Brussels law enforcement
They were the men of law and order. But they were also the men who tended the fire, shipped stock, weighed coal, swept streets, hitched the horses to the fire wagon and rang the town bell. Where today small communities get by without the constant presence of a police officer, in the early days the town constable was everything to the village. Their day could begin at 4:30 a.m. and end at 8 that evening.
While many pre-20th century Brussels Posts make reference to Const. McComb, one of the first to be remembered by longtime residents was Robert Oliver. He was followed in the 1920s by Gordon McDowell, a big man, who maintained the peace in a no-nonsense manner, while earning the respect of those who encountered him. His wife, Christine, was a practical nurse, who, they say, helped to bring many Brussels babies into the world.
According to an old story in The Toronto Star Weekly, if Brussels was a one-man town, that man was Const. MacDowell. The article states, "If city slickers start cutting up around the town, Chief MacDowell appears as the instrument of law and order. If fire breaks out, and one did four years ago, Chief MacDowell appears in the role of adjutant of the volunteer fire brigade. He is caretaker of the municipal buildings, truant officer, dog catcher and streetsweeper. His title is utility officer."
A village bylaw from June 1934, appointed McDowell and George Evans as constables and officers to enforce the Liquor Control Act of Ontario.
They were followed by George Campbell, who was appointed in 1938 ,Wm. "Bid" Bell, who was also a "great stick handler and hockey player", and Charles Shaw.
The last of the town constables was David (Scotty) Hastings. Born in Ohiltree, Scotland, Mr. Hastings came to Canada at the age of 14. He moved to Brussels following his marriage to Vera Fox in 1939. He enlisted in the 100th Battery RCA in 1939 and served overseas until his discharge in 1945.
Prior to his many years of service as a village employee, he was employed with Duncan McDonald Lumber and Joe Brewer Coal.
Mr. Hastings, who received a 25-year pin as a member of the Brussels Legion Branch 218 (and played the tenor drum with the pipe band), passed away March 28, 1974.
Currently the Ontario Provincial Police provide law enforcement in Brussels.
From the Files of The Brussels Post
June 1887 — Some contemptible sneak or sneaks broke into the army barracks and cut the heads off the two drums in pieces. This is a very small trick and shows very little manliness. Constable McComb will find some subjects for the cooler in the neighbourhood of the barracks some of these evenings. Ruffianism is not going to run Brussels and the violaters of law and order should be taught so very emphatically.
June 1887 — Some boys went into Thos. Kelly's garden and destroyed a lot of flowers. The Post says, "He is prepared to rake them fore and aft with a little common salt if they repeat their visit."
Oct. 12, 1888 — For some time Adam Good, general merchant had missed from his store large quantities of hats, boots, shoes, groceries and other matters. Suspicious, he hid in the store to be an unobserved observer. The first person to enter was W.T. Hall, who obtained, from a youth employed with Mr. Good, McCullough, two pair of overshoes and left without paying.
Next Sam Beattie, a livery stable keeper, obtained a felt hat, with the same "advantageous terms".
When Mr. Good revealed his presence and demanded an explanation the youth confessed that this business had been going on for some time with no other remuneration than trifling sums given to him "to put in his own pocket".
Both men were charged with knowingly receiving stolen goods. They were arrested and tried that same day. The pair was escorted to Goderich by Constables Scott and Ainley. E.E. Wade acted as Mr. Good's legal adviser, while R.S. Hays acted for the prisoners.
July 1888 — Thomas Wilson, son of James, was fatally shot by a gun he and Kenzie Scott had been handling while on Elizabeth St. on the way to J. Hargreaves drug store, where he worked. The pair had been trying to draw an old charge from the gun, and failing that, put powder in the nipple and cracked a couple of caps without causing the powder to explode. Tom then left and got near the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, when the gun was discharged and the slug struck him on the right temple. A good share of the shot lodged in his right arm, neck and face. Dr. McKelvey attended, but Tom passed away that evening.
Coroner Dr. Graham helped to dispel the rumours, by declaring he believed the shooting to be purely accidental. It was decided that an inquest was not necessary. The victim's family did not want an inquest. However, the father of Kenzie was anxious for an investigation.
Tom Wilson's funeral two days later was largely attended despite a heavy rainstorm.
The July 29 paper reported that an investigation was held into the shooting. Mr. Wilson addressed the court saying, "I opposed a coroner's inquest, but on hearing so many false reports I thought it better to have an investigation."
After hearing the evidence the case was dismissed. Kenzie Scott received a "very strong reproof".
George Andrews, sent to Goderich from Brussels in June of 1888 for stealing some scrap iron, was sentenced to one month in jail at hard labour.
Mr. Andrews had taken the iron from P. Scott's blacksmith shop and sold it to London scrap iron dealers.
Aug. 26, 1909 — A bigamy case developed some unusual features. The accused parties were John Scott, a young Englishman of about 22, and Jane Hazen, 45. Mrs. Hazen, who is the wife of Christopher Hazen of Proton Station, left her husband the previous December and moved to Orangeville with her two children.
Some three weeks later Scott followed and as she was destitute he boarded with her and provided for the family. They married on July 12 in Brampton.
In court Hazen said he was married at Brussels 21 years ago to this wife, then Jane Billings, and that they had lived happily until Scott appeared on the scene. He said they had five children, one of whom had died. Mrs. Hazen, on the other hand, said they had 10 children, six of whom had died through malnourishment and the refusal of her husband to provide medical care. There was no indication that Scott knew of the previous marriage and his acts were seen as having some elements of humanity.
She received a suspended sentence, as in the opinion of the magistrate, she seemed to have been "more sinned against than sinning."
April 20, 1911 — George Vanstone was found guilty of manslaughter in connection with the beating death of his son. He was sentenced by Justice Falconbridge to life in prison. The Brussels Post of that time states, "The prisoner's wife burst into tears when she heard the sentence."
Feb. 8, 1961 — Joseph LeBarge of Toronto pled guilty in Goderich to the theft of $1,600 worth of goods, including a TV set, transistor radios, shotguns, rifles, TV tubes and tools during a break-in at Oldfield's Hardware Jan. 6.
Feb. 16, 1961 — The Texan Grill was hit by thieves during the early hours of a Monday morning. Cigarettes and juke box money was stolen.
The building was entered after thieves broke a rear window, then not finding anything there, forced open the front door. They used a pinch bar to pry out the coin box of the jukebox, rummaged through the till, but left 50 coppers in the till untouched.
This was the most recent in a series of break-ins over a two-week period. Other stores hit were the sale yards, Lowe's Red and White and the Baeker Butcher Shop, where they failed to gain entry. The issue of The Post states, "Apparently the thief is a confirmed cigarette smoker as he takes only cigarettes, not cigars or tobacco, and scorns chocolate bars."
May 30, 1961 — The office of the Brussels Sales Yard was broken into with the thief making off with a quantity of cigarettes and about seven dollars in cash form the lunch counter till.
This was yet another in a series of break-ins that had plagued business over several months.
May 4, 1961 — Safe crackers got $1,500 in cash from the East Huron Produce during the early morning hours. It was believed the safe was blown open with nitroglycerin after the building was entered by forcing the front window on the south wall opposite the door of the office. The safe door was completely blown off, but nothing else appeared to have been tampered with.
The robbery was discovered by Dick Stephenson, a employee. Burglary tools had been left behind, including a pinch bar, axe, batteries and wires.
The robbery left the manager Wm. Stephenson without funds to carry on Saturday business.
Nearby residents believed they heard an explosion about 4 a.m. Wingham and Mt. Forest detachment of the OPP investigated.
In September of 1989, the long story of the fire at the Brussels Legion Hall, July 6, 1988, came to an end. Leonard Gordon Cowie and Robert Martin Killick pled guilty to charges relating to the incident when they appeared in Ontario Supreme Court in Goderich. Killick received a two and a half year pentientiary term for setting the fire which caused more than $200,000 damage. He also received four months consecutive on a break and enter charge and two months consecutive for theft. Cowie was given one year in a reformatory, plus probation.