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A look at 150 years of communications at Ottawa Police  NEW

Women's rights - We've come a long way baby!

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

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

A look at 150 years of communications at Ottawa Police

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

Today's technology provides many ways to contact police but what about 150 years ago?

Ottawa in the 1800's was a very different time and place. This logger's town was feared across North America for the brawlers and bruisers that lived here.  Construction on the Rideau Canal brought in hard-working and hard-drinking men from across the globe. Frequent arrests of the day included drunk and disorderly conduct, insulting language, and visiting or operating brothels (called bawdy-houses back then).  During these early years, the only way to alert an officer to an emergency was to flag him down on the street.

In 1877, Alexander Graham Bell came to Ottawa to negotiate the first public lease of a telephone in Canada, which was installed at Rideau Hall. In 1882, the city installed a telephone in the Police Chief's private residence. This telephone would be the first 24/7 line to contact Ottawa's police force.

Residential phones weren't in common use until the introduction of the first common battery telephone system, which came about in 1900. Prior to this time citizens wouldn't have been able to make a phone call to police.

Other communication improvements to the police service included the installation of one-way radios in police cars in 1935 (there were only four cars at that time). Officers on patrol received two-way radio in 1941, enabling them to communicate with the police dispatcher.

As the century continued, the role of the telephone in emergency services advanced considerably. By the 1970's, the Ottawa Police brought in new handheld radios for every beat officer. This drastically increased the safety and efficiency of officers while on duty.

The Ottawa Police became the first service in Canada to implement a computerized aided dispatch system (CAD) in 1978. CAD was the most advanced system of its day.

In 1988, Ottawa upgraded to the 9-1-1 Emergency telephone system we know today. This system made it simple for people of all ages and backgrounds to dial 9-1-1 into any available phone for help.

These days, with 120 members, the Communications Centre manages emergency calls and all other calls from across the city. They support and dispatch officers to ensure they arrive quickly in their service to the community.

Ottawa's 9-1-1 Communications Centre handles roughly 400,000 calls for service annually and includes 24/7 translation services  in142 different languages. 

Women's rights - We've come a long way baby!

By Peggy Staruch

In the late 1960s, as the world began to see shifting attitudes about gender, race, and stereotypes, an ad campaign seemed to embrace the feminist revolution that was unfolding. It showed a woman, by herself, in various roles from businesswoman to superman -- and underneath in bold text it said; "You've come a long way, baby."

As women, we have come a long way.

In 1851, New Brunswick permitted deserted or abandoned women to have their own finances and manage their own property.

"Until the 1850s married women in the Maritime colonies and Upper Canada had no legal right to hold or use property, except as provided in equity," according to Courtship, Love, and Marriage in The Nineteenth-Century English Canada by Peter Ward. In terms of civil law, a married woman had no independent existence. They were denied the right to make a will, sell property, sign contracts, or engage in business without the consent of her husband.

It wasn't until 1859 that a married woman in Canada could own property independent of her husband's control.

The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 permitted divorce, but it greatly favoured men over women. According to Horace Nelson's book, Selected Cases, Statutes and Orders, a husband could petition for divorce on the sole grounds that his wife had committed adultery; whereas a wife had to prove a myriad of offences such as cruelty, incest, bigamy, or desertion before it could be granted.

The 1880 and 1890's showed progress relating to employment for women. In 1880, Canada allowed women to attend universities; in the late 1880s, women living out West in America were allowed to obtain trade licences and in 1895 women were permitted to work as barristers. 

As the century turned, the Suffrage Movement, which sought basic human rights for women, finally emerged victorious when women were granted the right to vote and to stand for political office in Canada in 1916 - often at the municipal council level, or within school boards. The Suffrage Movement was more than just about the right to vote; it started initially as way to elevate women from what amounted to being regarded as chattel. It pushed for educational reforms and saw the inclusion of both boys and girls in compulsory education for the nation.

"Women had first to convince the world that they had souls, and then that they had minds, and then it came on to this matter of political entity and the end is not yet," wrote Canadian feminist Nellie McClung, who, along with Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney, and Irene Parlby came to be known as "The Famous Five" who launched the "Persons Case" that argued that women should be eligible to sit for office (the Senate).

On March 14, 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Section 23 of the Constitution Act should be amended from using "he" to "person" and allow women the opportunity to sit in the Senate. Female candidates still had to own property worth at least $4,000 and be at least 30-years-old. And there were still several months of debate as to whether "persons" meant women.

The Supreme Court had to step in and clarify that it did.

But it was still an uphill climb.

A 1955 Good Housekeeping article "The Good Wife's Guide," instructed women on how to "please" their husbands. It included such advice as "Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking," to "Remember his topics of conversation are more important than yours," to "Don't complain if he's late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night." Finally, it said "A good wife always knows her place."

It took until the Indian Act in 1960 to permit Indigenous women living on reserves the right to vote. In that same year, women were afforded the ability to stand for election, without any of the previous restrictions of property, age, and worth.

In 2000, Canada introduced an amendment to the Employment Standards Act, that said a woman could not be paid less than a man if she is doing "equal work."  However, provisions were made to allow disparity in wages based on: a seniority system; merit system; any system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; and any difference that is not based on the sex of the employee - which left room for a wide interpretation in the gender wage gap.

In Ontario, the Pay Equity Act is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and was Canada's first attempt to regulate wages for what traditionally had been seen as 'female jobs.'  It is not, however, equal pay. In Canada, according to a 2016 StatsCan survey, a woman still makes an average of 74.2 cents for every dollar her male counterpart earns.

"Having a gender wage gap in Canada in 2016 is unacceptable," the Minister of Status of Women in 2016, Patty Hajdu, said in a press release. "Our government believes strongly in the principle of equal pay for work of equal value and the fair treatment of all workers in the workplace, and we are committed to taking actions to help close the gender wage gap, support the economic advancement of women, and reduce income inequality."

In Canada, women make up 50.4% of the entire population. Through empowerment, education, and support, women are taking on non-traditional roles; becoming the family breadwinner; running for office; even playing on men's sports teams.

With the right support and opportunity, we can eliminate existing disparities for our coming generation of doctors, soldiers, pilots, prime ministers - whatever any young girl sets her mind on, without limitations.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is committed to working with our frontline partners to better-serve all who identify as a woman in Ottawa. As we celebrate 150 years as a nation, it's important to look back and realize just how far we've all come, together.

And we've come a long way.

While there is still work to be done for women's issues, the OPS will continue to solicit feedback and advice from our valued partners and stakeholders in an effort to continue what was so hard-fought by the suffragettes at the turn of the last century.


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

By 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.