Lee Smith: Burlington's police chief for 40 years; he saw it all.

Who Knew 100x100 2015By Mark Gillies

January 18, 2015

BURLINGTON, ON
Part 1 of a 4 part feature.

A Burlington History Maker, Like No Other
His name was Lee Joseph Smith, another outstanding citizen of Burlington, and just like Spencer Smith, this individual also made a huge impact on why so many of us choose to live here. What did this man do? As in so many cases with Burlington’s history makers, they have not been properly recognized.

Pic 1 Lee Smith

Chief Lee Joseph Smith, (1885 – 1973). Was this man Canada’s greatest Police Chief ever?

Most residents will not know his name, or at best, barely remember who Lee Smith was, but by the time you finish reading this four part feature, you will better understand this man’s contributions to the safety and protection of our local society. This is for you Lee. This is your story.

Farm Boy joins The Northwest Mounted Police
Lee was born July 26, 1885 in London, Ontario, but spent most of his boyhood years growing up on the family’s market garden farm in Saltfleet Township, which is the Stoney Creek area of Wentworth County. When Lee was 21 years of age, in 1906, he made a decision that was about to change his life, and not knowing it at the time, this same decision would eventually affect the residents of Burlington, even to this day.

Pic 2 Northwest Mounted Police Officer

Here is a typical Northwest Mounted Police officer in full dress uniform around 1911. Lee would have worn a “Mountie” uniform exactly like this one, and then climb onto his horse and head out on patrol.

His decision was to serve the public in law enforcement. Lee joined the Northwest Mounted Police, where they promptly sent him out west, where Lee patrolled on horseback throughout the wild desolate prairie lands of Alberta, only 1 year into becoming a province.

Later, Lee transferred to the Brandon, Manitoba detachment as a result of his outstanding service, having been promoted to detective. When Police Commissioner Aylesworth Bowen Perry introduced annual training classes, Lee was selected as one of his first instructors. No doubt about it, Lee Smith was a good as it gets; a rising star who undoubtedly was destined to one day become a future Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Officer Smith while out west had some skirmishes and even took a few bullets, fired upon by local rowdies, but the young man survived, and continued to serve faithfully, and grow as a highly respected police officer.

Boy meets Girl
While posted to the Brandon detachment, Lee met his future wife to be. Her name was Alma Edith Mackenzie a lovely young lady from Woodstock, New Brunswick. Alma was a student studying at the Brandon Baptist College. When Alma was 21 years old, she and Lee tied the knot in Brandon on September 27, 1911. The newly wedded couple lived and worked in Brandon until 1914, when personal tragedy struck back home in Ontario.

Lee, after serving with the Mounties for eight rugged years, felt it best if he resigned, and return to his home area of Hamilton with his bride Alma, after receiving the tragic news his younger sister Annie Katherine, at the age of 26, had died on May 17, 1914, from tuberculosis. Annie had painfully suffered for several years with the dreaded disease. The family was grief stricken. Lee, a compassionate man, felt he had completely let his family down with his long absence from home, and racked with guilt, now wanted to be closer to his family, especially at this very difficult and sad time. Home for good, Lee needed to find work as soon as possible. Then he heard about a possible opening as a constable in Burlington.

Lee Smith finds employment in Burlington as a Night Constable
Lee was hired as a replacement night constable a few weeks after his sister’s death in the spring of 1914. Burlington, at that time, had a population of around 2,000 people during World War 1. Most of the young men from town and the surrounding farms had already gone off to war. If you think about it, if about half the population were children, and ½ of the adults were female, this only leaves 500 adult men in town. Burlington did its part, and we sent 300 over to Europe. Only 200 elderly men remained behind. Who was going to keep us safe? The Town Council had recently gone through a series of unsuccessful attempts to hire other men who did not work out to be the kind of Burlington police officer they wanted patrolling the streets after dark.

Lee Smith’s interview was impressive, and Lee was selected to be their new man of law and order. Lee continued to be exceptional at police work putting his Northwest Mounted Police training to good use. Sometime in 1916 Burlington’s first Chief Constable, Charles Tufgar, 36, who lived on Ontario Street, unexpectedly resigned. Lee Smith, without any hesitation by Town Council was promoted to Burlington’s Chief Constable. Town Council wanted to make sure their “all-star officer” didn’t one day suddenly resign, with ambitions to move up the ladder with another police department. As it was, Lee was not about to leave. The Chief strongly believed in loyalty to the Mayor, the Town Council, and the residents of Burlington he served. The truth was Lee and Alma loved Burlington.

The new Chief delivers his first report to Town Council
It was the duty of the Police Chief to provide the Town Council with an annual update of the activities and concerns of the Police Department during the first week of January. In the Chief’s first report in 1917, he acknowledged the resignation of Chief Charles Tufgar, and he also informed the town’s Council they were without the services of a night constable.

The Chief reported that in 1916 there were 475 cases that went to Court. During that same year, the Chief had found 43 doors were unlocked, and advised those residents to have them secured. The Chief reported that Burlington had 5 fires, and 24 accidents were attended. There were two cases of aggravated assault, 76 overnight lodgers, three house break ins, two charges of abusive language, 14 thefts, four common assaults, 12 disorderly conducts, 11 vagrancy charges, 1 trespassing charge, two stolen horses, 49 warnings issued for small offences, 161 local complaints received and investigated, three charges of residents not having a proper license, five charges of riding a bicycle on the sidewalk, three charges of property damage, 3 cruelty to animal charges, one charge for not having sleigh bells, 286 aliens were registered, seven charges laid for being an alien enemy, 14 charges for drunkenness and breach of the OTA, and seven charges laid for breach of the Motor Vehicle Act.

There were 11 arrests outside of points. The Chief also reported that 29 children had not attended school and the parents had been contacted. A total of $1206.20 in fines was collected. Visitations to the two pool rooms and the moving picture theatre were deemed satisfactory and managed properly. The Chief was referring to Burlington’s new Crystal Theatre located on Brant Street, opposite Ontario Street.

The following year in June 1918, the Crystal Theatre featured the two classic blockbuster silent films, “Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance”, complete with an in-house orchestra. The Chief concluded by saying, “I highly appreciate the valuable assistance given me by Mayor and Council, also that of the Special Constables and other Town officials during the year.” No doubt about it, the Chief had a very busy year in 1916.

The Chief expands his Police Department & hires more officers
When Lee Smith became Chief Constable, he was responsible for additional duties other than police work. It was also Lee’s job to do all the janitorial duties, such as washing windows, sweeping the floor, cleaning washrooms, and to do minor repairs around the municipal office. Lee was receiving $17.80 each week, and that was after his raise, when he was promoted to Chief. This was thought to be good pay back then.

One day, the Town Council under the leadership of Mayor Maxwell Smith, himself a man of great vision, innovation and entrepreneurship, decided that Lee could use some help as the town tried to modernize, so later that year in 1916 Town Council presented Lee with a telephone for his office, something long overdue, since telephones had been in use since their invention around 1877, almost 40 years earlier.

That wasn’t all that changed for the better. The following year in 1917, affable Bert Dunham was hired as a special constable, and it was decided Bert was to work every other Sunday for $2.00 a day. Bert and his wife Ida who had seven young children were living in a very small house at the corner of Pine and Elizabeth Street; and for the Dunham family, this new source of money was greatly welcomed. Lee knew that Bert needed the extra money and this was his way of helping out when he hired Bert for the job.

One thing about Lee J Smith, he really knew people. Bert was grateful for the work, and he wasn’t going to let the compassionate Chief down. Now, Lee was no longer on call seven days a week, but still came pretty close to around the clock duty. Lee not only worked days, but he also worked nights, and it was decided another constable was needed for the still vacant night shift.

Allan Mitchell, a Scottish born family man who was about 50 years old, also could use another job, after hitting some tough times, and like Bert, Allan could use the extra money to augment his irregular income. The Chief puzzled over how Allan would labour during the day with his various odd jobs, and then still work all night. Regardless of how Allan was going to make it work, he was hired as a night constable by Chief Smith, and this brought about some more badly needed relief for this completely overworked Police Chief.

Pic 3 Adolphus Smith

Here is a very dapper Adolphus Smith sporting a fashionable bowler hat, with his wife Susan and daughter Annie around 1918 at their home 2091 Maria Street, near the corner of Martha Street. Dol, as he was known, was the older brother of Chief Smith, and Burlington’s first motorcycle officer.

A Police motorcycle, automobile accidents & possible nepotism
The Burlington Police Department grew to 4 officers in late 1919 when Chief Smith hired his older brother Adolphus as a new Burlington police officer. Adolphus was better known by everyone as “Doll”.  During World War 1, fighting against Germany, Adolphus was probably not the best name to be known by, so Doll thought this shortened version of his name worked better. Doll Smith, a woodworker by trade was working at a munitions plant in Hamilton during World War 1.

Pic 4 Car Accident Highway 2 1923

This accident occurred on the Lakeshore when the driver was heading towards Bronte. The impact was severe enough to snap the power line pole.

When the war ended, Doll who was married, with a young daughter to raise, was soon to face unemployment and began looking for work. As it turned out, Chief Smith, a man with uncanny vision, had been thinking of a way to patrol the Lakeshore Road area. This road was becoming busier all the time, now that automobiles were becoming more prevalent, and wouldn’t you just know it, automobile accidents were starting to happen, a new phenomenon for the department. The population had increased to close to 2700 people. The population was getting close to a 50% increase over wartime numbers in town.  Chief Smith, with virtually no real budget to work with managed to locate a free motorcycle for his department.

The Chief discovered that British World War 1 surplus motorcycles under the Imperial Gift plan, a program set up for all Members of the British Commonwealth to receive some of Britain’s military surplus, on a ruling established by the British Parliament on June 4, 1919 was put into effect. Chief Smith was elated and quickly sent in his application for one slightly used battle scarred motorcycle. When the machine arrived later that year, Constable Smith was assigned as Burlington’s first motorcycle officer.

Pic 5 1918 Matchless

Chief Smith secured a war surplus motorcycle similar to this 1918 Matchless, and assigned his brother to patrol the busy Lakeshore Road, the main thoroughfare for automobiles, trucks, carriages, wagons, bicyclists and pedestrians between Toronto and Hamilton from 1919 to 1930.

Doll patrolled the Lakeshore Road all the way to Toronto and back. Either Doll was hooked on riding a motorcycle, or he thought Burlington was far bigger than it actually was; whatever the reason, this is what Doll did for a few years. Doll left the department in the late 1920s to ride for the Ontario Highway Patrol, and in 1930 he moved over to the Ontario Provincial Police, when they hired 70 constables to begin their own motorcycle division. Doll was one of the OPP’s first motorcycle officers hired, and remained an OPP motorcycle officer patrolling Highways 8 and 20, right through to the Niagara area, until his retirement in 1950.

What about the nepotism? It wasn’t to be a problem. Not many people in that day could even drive an automobile, and far less could operate a motorcycle. Adolphus Smith already new how to ride, or so he claimed. Doll just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Adolphus Smith passed away in 1975 at 92 years of age.

The Ontario Temperance Act
Just when Lee Smith received his promotion to Chief, Ontario went bone dry in 1916. The Ontario Temperance Act (OTA) was enacted and this new law, designed with good intentions prohibited alcohol sales. The OTA was in force until the Act was repealed in 1927. Needless to say, the Chief and his three officers were kept busy trying to enforce this unpopular law. Quite possibly, Chief Tufgar may have been provoked into his resignation over opposition to this legislation. The Temperance Act was that controversial.

In Part 2: How Chief Lee Smith dealt with a community going through the Great Depression. The Chief’s life was about to be shattered; how did he handle the worst tragedy in his life?

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2 comments to Lee Smith: Burlington’s police chief for 40 years; he saw it all.

  • Mark Gillies

    It probably refers to people who were from another country, possibly illegally. You may want to check with Halton Regional Police Services to see if they have any records from that era that more accurately describes this terminology.

  • Zaffi

    Could you clarify for me what is meant by “alien” back in that era?