Toronto Police Museum

Story: Emélie Perron-Clow
Photography: Emélie Perron-Clow
Sunday, December 2, 2018

Wandering into the police headquarters in Toronto may seem like an odd choice for a tourist, but that is what I decided to do when I visited the Toronto Police Museum and Discovery Centre. Once past security screening, I veered left and began my education into the rich history of policing in Canada’s biggest city.

In the early 19th century, the Toronto Magistrate would select 12 convicted men and present them with a tough choice: either become a policeman, or pay a fine. This was how the law was upheld, but it’s not surprising that it didn’t stay that way as corruption and laziness were rife. In 1834 the city set up it’s official police force, only five years after Robert Peel created his force in London, England. Slowly but surely the occupation of the police became increasingly professionalized. In 1837, uniforms were given to constables and in 1859, the Board of Police Commissioners was created and tasked with the role of hiring professional policemen. At the time, the police served varying duties related to social and moral life, such as to “prevent the sale of strong and intoxicating drink to children, apprentices and servants.” The most common crimes at the time were larceny and cow and horse stealing (a bit different from contemporary Toronto!).

The exhibit explores how changes to technology impacted police work, such as the introduction of in-car radios as well as motorcycles. Throughout the exhibit, special attention is made to showcase the role of women in policing, chronicling the transition from being a separate classification, to their incorporation into the main ranks.

Like the police force itself, the museum is a blend of history and morality. For those inclined, there is a section describing some of Toronto’s more intriguing crimes, with select pieces of evidence on display for public consumption. Crime lords, drug busts and murder are all featured. There is another section on the effects of drug and alcohol (oddly, sponsored by Pepsi) with a sign reminding would-be thieves that the display “drugs are not real.”

For a museum that has discovery centre in its name, there is an unfortunate lack of visitor engagement. There is only one interactive element: guess which guns are real and which ones are fake.

I found the Museum to have a positive viewpoint, and not at all critical of the role the police in the city, so if your intention is to find a balanced presentation of facts, you’ll be disappointed. While most of the museum could benefit from updated its exhibits, overall, it presents the history of the Toronto Police in a concise and logical manner. It is worth of visit if you find yourself on College St.

The chief during the 1950s created Elmer the Safety Elephant for community outreach with children, as he never forgets to follow the rules.

Practical elements: The Museum is in the Toronto Police Headquarters building. As mentioned above, visitors pass security screening. Admission is by donation and there is a gift shop across the hall from the museum.

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