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Roy Risebrough, North York's first police chief retired in 1957. He's pictured here in 1979. - Jeff Goode/Toronto Star file photo
Roy Risebrough, North York's first police chief retired in 1957. He's pictured here in 1979. - Jeff Goode/Toronto Star file photo

North York’s First Police Chief Never Carried a Gun

‘For a year he was the entire force,’ writes Susan Goldenberg

When North York became independent from York Township in 1922, Roy Risebrough, a farmer and leader of the independence movement, was appointed chief of police at $30 a week (equal to $450 today). For a year he was the entire force. A second police officer was appointed in 1923, a third in 1926 and a fourth in 1928.

Risebrough never carried a pistol and only once wore his police uniform.

“If anyone was tough enough to carry a pistol, they were too tough for me,” he told the North York Mirror when he retired in 1957.

“Crime was just little things like neighbourhood disputes. They didn’t amount to a hill of beans … Within a month, they were good friends again,” he said.

Risebrough was very strong. One day he spotted a car with a flat tire across the street from the police station. The driver didn’t have his trunk key for his spare. Risebrough smashed the trunk lock into smithereens.

Later crime mostly consisted of service station break-ins, an occasional house burglary and raids on farms by chicken thieves and cattle rustlers.

The police were called in to break up drunken brawls at North York’s two taverns, the Jolly Miller on Yonge Street in Hogg’s Hollow and the Algonquin Tavern — “the Big A” — on the east side of Yonge just north of Finch.

From 1922 to 1931 the department was located in North York’s then municipal building at Yonge and Empress Avenue. When it outgrew its space, it moved into temporary quarters until its own building finally was erected at Princess Avenue and Yonge, a block south of Empress. Opened Jan. 7, 1950, it cost $70,000 and had a cellblock.

Risebrough was still chief when members of his force captured the infamous Boyd Gang of bank robbers Sept. 8, 1952, following their second escape from the Don Jail. He retired in 1957 when Toronto’s 13 local police departments were amalgamated into one.

Risebrough Avenue, near Cummer and Bayview where his farm was, is named after him.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on September 21, 2019, on toronto.com.