking a 'then and now' look at various aspects of policing, starting with a brief history.

One hundred and fifty years ago, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) looked substantially different from the major law enforcement agency that exists today.

The OPS can trace its roots back to nine constables who were tasked with restoring order to a violent and lawless Bytown community that was brimming with conflicts.

Early Staff photo


Unlike today's officers, these Bytown constables didn't have an official uniform, nor did they have their own weapons to carry. The police force was only armed on special occasions.

What's more, these men were not given a regular salary but rather compensated based on each task they successfully completed. Their assignments ranged from catching stray dogs, cows and horses to inspecting establishments for cleanliness and collecting taxes. If an officer caught a culprit, they were paid $1 for the good deed.

It was not until 1866 - a full year after Bytown incorporated and adopted the name of Ottawa- that officers were organized into a full-time organization that received regular payment for their work. One of the first duties of the OPS was to direct all owners of cess pools to clean them or be liable under the by-laws of the Board of Health.

It would be years before a policewoman would join the previously all men team. Flora Ann Campbell was the first woman to be appointed to the police force on December 31, 1913.

Campbell's years of service demonstrated the need for female officers in the prevention of crime and the protection of women and girls. In 1936, Alice Goyette became the second woman officer to join the OPS.

As the police force expanded, larger accommodations were needed. As a result, Ottawa Police had several temporary downtown homes over the next 50 years until they settled in at their current spot on Elgin Street, built in 1983.

Ottawa obtained thousands of acres of land from the Nepean and Gloucester townships, and the population of the city grew from 162,442 inhabitants in 1949 to 193,219 the following year. Today, there are about 900,000 people living in Ottawa and it is 2,778 square kilometres in size.

The early expansion of the city brought a whole new set of responsibilities for OPS. Officers found themselves facing rural problems such as looking for lost calves, stray horses and stolen hay. Housing projects and businesses that were part of the newly acquired land also needed to be patrolled.

The 1960s were a period of modernization for the OPS. During this time, sections of the force began to specialize by focusing on particular types of crimes.

Among the different speciality units was the Fraud Squad, who in addition to investigating fraud, responded to bank and store holdup alarms. There were also two cars assigned to patrolling the city during banking hours.

More sophisticated technology, such as an upgraded information retrieval system which reduced the search time for records and fingerprints from roughly two weeks to a few minutes, was also introduced to the police station in the 1960s.

These changes helped to transform the OPS into one of the major law enforcement agencies currently found in Canada.

Today, policing in Ottawa continues to evolve in order to best meet the needs of the community.

The organization continues to implement innovative ways to maintain the peace, order and safety of Ottawa.

Join us throughout the year as we highlight changes in policing over the past 150 years.