“Baldy” Morris stands far left

“Baldy” Morris stands far left

Constable ‘Baldy’ Morris: A Good Cop

"Important and undesirable duties often fell to his lot to execute and yet he was universally admired and respected …"

Jim Cameron

It was just about the biggest funeral ever seen in Cranbrook. The cortege, winding towards the cemetery, stretched nearly half a mile. Eighty-seven members of the Odd Fellows Lodge led the hearse trailed by 47 buggies and 14 automobiles. It was a Saturday afternoon yet every store in the city was closed, the flags at the old courthouse, city hall and the post office at half mast. The Anglican Church could not come close to holding all the mourners as the casket lay covered with bouquets and garlands, including one from the Cranbrook City Police, for it was one of their own they were burying that day.

Though no longer a member of the force, when Frederick Ramsay Morris, age 62, most unexpectedly dropped dead while in his yard on Van Horne Street in September, 1914, Cranbrook lost her first policeman, an officer whose term might well be described as the city’s “Golden Age of Non-Crime.”

There was wrong-doing, of course. A town built by the rough-and-tough navvies of the CPR, full of miners and lumbermen, home to the gambling and opium dens of Chinatown and the reprobates of the Red Light district certainly saw its share of crime but, all things considered, it could have been worse, a lot worse, and there is no doubt that Constable Morris had much to do with that.

RCMP, BCCOS, BCSS, CVSE, MIERT, and CFSEU-BC: what appear to be secret codes are merely the acronyms of some of the present day Canadian municipal, provincial and federal organizations dedicated to keeping the peace. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the B.C. Conservation Officer Services of the Ministry of Environment, the B.C. Sheriff Service, the Commercial Vehicle Safety & Enforcement unit, the Municipal Integrated Emergency Response Team, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C., corrections, customs, probation, parole and immigration officers, court bailiffs, special agents, investigators and auxiliary forces all form the bulwark of modern day law civic enforcement. It was much less complex when Constable Morris took charge of the town — there was just him.

Frederic Morris was born in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, on Feb. 16, 1852. He left home at age 21, making his way west to Fort Walsh in the Cypress Hills of Alberta, one of the most important and heavily armed North West Mounted Police garrisons in the country. He joined the Mounties and steadily rose to the rank of sergeant. He fit the role perfectly; a large, man of calm demeanor, jocular and easy-going yet not to be trifled with. He left the force after five years and took up ranching along the Old Man River where he met his wife-to-be, Alice Heath. They and their two sons later moved to Trail where, following failed mining investments, he joined the B.C. Provincial Police.

The NWMP spent most of its time along the CPR right-of-way and it often fell to the provincial police to take care of the rest. From 1897, Constable Morris carried on the work of policing in Cranbrook and, from 1897 onward, where he was known by one and all as “Baldy.”

In those early days of the city, Constable Morris was given little support. There was neither jail nor police station nor court house; any assistance came from Fernie, Moyie or Fort Steele. The first Cranbrook court trials took place in the residence of Justice of the Peace John Hutchison in July, 1898, and undoubtedly included Constable Morris. It was a small debt case followed by a drunk and disorderly charge against a young railway worker who busted up a local madam’s “boarding-house for gentlemen transients.” That same month, the NWMP stationed Constable Cole in Cranbrook. One of his first acts was to ensure that all businesses closed on Sundays which left “a great many tongues hanging out around town.” Federal law was here but it came with rather different rules than those enforced by Constable Morris.

In August, Government Agent Armstrong rented a shack from Mr. Little for use as a jail. It was so inadequate that, when the wire cashier’s cage arrived for the new Bank of Commerce, it was suggested that the police use it instead.

In October, 1898, the Mounted Police pulled out of town, following the railway westward and leaving Constable Morris solo once again. His duties were alleviated the following year when a combination jail/courthouse was built and another provincial constable assigned to the town. The local paper described the court as capable of holding “seven people and two or three dogs” and the jail as “a kennel.”

Although never questioning his capabilities, local wags took great delight in publicly teasing “Baldy” for his shining pate and extensive girth, bandying about terms such as “corpulent, rotund and a man who “captures the whole bakeshop with the oven thrown in.” For his part, he took it all in stride, never raising a fuss, supervising the towns, loading drunks into the local mail cart and wheeling them to the cell when necessary, suffering the teasing with a smile and generally endearing himself to the the law-abiding citizens.

Cranbrook incorporated in 1905, creating its own city police force which ended Constable Morris’ tenure. He continued to live in town with his wife and sons, eventually becoming the local sheriff. He, his wife Alice and son Heath Spry are buried in the Old General Cemetery. His son Stewart died in service during World War One. The local newspaper paid sincere tribute to Fredrick Morris upon his death, stating “Important and undesirable duties often fell to his lot to execute and yet he was universally admired and respected for his charity toward all and his unfailing good nature.”

He was, in short, a good cop.

janusthenandnow@shaw.ca