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‘They have nostalgic value’: Edmonton police collect artifacts for 125th anniversary

An Edmonton Police Service cruiser, from 1976.
An Edmonton Police Service cruiser, from 1976. Courtesy, EPS

In preparation for its 125th anniversary, the Edmonton Police Service has started to piece together its history and is looking to the public for help.

From old photographs and newspaper clippings, to uniforms and shoulder flashes, police are looking for historical artifacts in order to help them tell their story.

“The Mounties have this figured out. Nobody can touch their image and their history has been long documented,” Sgt. Steve Sharpe with the EPS said. “We should perfect what we can, bring it up to present day, get the stories.

“If we don’t catch up to present day, it only gets harder.”

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A piece of EPS history that many in Edmonton will likely remember is the buffalo coat. Sharpe recently had an Edmonton family donate a buffalo coat to the EPS, which had been hanging in a closet since the 1970s.

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“There’s a whole bunch of mystique around those buffalo coats,” Sharpe said. “It was made for warmth and I think a lot of people can remember those. It’s quite a neat period in our history.”

Police officers began wearing the coats as part of their winter uniform in 1892 and wore them until about 1978. In the latter years, they were more often worn for the nostalgic value, Sharpe said.

“Most people in Edmonton would recognize those buffalo coats as having been along Jasper Ave. and a southside beat, as well.”

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Because of their ability to absorb moisture, the coats would become heavier and heavier as an officer’s shift went on. At times the garment could weigh upwards of 26 pounds. Sharpe recently spoke to a retired officer who explained his experience wearing the jacket.

“Here’s a quote from one of the guys: ‘The wet, snow-covered coat was so heavy that I would lie on the ground during the shift and unbutton it. Essentially, I would crawl out of it. I would then use my baton to beat it free of snow and ice before putting it back on and continuing on with my shift.'”

Edmonton police Cst. Harry Surcon in a buffalo jacket, which was worn by officers between 1892 and 1978.
Edmonton police Cst. Harry Surcon in a buffalo jacket, which was worn by officers between 1892 and 1978. Courtesy, EPS

The EPS will celebrate its 125th anniversary on June 20, 2017. While it’s still more than a year away, Sharpe said it’s important to start gathering information and artifacts now.

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“Jackets and clothing and cars and buildings. These are things that people will remember… They have nostalgic value,” Sharpe said.

“This is just an opportunity for us to get some of them back and to learn a little bit about it and fill in some of those gaps in our own knowledge, because the years get away from you,” Sharpe added. “It’s about bridging those stories.”

In order to help piece the information together properly and get the stories right, Sharpe has been in contact with a number of former EPS members and their families. His conversations have already started to bring out stories and artifacts from the past 124 years.

“I’ve talked to distant relatives who now have an item and they’re able to shed a little bit of light on it, because no one else is around to speak to it,” Sharpe said, adding that if he doesn’t reach out to these people now, the stories will soon be lost.

“You know how it is, human nature. Over the course of 100 years, some of that information may not be, in fact, correct. So we want to be able to, with accuracy, start to pinpoint some of the timelines down.”

Members of the Edmonton Police Service, circa 1908.
Members of the Edmonton Police Service, circa 1908. Courtesy, EPS
EPS members on bikes, circa 1922.
EPS members on bikes, circa 1922. Courtesy, EPS
Members of the Edmonton Police Service.
Members of the Edmonton Police Service. Courtesy, EPS
Edmonton Police Service, circa 1971.
Edmonton Police Service, circa 1971. Courtesy, EPS
Edmonton Police Service pictured in 1972.
Edmonton Police Service pictured in 1972. Courtesy, EPS
Edmonton Police Service members pictured in 1972.
Edmonton Police Service members pictured in 1972. Courtesy, EPS
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An Edmonton Police Service cruiser, from 1976.
An Edmonton Police Service cruiser, from 1976. Courtesy, EPS
An Edmonton police cruiser takes part in the K-Days Parade.
An Edmonton police cruiser takes part in the K-Days Parade. Courtesy, EPS
An Edmonton Police Service cruiser.
An Edmonton Police Service cruiser. Courtesy, EPS
Old Edmonton police badges.
Old Edmonton police badges. Courtesy, EPS

The items collected over the next year will be put on display next summer so the public can share in the 125th anniversary festivities. Plans for other anniversary celebrations are also underway.

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If you have an artifact you’d like to give to the EPS, you’re asked to send an email to EPS125@edmontonpolice.ca.