Even before Alberta became a province, communities were in need of a local police force. The Crowsnest Pass in particular saw an increase in crime as the area began to develop as a coal mining community in the early 1900s. With the introduction of new settlers to the area, it wasn’t long before Coleman requested a police presence from the Canadian Government. A North West Mounted Police office building was constructed in 1904 and shortly after, an officer arrived to the area to establish law and order. This blog post will look at the introduction of a formal police presence into the Coleman area and highlight the importance of the still existing Alberta Provincial Police Building that was built for their use.
Prior to 1905, Alberta’s economy had been predominantly agriculture, but this changed with the introduction of coal mining to the province. This new industry attracted miners from all over Canada and other parts of the world to work in the coal mines. A major source of coal was the Crowsnest Pass area of the province. In 1903, the town of Coleman was established by one of the largest mining companies, the International Coal and Coke Company, after the nearby town of Frank was destroyed by a landslide.
The town of Coleman doubled in size in less than ten years, accommodating over 1,000 residents by 1913. With the population steadily increasing, their need for a police presence was also changing. At first, one officer was adequate, but soon after, a second officer was brought in to police the community. This need was also compounded by the introduction of prohibition in 1916, which became a major concern for police everywhere, especially in the Crowsnest Pass region, where residents had voted “wet” in the referendum, meaning they wanted the public sale of alcohol. The importation and sale of illegal alcohol was a lucrative trade, making dangerous conditions for police officers. Throughout the 1920s, the majority of police work was focused on alcohol violations. Prior to this, labour unrest occupied the most police attention.
In 1917, Alberta created its own police force, known as the Alberta Provincial Police (APP). This was a result of the Federal government ending all provincial policing contracts, forcing the province’s to develop their own police forces. In 1918, the APP arrived in Coleman and shared the Police Building with the town police until 1932. With the country’s economic situation deteriorating in the early 1930s, the Alberta government was forced to cut costs of their services. The APP was eventually disbanded and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police resumed their provincial duties.
One of the more notorious crimes to occur in the province involves the Picariello family, who were well known in the area for their bootlegging operations in the Crowsnest Pass region and into Montana. In September of 1922, the Coleman police received a tip that “Emperor Pic” and his son Steve were running a large supply of whiskey into the nearby town of Blairmore. Upon being confronted, Steve attempted to escape in his father’s McLaughlin Buick, down the main street of Coleman and Corporal Lawson tried to stop him by firing at the driver. “Emperor Pic,” believing that his son had been seriously wounded, took off, along with his housekeeper Florence Lassandra, to confront the Corporal. In front of the Police Building, a scuffle ensued, resulting in the death of Corporal Lawson. Both Emilio “Emperor Pic” Picariello and Florence Lassandra were tried and hanged for the murder of a police officer. This marked the first hanging since 1899 and Florence was the only woman to be hanged in the province.
Constructed in 1904, the Alberta Provincial Police Building is a unique building that consists of two folk style cottages that are joined together. It is possible that this building was first used as a miner’s cottage and then converted to a Police Building, which would explain why it looks similar to the original miner’s cottages that were constructed nearby. However, other accounts state the Police Building was modelled after the miner’s cottages to look compatible. Notable characteristics include the hipped roof, wood frame construction and tongue and groove interior walls. The building is currently undergoing an extensive rehabilitation to be repurposed as a museum and interpretive centre, which is scheduled to be open to the public in July 2017.
The Alberta Provincial Police Building was central to early police activity in the Coleman area and is an important representation of Coleman’s early development as a town. The site shows multiple aspects of the area’s history, including urban expansion, prohibition and the transition of police forces that provided law and order to the nearby mining communities. In addition, the building is home to one of Alberta’s most notorious crimes. There are very few structures left that exemplify the creation of a provincial police force, which further justify its status as a Provincial Historic Resource.
On now at the Provincial Archives of Alberta is the exhibit “Let Justice Be Done: The Alberta Provincial Police, 1917-1932.” This exhibit runs until June 17, 2017 and outlines when the province had its own provincial police force. Coming up is the lecture “Booze, Mounties and the Founding of the Alberta Provincial Police” on May 17 at 7:00pm. Visit the PAA’s website for more details on either of these events.
Written By: Erin Hoar
Designation file #Des. 557, in the custody of the Historic Resources Management Branch.
“Canmore North West Mounted Police Barracks.” Alberta Register of Historic Places. HeRMIS. (Accessed May 9, 2017).