The Barrie police department is one of the oldest police forces in this province. Back in 1853, it was a force of one. Chief Joseph Rogers was the entire force and his beat included the whole of Simcoe County.
Within those 168 years of law enforcement service, there exists a gap of just over nine years when the Ontario Provincial Police was contracted to look after Barrie’s policing instead.
Several issues contributed to the town council’s desire for this change. Budget costs and chronic under-staffing were always problematic but, during the Second World War years, Barrie’s large number of drinking establishments became so attractive to the military personnel of nearby Camp Borden that local police were stretched to the limit. Something had to give.
Provincial police began policing Barrie in 1946 at a cost to the community that was nearly $4,000 cheaper than the town force had been. It must have seemed like a sensible deal at the time, but the costs quickly ballooned and council was soon back to looking for solutions once again.
In 1955, the Ontario Provincial Police withdrew their services from Barrie, which necessitated the rebuilding of a town force.
Edward Tschirhart, who had been a detective sergeant with the Kitchener Police Force, was hired as police chief and given the task of creating a constabulary from scratch in six weeks.
The new recruits came from everywhere – Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, England, Bradford, and Kitchener. Many had recent military experience. Several of the successful applicants were local men who had been working previously in firefighting, factory work or construction.
Roy Alvin Lacey, a native of Smithville, Ont., was one of the 15 men hired to join the reborn Barrie police department. The Dec. 5, 1955 issue of the Barrie Examiner printed photographs of Chief Tschirhart and his recruits along with a short biography of each.
“Roy A. Lacey, 30, is family man. He has four children, a set of twins. He served with the army overseas and is, at present, living and working in Toronto.”
On Jan. 1, 1956, the Barrie police department came into being once again and the newly minted officers got to work. They settled into life in Barrie, which, for many, had involved a move from another community. Const. Lacey and his family lived for a few years on the corner of Mulcaster and Worsley streets where the large Collier Centre now stands.
Const. Lacey’s exploits, as reported in Barrie Examiner articles, are what you might expect from a small-town police officer’s work day – impaired drivers, fights at the Clifton Hotel, car thefts, pickpockets, and house burglars.
One of Const. Lacey’s assignments was to control the traffic and crowds that swarmed the opening of Roy Christie’s new and modern IGA Foodliner store, which opened in 1957, at the corner of Essa Road and Tiffin Street. So successful was this IGA location that Mr. Christie built another store in downtown Barrie within a short time. Its construction led to the demolition of the Lacey home and the constable’s family moved to 30 Mulcaster St.
Early on in his career with Barrie police, it became apparent that Const. Lacey’s real passion involved keeping the youngest citizens of the town safe. He was the first school safety officer of the renewed police force of this town.
Police Chief Tschirhart had been surprised by the number of injuries related to automobile accidents, more than half involving children, during his first year in Barrie. The chief was familiar with the school safety patrol program pioneered in Kitchener a decade earlier and believed that the children of Barrie could benefit from something similar.
Const. Lacey created a local program and then presented the concept to the schools. It was explained that the more responsible students of the upper grades could volunteer for the safety patrol at their school. The patrollers would not take the children across a street, but instead send them to the other side after finding a safe time for them to cross. The idea was that children teaching other children about street safety would be listened to more readily than what adults might try to tell them.
The first Barrie school to sign up for the program was St. Mary’s. After being trained on road safety by Const. Lacey, white belts supplied by the Kinsmen Club of Barrie were presented to the group of patrollers.
By the end of 1959, five schools were part of the safety patrol program – St. Mary’s, Codrington Street, Hillcrest, Johnson Street, and Prince of Wales.
During the summer months, when the children were not in school, Const. Lacey’s focus turned to bicycle safety. Each summer, a large bicycle rodeo was held at Queen’s Park where hundreds of Barrie children showed off their bike handling skills in hopes of winning prizes.
During the 1960s, Const. Lacey led an end of year trip to Toronto as a reward for the work of the safety patrollers whom he so admired. Four chartered buses, all filled with excited patrollers, headed down to the city for a baseball game at the old Maple Leaf Stadium. Lacey was a big fan of the sport himself, as well as a coach of a local team, so this was a treat for the constable as well.
In 1963, Roy Lacey was promoted to corporal. That year, Barrie added the Canadian Highway Safety Award to its growing collection of safety related accolades. Police Chief Tschirhart commended the work of Cpl. Lacey and added that “all forms of safety start in school.”
That year, Cpl. Lacey handed the reigns to Cpl. Ralph Berry who had been involved with the school safety patrol for some time. In 1968, the City of Barrie was pleased to report that 450 safety patrollers kept 5,150 pupils safe each day as they walked to and from school. Every school in Barrie was by then part of the program.
The Barrie Examiner reported this encouraging detail on Sept. 1, 1968, just as the children were about to return to school.
“In the eight-year history of patrols in Barrie, there has been no injury to any students where a patroller has been on duty.”
Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.