Founding of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary

Designated in 2010 as an Outstanding Historic Event.

Nominator: The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society

While policing in this province dates to 1729, the founding of an island-wide police force (known today as the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary) in 1871 is recognized for its significance as an expression of Newfoundland and Labrador’s transition from Colonial status to independent nationhood.

Prior to 1870, the garrison of British forces at Fort Townshend, some 300 strong, relieved Newfoundland’s government of bearing the full cost of keeping law and order. When the garrison withdrew in 1870, the Island’s existing policing efforts were reorganized and expanded under the leadership of Thomas Foley, formerly of the Royal Irish Constabulary. By 1883, Newfoundland’s police force stood at more than 100 trained constables stationed in almost all of the principle settlements on the Island. Policing expanded to Labrador in the 1930s.

Throughout its early history, the Constabulary’s duties went beyond policing. In St. John’s, officers were often attached to other government departments and, from 1895 to recent times, the police force incorporated the fire brigade. Duties outside of St. John’s especially included combating smuggling, administering relief, and acting as tidewaiters and game wardens. The Newfoundland Constabulary’s jurisdiction reached across Newfoundland and Labrador until Confederation in 1949. In 1950, policing outside St. John’s was transferred to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the 1980s, the RNC resumed policing of the north-east Avalon Peninsula, Corner Brook and Labrador West.

In 1979, Queen Elizabeth II granted the “Royal” designation to the Newfoundland Constabulary, a distinction granted to only one other Canadian police force, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Historical Society