Date: Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Victoria, BC – In honour of our own history as part of Black History Month, we proudly acknowledge the efforts of a small group of Black Constables that formed one of the first organized efforts to police Victoria in the mid-1800s. These brave men’s efforts paved the way for our Department’s foundation.
In late April of 1858, the coastal steamship Commodore brought a group from California that were fleeing the racial injustices of the pre-Civil War United States. Some passengers aboard were from California’s Black community, while others were racially intolerant gold-seekers.
Members of the Black community are thought to have corresponded with Governor James Douglas through the ship’s captain, John Wright, and it is through the Governor’s office that a small number were sworn in as town constables. Douglas himself was believed to have felt that placing people who had suffered the worst intolerances would likely be the best to police others in a fair and impartial manner.
These officers were uniformed in blue wool with a red sash to denote their official office and were armed with a stave, or wooden pole. The constables patrolled the area surrounding Fort Victoria itself and the tent city located near where BC’s Legislative Assembly now stands.
Tragically and through no fault of their own, the racial intolerance of others doomed the appointments and they were removed from office after only few months. Many of the Black Constables remained in the community and at least one went on to police in Songhees territory just across the harbor. The Black Constables were part of the community that helped elect the man who would become the first Black person elected to office in the entire British Empire – Victoria City Councillor, Mifflin Gibbs who served from 1867-1869. Gibbs returned to the United States in 1870, became a lawyer and went on to become the first Black judge elected in the US – in New Orleans.
The Black Constables are an integral part of our history and we are proud of their ground-breaking work.
Historical research was completed by VicPD Sgt. Jonathan Sheldan and the uniform was recreated and donated by Kathleen Cantelon.
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