James S. Ingram Winnipeg and Calgary’s First Police Chief

Originally posted April 2008

James S. Ingram was born in St. Thomas, Ontario on April 3, 1853, one of ten siblings, (nine brothers and one sister !) He came from a line of military men. His grandfather was a soldier and his father attended military college in Dublin and worked as a bailiff and county constable.

James came West in 1870 and joined the Manitoba Provincial Police Department. On February 19, 1874 he was hired as Chief Constable of the newly created Winnipeg Police Department which began operations just five days later. Ingram’s salary was a tidy $750 per year and he had a staff of two constables.

Like many of the characters he would encounter on the streets of frontier Winnipeg, Ingram was rough and tumble. Early in his tenure… "His reputation was cemented the day he arrested Ambroise Lepine, a particularly bad fellow who was wanted on murder charges. The arrest was made through the simple expediency of Ingram walking up to Lepine, putting him off guard by greeting him as he would an old friend, then knocking him out with a well placed left hook to the head." (Source: Cockeyed).

His love for wine, women and brawling soon wore thin with city officials. There was infighting among his constables and he had very public verbal battles with city aldermen. At one point he filed a libel suit against Alderman Villiers for accusing him of essentially running a protection racket in the city's tolerated red light district.

After just a few months on the job Ingram’s 'hobbies' caught up with him. On June 7, 1874, constables raided a Sherbrook Street brothel. In the room of Miss Ella Lewis they found a customer in a state of undress. It was none other than Chief Ingram.

On June 9 those arrested in the raid appeared before a newly elected magistrate and mayor Capt. William Kennedy. Ella Lewis and Fannie Ellesworth were charged with ‘keeping a house of ill fame' and fined $20 each. Ingram and another john named William McEwan were fined $8.00 each. (Free Press June 9, 1875)

As expected, Ingram tendered his resignation and on June 14, 1875 it was accepted by council.

Initially, Ingram went home to Ontario 'to visit his people' (Free Press June 19, 1875). He soon returned to Winnipeg and took gigs as a boxer and frequented the rough saloons of Winnipeg. He got arrested at least once, on September 10, 1875 for 'being drunk and pugilistic'.

Calgary from the Elbow River on the Canadian Pacific Railway ca 1885 Credit: Notman & Son / Library and Archives Canada / C-017804 Copyright: Expired

Ingram eventually moved West to Calgary, population 500 at the time, and on February 7, 1885 became their first chief of police.

Ingram and his two constables worked from an office located at the back of a hotel saloon. He brought his rough and tumble ways with him and issues such as infighting among his staff, running battles with his political masters and rumours that he was part of a protection racket soon re-emerged.  In February 1888 he resigned his post.
Ingram did not stay in Calgary for long. He and his wife of six months, a British-born widow named Edith M. Oake, and her son went to Montana. Not a lot is known of his time there but it is thought that he spent some of it as a lawman. Periodic visits to Alberta must have been made as his three children were all born on Alberta soil, (Beatrice in 1890, John in 1893 and Leslie (m) in 1895).

In 1896 Ingram and his family returned to Canada when the town of Rossland B.C. asked him to be their chief of police. He held that post until 1903 when, seemingly bored by keeping law and order in an increasingly civilized West, he resigned.

Rossland Fire Department from Rossland Museum

Looking for excitement, he got on as a “dynamite man” with The Silver Star Mining Ltd. in B.C.. On December 17, 1905, working with his stepson, Ingram entered a powder room to thaw explosives:

“Shortly after that, the thawing room exploded, sending black smoke 600 feet in the air and breaking most of the glass in town (it took them months to bring enough glass into town to replace it all). They found Jack buried head first up to his ankles in a bank, the only fatality. No one knows what happened.” (The Lawmen of Rossland)

The headline the next day read:
“Center Star’s magazine explodes; powderman John Ingram dead, considerable damage to City.”

Three days later, Ingram, or what was left of him, was put aboard a train for St. Thomas where he was buried. Ingram was 55 year old.

Sources for some great reading:

Ingram and the Centre Star Explosion The Lawmen of Rossland
John S. Ingram Tamer of Tough Towns 'Cockeyed'
- Ingram's Family Tree
- The Brothels of Winnipeg
- The New Frontier Winnipeg Police Museum

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