Owen Sound's Police Force - The Big Four were legendary in their maintaining the peace efforts in a rowdy Great Lakes port in the early 1900s.
In the early 1900s temperance leaders called Owen Sound "the rowdiest seaport from Halifax to Vancouver". However, most of the citizens of this community felt relatively safe because of the presence of the "Big Four"!
The "Big Four" was the nickname given to the four-man police force which patrolled the streets of Owen Sound. Anyone who encountered these men would understand why they were called the "Big Four" as their physiques were more like those of professional football players than anything else.
The Chief, John McCauley, stood 6 feet tall and weighed 225 pounds. Constable George Hargraves carried 235 pounds on his towering 6-foot seven-inch frame. Constable William Foster was almost 6 foot, 2 inches tall and weighed 218 pounds. Constable Anthony Schute was the shortest of the four at 5 foot 11.5 inches, but he weighed a massive 265 pounds!
(The picture to the right features the Owen Sound police force from 1908- 1911. NB Constable Hargraves no longer with the force replaced by Carson and Thompson.)
Owen Sound's Big Four (Plus 1) - Paul White Historic Photograph Collection
Back Row Left to Right: A. Shute, J. McCauley, T.H. Carson, Front Row L to R: W. Foster and J. Thompson
In those days the demands upon the police force were tremendous. At that time there were no less than 11 bars and two liquor stores in downtown Owen Sound. In a 1930s Sun Times story, Constable Foster recalled that "the bars were the curse of humanity..." "Men would go into the hotels and bar rooms, just after they had received their week's wages, and drink until their money was all gone."
Foster said that "the barkeepers would encourage these men in every way, until they had bled every cent of wages from them. Then the bar owners would phone for us to take them away. The men, who had gone into the bar room with (their) wages in (their) pockets, would become a nuisance to the barman, when (the) money was gone."
At that time there were no motor cars for the police force so they would have to respond to these calls on foot and then drag the drunks back to the police station. Foster remembered that when they arrived at a bar to respond to a call, they quite often had to fight their way in and then fight their way back out.
Foster recalled that "there was scarcely a day, but we would arrest ten or twelve drunks and drag them to the lockup. In fact, I remember one Sunday Anthony Schute and I put no less than eighteen men in the cells."
The Owen Sound police force were given authority under by-law #500 to arrest a person for being drunk and disorderly. The result of such an arrest led to a one dollar fine plus court costs.
Despite the strict attention paid to arresting people for drunk and disorderly conduct the "Big Four' also had to deal with other criminal activities such as robberies. Because of the demands made upon their time these four men worked long hours every day with little rest between calls.
Today the police force uses sophisticated equipment and have a lot of support. Still their job is anything but easy. When one reflects upon the daily ordeals of the "Big Four" one has to admire their perseverance and wonder what life would have been like in the rowdy seaport of Owen Sound if there had been lesser men wearing the badge!
The information used in this article came from several different editions of Owen Sound newspapers and anecdotes from families with roots going back to the time of the "Big Four."
A version of "Owen Sound's Police Force: The Big Four," originally appeared in my Local History column in the August 25, 2000 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.
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