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The Railway Beat: A Century of Canadian Pacific Police Service

By David Laurence Jones

Review By Heather Longworth Sjoblom

June 25, 2015

BC Studies no. 189 Spring 2016  | p. 168-69

The Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CPR) experimented with many different forms of policing throughout its long history. How do you protect a 2,000-mile transportation network that keeps growing? David Laurence Jones’s The Railway Beat looks at the CPR’s law enforcement from the company’s initial use of the North West Mounted Police during railway construction in the 1880s, to the development of its own police force in 1913, to the present. Jones examines the challenges and responsibilities undertaken by the Canadian Pacific Police Service (CPPS) and how the role and structure of this law enforcement body changed with the life of the company.

As the CPR expanded its rail lines and diversified into other modes of transportation, such as steamships, the company moved from an ad hoc system of policing to its own private professional police force which enabled the company, Jones argues, to minimize losses from theft and strikes and to run an efficient and safe transportation network. Using correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings from the CPR Archives along with personal testimony from police officers and CPSS chiefs, Jones shows that this police force grew with the company to become respected around the world. CPPS adapted in the face of new security challenges such as gentleman bandits and bombs, and took preventative measures by promoting public safety through educational initiatives. The CPSS changed with the times, accepting women into the force in 1987 and dealing with cutbacks and restructuring.

Throughout, Jones highlights the personalities of police chiefs and the role of other railway police forces, including those on American branch lines later acquired by the CPR. Though he does mention that the Canadian National Police (CNP) worked in conjunction with the CPSS on certain cases, Jones never explains how the CNP came about or how changes in its structure and responsibilities compared to those of the CPSS. Since Canadian National was the CPR’s biggest competitor, this information would have been useful. Jones discusses the relationship between the North West Mounted Police and First Nations during the CPR’s construction, but we need further research to explore how the CPPS and First Nations interacted throughout the railway’s operations.

The Railway Beat is the first book to focus on the history of law enforcement by the CPR. Most CPR histories say little about policing, especially after the initial construction. Jones’s work also fills a significant gap in the history of policing in Canada. This book will be especially useful to scholars of British Columbia for the CPSS role in policing steamships out of Vancouver, dealing with gentleman bandits like Bill Miner, investigating Doukhobor (Sons of Freedom) bombings in the Kootenays, and tracing the role of a package flown by CP Air through Vancouver which was used in the Air India Flight 301 bombing in 1985.

The Railway Beat is a much-needed addition to the history of one of Canada’s largest transportation companies. Without the reach and efficiency of the CPSS, Canadian Pacific would have been vulnerable to greater losses from theft, terrorism, and vandalism, and might never have styled itself  “The World’s Greatest Transportation System.”

The Railway Beat: A Century of Canadian Pacific Police Service
David Laurence Jones
Markham, ON: Fifth House Publishers, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014. 312 pp. $24.95 paper