Gordon James Duncan – RNWMP – Reg.#4434





Veteran Ric Hall sent us the following article for the interest of our Association members and members of the Force.





Recently while going through a box of old Vancouver Division correspondence and photographs I found an faded old and yellowed Vancouver Province article written by Bob Hendrickson, dated April 22, 1977 in the mix.   The article was titled “Lone lawman of the Peace River”. I immediately started to read it as I assumed it was to do with adventures in Peace River, Alberta, where I started off my career in the Force.   I still forget the folks in BC refer to the Peace River country as the area around Fort St John. A quick read revealed the article was about Constable Gordon James Duncan, former Reg # 4434, RNWMP, while working in the BC Peace River Country as the member of the BC Provincial Police. Constable Duncan joined the RNWMP September 18,1905 and was Struck Off Strength (SOS) May 20, 1909. He later switched over to the BCPP.

Photograph of a British Columbia Provincial Police cap badge (Source of photo - Sheldon Boles)

Photograph of a British Columbia Provincial Police cap badge (Source of photo – Sheldon Boles)

I have made an abridged version of Bob Hendrickson’s article here for those veterans’ who retain an interest in the early days of the Force. At the time of the interview he was 93 years old. Enjoy!

Photograph of Constable Gordon James Duncan (Reg.#4434)

The law has been part of Duncan’s life since he was born in London, England. His father was solicitor for the Port of Hull.   At the age of 17 Duncan added an extra year to his age and joined the Natal Police in South Africa in 1901.   He returned to England in 1904 and then sailed for Canada landing in Montreal and traveled by rail to Vancouver.

He then went to Calgary to work on a ranch and 1905 joined what was then the North West Mounted Police (Bob Hendrickson is in correct. Duncan was never a member of the NWMP, but rather he joined the RNWMP, as the Force’s name had changed in 1904 prior to Duncan’s joining the RNWMP).   After training in Regina, one of Duncan’s first duties was orderly to the first Saskatchewan Lieutenant-Governor, A.E. Forget.   However, first and foremost Duncan was a policeman.

Crime in those days was not nearly as prevalent as it is now. During my four years in the Mounted Police there wasn’t a bank holdup in all Saskatchewan. I think the courts dealt more effectively with criminal cases than they do now; suspended sentences were not handed out liberally, fines had to be paid forthwith or the offender went to gaol.

If an appeal court existed in Saskatchewan, I never heard of it.”

In 1908, he resigned and entered the forestry service and in the next year came back to BC. He joined the BC Provincial Police in 1914. It merged with the RCMP shortly after Duncan retired.

In 1914 Gordon Duncan was given two revolvers, a rifle, a badge and a copy of the laws and sent out to enforce them in the Peace River area.   Anything else he needed as a member of the BCPP he had to get for himself.

That’s why they gave him three guns when he joined up in Victoria, Duncan said when he was interviewed at his Vancouver home. He could arm any help he might deputize when he arrived as the first peace officer at Pouce Coupe, five miles southeast of a huddle of cabins that was Dawson Creek.

His job was to found the first police station there. It took him three weeks to arrive and one of the first things he did when he got off a steamboat at Fort St. John was to borrow two horses from several left behind by a survey team. He needed them to patrol his territory.

One of his first complaints Duncan dealt with while still living in a tent waiting for the police station to be built was a morals charge.

“One of the homesteaders made a serious complaint that his daughter, a girl under 14 years of age, had become intimately involved with a local man.

I questioned the accused, who denied it, saying it was a scheme to blackmail him.   The parents of the girl declared the man had admitted it to them and had offered to give the girl team of horses.

To settle the matter, I took them all Fort St. John, where the Hudson’s Bay Company agent was the nearest justice of the peace.”

The man was charged and Duncan escorted him to the nearest County Court judge – a four-day canoe trip down the Peace River and then overland to Kamloops.   The man was eventually found guilty and was sentenced to eight months in jail, the time he had spent in prison awaiting trial, on condition that he join the army to fight in the First World War.

That was only one of many experiences Duncan had in nearly half a century of police work. He retired with the rank of Inspector from the BC police force in December 1949, after spending four years as a magistrate and coroner in Ocean Falls, retired permanently.

Now, looking back at the age of 93, Duncan said; “I wouldn’t join a police force now.   You’d be working for a government that doesn’t seem to want the job done.”

Photograph of

Photograph of Gordon Duncan 93, still wears a buckskin coat made for him by an Indian woman of the Peace River country back in 1915.

Duncan still keeps his hand in as the oldest member of the 500-member Vancouver division of the RCMP Veterans’ Association.

Tonight, he will answer the roll call at the association’s 64th annual dinner.

 image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage