Certain Municipal Offenses in Sackville’s Early Days

Recently while researching at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, I spent some time reviewing the Statutes of the Province along with documents relating to incorporation of towns. In particular, I was interested in checking the legislation concerning Sackville. Dull work it was; however, there were occasional moments of relief…

By way of background, its important to emphasize that the provincial government was encouraging incorporation. Prior to 1896, such legislation was complicated because each incorporation required a special act to be passed by the legislature. These differed widely, and had little consistency one with the other. To streamline the process, in 1896, the government of Premier H.R. Emmerson introduced a Towns Incorporation Act. This legislation consolidated a number of items that would apply to all towns seeking incorporation. It also helps explain a curious phrase Act of 1896 that appears on Sackville’s Town Seal.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear that the province was anxious to off load some responsibilities on the municipalities. On the other hand, many areas considered the achievement of town status a matter of civic pride. As the population of a district reached a certain point, incorporation fever became almost an infectious disease. This was NOT the case with Sackville; as two elections were required before incorporation became a reality. Nevertheless, in the years between 1898 and 1905 eight towns were incorporated: Newcastle 1899, Sackville, Shediac and St. Andrews 1903, Sussex and St. George 1904, Edmundston and Dalhousie 1905.

Section 109 of the Towns Incorporation Act specified the common offenses that were to be the responsibility of local police forces in the towns contemplating incorporation. If nothing else, the following clauses will serve to illustrate how the world has changed, or not changed, over the past century. In the interest of time and space, I will not quote the entire document. What follows is very much an abridged version of Section 109.

Herewith Certain Municipal Offenses:

  • Every person shall be liable to a penalty of not more than eight dollars, who within the limits of the town, shall commit any of the following offenses, that is to say:
  • Every person who shall discharge a gun, pistol, blunderbuss, or other species of firearms of any nature in any public street, thoroughfare, alley, road or by road;
  • Any person who shall make any bonfire, or set off any rocket, squib, cracker, or any other species of fireworks in [Add the following concluding phrase to the next twelve articles: any public street, thoroughfare, alley, road or by road.]
  • Any person who shall throw snowballs, stones, dirt, or other missile in;
  • Any person who shall coast a sled, or who shall make or use any slide upon ice or snow in;
  • Any person who shall play at pitching coppers, or any game or games of any nature or kind whatsoever in;
  • Any person who shall use obscene or profane language, any violent cursing or swearing, or shall indecently expose his person or any part thereof, in;
  • Any person who shall use insulting or abusive language or behaviour, taunting epithets, or threatening gestures in;
  • Any person who shall be found drunk, or feigning to be drunk, or making any loud bawling, yelling, screaming, singing or shouting in;
  • Every person who shall turn loose any horse or cattle, or suffer to be at large any unmuzzled ferocious dog, or other animal in;
  • Every person who shall ride or drive furiously, so as to endanger the life or limb of any person, or be the common danger in;
  • Every person who, without the consent of the owner or occupier shall affix any posting bill or other paper upon any building, wall, fence or pole in;
  • Every person who, without the consent of the owner or occupier shall inscribe or delineate anything with chalk or paint or in any other way whatsoever, willfully break, destroy or damage any part of any building, wall, fence or pole in;
  • Every person who, with or without the owners consent, shall write or draw any indecent or obscene word, figure or representation on any building in;
  • Every person who shall willfully and wantonly disturb any inhabitant, by pulling or ringing any doorbell, or kicking at any door without lawful excuse, or who shall willfully and unlawfully extinguish any lamp in . . .;
  • Every person who shall throw or lay any dirt, litter or ashes, or any carrion, fish, offal or rubbish, or cause any such thing to fall into any sewer, pipe or drain or into any well, stream or watercourse, pond or reservoir for water.
  • Every person who shall cause any offensive matter to run from any manufactory, slaughter house, butcher shop or dung hill, into any thoroughfare.
  • It shall not be deemed an offense to lay sand, or ashes or other materials in any thoroughfare in time of frost to prevent accidents, or litter or other materials to prevent the freezing of water in pipes, or in the case of sickness, to prevent noise, if the party laying any such things, shall cause them to be removed as soon as the occasion for them shall cease.
  • It shall be lawful for any constable belonging to the said police force to take into custody without warrant any person who shall commit any of the foregoing offenses within view of any such constable.
  • [There were two additional clauses clarifying the discharge of firearms into the street, and fighting or quarreling in any house or premises.]
  • In all cases where a gun, pistol or any species of firearm of any nature or kind, is fired from any house, shed or barn into any street, thoroughfare, alley, road or by road, it shall be lawful for the constable to arrest the person or persons and take him or them before said police magistrate to answer for such offense, and in the case of conviction, [they] shall be liable to a penalty of not less than twenty dollars.
  • It shall be lawful for, and it shall be the duty of, the said police force, or any constable thereof to enter into any house or premises in which they or he may hear any fighting or quarreling going on, and attempt to allay or repress the same, and failing to do so, to apprehend and take into custody the party or parties so fighting or quarreling, and to carry him, her, or them before the police magistrate to be dealt with according to law.

I’ll admit that reading these clauses provided a change from the legalese encountered in such documents; however, great care must be exercised in drawing conclusions. There is always a danger in interpreting regulations from another century with conditions as they exist today. 1903 was a far different world from 2003. A glance at newspaper headlines provides the necessary evidence. It also has to be recognized that at least some of the problems confronted in the quaint 1896 legislation are still with us. Sometimes the wheel comes full circle.