Who was Jack Kirkup? Part 2: The Rossland years

Jack Kirkup arrived in Rossland from Yale in March 1895, as the town’s first provincial police officer and mining recorder.

Who was Jack Kirkup? Part 2: The Rossland years

By Ron Shearer

Jack Kirkup arrived in Rossland from Yale in March 1895, as the town’s first provincial police officer and mining recorder.

Perhaps most pointedly, he was not government agent, with responsibility for dispensing government funds and the effective civil governor of the community the office that got him into trouble in Revelstoke. That responsibility remained with the wonderfully named, and highly controversial, Napoleon Fitzstubbs, based in Nelson.

Kirkup was not walking into a communal war zone. Rossland already had a reputation as an orderly community. It was not without violations of the law, of course. There had been a nasty incident in Sourdough Alley that left one man dead and another in custody, charged with murder (he was convicted of manslaughter) and laws on gambling, prostitution and drinking in saloons on Sunday were only selectively enforced.

Kirkup began rounding up vagrants and known troublemakers, inviting them rather persuasively to leave town and announced his intention to strictly enforce the laws prohibiting gambling and Sunday saloon openings, replicating his Revelstoke law and order regime.

Most of the incidents that gave Kirkup a continent-wide reputation as a frontier lawman occurred while he was patrolling Revelstoke or nearby railway construction camps.

However, one anecdote from Rossland, whether literally true or not, illustrates his policing technique.

A known American gambler and troublemaker alighted from a train at the Second Avenue station and began walking down the hill to the town centre. Kirkup intercepted him and asked where he was going. To find a hotel room, was the answer. Kirkup gently suggested he not waste his time and energy, but rather leave town. Faced with Kirkup’s menacing six-foot-three-inch presence and reputation for strength and quickness, the gambler was last seen walking down the tracks toward Northport.

The mining recorder’s tasks were onerous. Rossland was near the height of its prospecting boom with new claims pouring in hourly. But also, the somewhat disorderly records of older claims, recorded in Nelson and in Trail, had to be organized. This was virtually a full-time job, leaving little time for active police work and the population of the town was growing rapidly.

Another policeman, John Hooson, was sent from Victoria, shortly followed by two more. Kirkup was the head of the detachment, but most of the actual police work fell to Hooson and his colleagues.

John Hooson was one of the forgotten men of Rossland’s history. Much praise has been heaped on Kirkup for the maintenance of law and order. Although he was in charge and his intimidating presence always lurked in the background, the success of the policing effort was due to Hooson. He deserves a share of the glory.

Not everyone wanted a Kirkup-style law and order regime. It was argued that Rossland was full of hard-working, unattached men, living in cramped rooms, for whom the saloon was their living room and gambling their recreation. They worked six days a week and should have the right to relax in congenial surroundings on Sundays. This became the policy of the first mayor of Rossland and after the 1897 incorporation of the city, the Kirkup regime was dead.

Kirkup ceased having a role in policing the city and settled into a steady diet of bureaucratic work. His responsibilities steadily increased. He was appointed “Collector of Votes” for the Rossland Riding, a vast, lightly populated area that included the Boundary District, then gold commissioner for the mining district and stipendiary magistrate for the West Kootenay.

This made him a judge for disputes relating to mining claims and routine civil and criminal cases.

Finally, he was elevated to the position of government agent and assessor and collector of taxes in the Rossland riding. He had to travel extensively, to Grand Forks, Greenwood, Phoenix and Midway, assessing taxable property, holding courts of revision and presiding over the sale of properties for delinquent taxes.

What is interesting is the affection for him that was expressed in those places. He was a congenial giant. Kirkup’s policing skills were not forgotten.

In 1911, when the crews of a new railway construction project, the Grand Trunk Pacific, were getting into mischief along the line in northern British Columbia, Kirkup was called upon to do what he did best bring a measure of order to an unruly mob of railway construction workers and establish a police presence in the district.

After a half-year in the north, he returned to Rossland, mission accomplished. This was his last hurrah as a policeman.

John Kirkup’s remaining time in Rossland was brief. He suffered from diabetes at a time when there were no effective treatments.

At the beginning of 1913 he was sent to less demanding posts at Alberni and then Nanaimo, where he died on Nov. 2, 1916, at age 61.


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