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OPINION: Sarnia’s streetcars had their own police? Who knew?

Phil Egan The Sarnia Historical Society launched its most recent book in March of 2020, just as the world was shutting for the COVID-19 pandemic.
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This postcard shows the Sarnia Street Railway making a stop at Lake Huron Park. The trolley brought patrons to and from the posh Lake Huron Hotel, which was located near the foot of what’s now McMillen Parkway. Photo courtesy Lambton County Archives.

Phil Egan

The Sarnia Historical Society launched its most recent book in March of 2020, just as the world was shutting for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping the Peace is a 160-year chronicle of the Sarnia Police Service, but it also contains stories about the exploits of other local forces active over that period. They include the Point Edward police, the OPP, the RCMP, the CN police, and the agents of Canada’s border services.

As the book’s author, and following two years of research, I thought I’d touched on pretty much every aspect of local policing.

Now I’m not so sure.

A collector of police uniform insignia contacted me recently about the badge illustrated here. He had purchased it at a group show in London and was seeking information about who might have worn it.

The Sarnia Street Railway Company operated from 1875 to 1931, when it was replaced in 1932 by Sarnia Bus Company. The original horse-drawn line ran from Sarnia to the Grand Trunk Railway depot in Point Edward. A beach line was added in 1904, following the installation of electric trolley cars in 1901.

I set out to discover more about the mysterious badge. The city’s parks and recreation department had no answers, nor did a quick scanning of related files at the always-helpful Lambton County Archives.

I consulted a police spokesman, a retired chief of police with a considerable knowledge of local policing history, and a retired officer with a vast collection of police insignia – with little results - although former Chief Phil Nelson saw a clear need for a special constable to police rowdy passengers.

Sarnia Transit also had no answers.

But my friend and fellow historian, retired Crown attorney Randy Evans, had some clarifying thoughts to contribute. The Sarnia Street Railway, Randy reminded me, was a mail and freight carrier in addition to transporting cash-paying passengers, so the presence of a railway police officer made sense.

The line also picked up wealthy holidaymakers from the riverfront rail depot and ships arriving at Ferry Dock Hill, and took them to the grand resort hotels on Lake Huron.

Additionally, Randy pointed out, those hotels were located in Sarnia Township at the time – a jurisdiction without its own police force at the turn of the 20th century. Protecting the tourists who flocked to the lake’s famed beaches from across North America would have been a critical civic priority.

As always, some knowledgeable Journal reader will likely have other insights.

If you know of anyone in Sarnia who might have worn such a badge, The Sarnia Journal would like to hear from you. Just drop a note to [email protected].

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