P.C, Park Policeman
"Single-handed Cleanup" trumpeted the headline over a story by staff reporter Raymond Hill in the December 5 1956 issue of the Toronto Telegram. He was referring to the clean up of Hamilton's parks during the preceding thirteen years or so, by Inspector George James of the Parks Police. The headline however, held a double meaning: not only did George James clean up crime in Hamilton's parks, he was also the only one-armed police officer in Canada.
The story was one of several that ran in Hamilton and Toronto newspapers at the time. Toronto's Parks Commission had been so impressed by Hamilton's system for policing its parks, a committee was formed to look into the possibility of implementing the same system. Inspector James went to Toronto where, according to the City Hall Press Gallery itinerary, he appeared before the committee and detailed " ... his fight against vandalism."
George Francis James wasn't actually a Hamilton City policeman. Although he had been employed by the Board of Parks Management to police Hamilton's parks since 1943, it wasn't until April 1949 that he received his basic police training at the Hamilton Police Training School. On April 27, 1950, he was sworn in as a Special Constable s prescribed in the Police Act of 1949. Like regular officers, he had jurisdiction throughout the Province of Ontario an d the authority to carry firearms.
George was sixteen years old in 1916 and was working in a Hamilton knitting mill on September 16th, when a moment's inattention at a machine cost him his right arm and changed his life forever. Not a lot is known about his life before or after the accident, but it certainly didn't hold him back. In his determination to succeed he obtained his professional chauffeur's license; became a member of the Civilian Defense Committee (Police); enrolled in The Legion of Frontiersmen (Canadian Division); worked as a special police officer for E. D. Smith & Sons Lt., Winona and became Hamilton's own Parks Policeman shortly thereafter.
Things were a little difficult for him a the outset. Children and local toughs found him an easy mark for name calling, taunted him mercilessly. Never one to back down from a fight, George would take the toughs into the darker recesses of the underbrush to discuss their differences. Later, when they emerged nursing their bruises, the hooligans weren't so inclined to name-call and even less apt to talk about how they were bested by a one-armed man.
The children were another matter altogether. He patiently got to know them by cultivating their trust and friendship. Eventually he befriended over 400 and knew some 300 others by their first names. Many became his 'Baker Street Irregulars' and his eyes and ears in the parks.
By late 1949, he and two other officers were responsible for patrolling 2600 acres of parkland within the city limits. Working from their headquarters in what is now the Children's Museum in Gage Park, they enforced the Criminal Code, the Parks By-Laws and provided security at soccer and football games as well as city functions within the parks.
Although many of the offences George prosecuted in court - playing golf; dumping garbage; riding bikes; breaking windows; damaging trees and so on, are mundane by today's standards, he also dealt with more sinister and dangerous matters. Sex offenders preyed upon women and young children, gangs of youths used the parks to settle old scores and sleeping travellers were robbed. As well, over the years George and his officers seized an assortment of firearms, bows and arrows, knives and other weapons from illegal hunters and other park users.
The local newspapers of the day showed strong support for George and his officers by the citizens of Hamilton, but he also had his detractors who felt his enforcement tactics were a little too inflexible. The cost of policing - which was paid through the Board of Parks Management budget, also became an issue; particularly when the police asked for parity with their regular city police colleagues.
In August 1963, the matter came to a head and the Parks Police Force, consisting of an Inspector, Sergeant and four (4) Constables was disbanded. Only one Fred Gauld Sr., continued in policing by joining the Ancaster Police Force, where he remained for the next five years. The task of policing the parks was turned over to the Hamilton Police Department resulting in the creation of our former parks patrol.
George James died in Hamilton, Ontario about 1990.