Youthlink News

CBC Article: Horse thieves, prostitutes and forgers: Century-old mugshots offer unique glimpse of history

Take a look at Calgary's past through archived police photos from 1917.

By Sean Corscadden & Noreen Barros, YouthLink, for CBC News - Mar 19, 2016

They are the faces of our past, and through them, we can understand our present.

In the early 20th Century, the Calgary Police Service’s newly founded criminal identification bureau adopted photography to document criminal activity.

Roughly 100 years later, we can explore this mugshot book as a rich window into our city’s past. Through these photographs of people long since come and gone, we see a wilder Calgary — the Wild West when it was still wild.

Each face has its own story, and through the photographs we can see more than the moment of an arrest and the recording of an offence — we can investigate the evolution of Calgary’s culture from its formative years.

In 1914, as now, Calgary was a city of immigrants and travellers — people of different races and creeds arriving with their own dreams and purpose. Some faced greater challenges than others as they struggled to stake their own claim within Canada’s evolving social frontiers.

‘Faces tell a hundred stories’

From “alien enemies” of the First World War, to single, unemployed women — their faces tell a hundred stories. As this book of mugshots attests, no gender, race or religion was immune to the arm of the law.

Charges of prostitution, gambling and drug use accompany the more innocuous crimes of public drunkenness and false pretense. With crimes ranging from the darkest of human impulses to semi-comic human weaknesses, these photographs tell an important story about the people who founded our city, about the police who tried to keep order and about our cultural heritage.

While the mugshot book captures a myriad of social ills and criminality, it is also a rich artifact of history in its own right with its fading handwriting, cracked pages, oily handprints and ink smudges.

It’s part of what we do at the YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre. We preserve and share the history of our city, and the police service.

Click HERE for the full article and to view the mugshots.

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