George MacAndrew – Castlegar’s first policeman
“I had always yearned to be a policeman, even when I was younger,” says George MacAndrew, who became Casltegar’s first policeman in 1932 and served here until 1939. When George first came to this town as a first class constable he was earning 75$ a month, third class constable’s wages.
He was a member of the B.C. Provincial Police force, the oldest police force in Canada, he told me. “I was more than proud to be a member of a force where men were men and common sense was the foundation of that force.” He was with the B.C. Provincial Police for 23 and half years — until they amalgamated with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1950. From his office atop West’s Department Store, George listened to complaints, settled police matters and issued all sorts of licenses.
“In my opinion,” he says, “then Castlegar was a much better town than it is today. People were cooperative and helpful to one another.” By himself, this young man was responsible for an area from Thrums and Shore acres to Renata, Deer Park, Ootishenia and China Creek. “I was a very active young man.”
It was during the “hungry 30s” that George was in Casltegar and most crime was due to the transient traffic in town – those who “rode the rails” into town. “ It was not unusual to find three to six complaints a week of breaking entering by a transient.” George’s first major police matter was the burning of the Wesley Sawmill in East Robson. “In my opinion it was arson, but I was never able to pin down the suspects.”
George describes himself as a “firm but sensible” police officer. He was to keep a lot of petty cases out of the courts by handling them himself in his “firm but sensible” way. George regularly ended his day by personally checking on every place of business.
George was awakened one Sunday morning at 7a.m. when a fellow came in “very distressed.” I finally got him quieted down and Mrs. Mac gave him some breakfast, and he told me that someone had stolen his little cache of money. I went with him out to his home on Sunday morning. I suspected that the thief had cached the money at a root house. I worked on that root house all day, moving potatoes, you name it. I must have moved several tons of potatoes.”
Searching that cellar took the better part of the day but George’s hard work finally paid off when he spotted a little knothole that he had previously overlooked. Sure enough, there was the little wad of bills that the thief had taken. “That chap served 18 months for that,” concluded George. How did you get the idea that the money was in the root cellar? I asked him. “Oh, you just get ideas. I had the idea that’s where the money was.”
On another Sunday morning, George was called out to Deer Park. A brood mare had been shot, “I got in my boat and when immediately.” He took along a butcher friend and when they arrived and opened up the mare they found the bullet. George put the two suspects under arrest, but because they couldn’t all fit in his small boat he had to take them across on the paddle wheeler the Minto and to Nakusp and went the long way.
“I got many complaints,” he told me, “about a chap putting himself out as a dentist in Brilliant. The Russian people were all complaining. He took their money but gave them no satisfaction.” This of course ruffled George’s “Scotch” nature. “I got up at 4:30 or 5 one morning and dressed in old clothes and put a scarf around my head. I went over to see him and told him I had a terrible toothache. He plunked me down in a chair, and picked up his tools and started looking around in my mouth. He said, “Yes, but I found something,” I said pointing to the tools in his hand.” George arrested him, and in the end all his tools and equipment were confiscated and he was dealt with very harshly by the law. “There might be someone who remembers that phony dentist in Brilliant.”
George was born in Inverness, Scotland “near the hills of Moy.” Prior to coming to Canada he was a sailor, traveling all over the world. Sailing along the coast in the B.C. Coast Service, George “noticed various ports in B.C. and the provincial police who were stationed there.”
He put in his application to the B.C. Provincial Police in 1928, was accepted and spent part of a year at police school in Victoria. Halfway through the term a fellow was killed in a motorcycle accident in Chilliwack and since George knows how to ride a motorcycle, he was immediately detailed there. After Chilliwack, George went back and completed school. His second posting was in Princeton and he was “in and out of there” until he came to Castlegar in July 1932.
Prior to coming here, George had never taken any vacation and was on duty 24 hours a day. “I never even thought of holidays.” He told me.
From Castlegar he was posted in various locales across the province, Richmond, Abbotsford, Peace River (“I was up there during the building of the Alaska Highway.”), North Vancouver, Nanaimo, and then finally to Prince George where he retired.
It was while he was stationed in North Vancouver that the B.C. Police amalgamated with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a “sad day” for George – “ A very sad day. I was acting constable in Vancouver then.” Why was it so sad? I wanted to know. “It was sad because I contend that the B.C. Provincial Police was a police force that conducted itself in a sensible, realistic manner in keeping with Sir Robert Peel of the United Kingdom.” 1950 marked the beginning of a new era in police work and George, like so many policemen of his day, were loathe seeing the old ways go.
When he retired in Prince George, he became very interested in community affairs. He took on the responsibility of the Nechako Improvement District and it was through his efforts that water and fire protection became a reality for that new community. He also tells me he was “interested in hospital affairs,” and was elected three times to the board and served a total of 11 years. “As a result of my perseverance we got a small 30-bed hospital in Mackenzie. It was made in Vancouver and shipped to Mackenzie in 22 different packages.”
In 1970, while visiting some old friends in Castlegar, George and his wife Exilda “had a number of old friends who prevailed on the Macs to have a look around.” The Macs did, found a house they like, made an offer on it, and after all their affairs in Prince George were settled they moved down here.
Since they’ve come back George has become a senior citizens counselor. He is angered that “a lot of injustice is being done to older people, bureaucracy and being conned by people taking advantage of them.” Many of the seniors remember how trustworthy George was in his early police days, and now have no difficulty coming to him for help and advice. They bring him questions on housing and costs, rents and legal matters.
“I’m very concerned about the interest and welfare of our senior citizens.” He firmly believed that this work is “a continuation of the Provincial Police. We were trained and expected to prevent crime and help those who were having problems.”
He still displays his “firm but sensible” manner in dealing with bureaucrats on behalf of seniors. Understanding the wording in some applications and documents is one of the main problems that seniors face. They may read it to mean one thing, when in actuality it means quite the opposite.
From his early days in Scotland, George has been a member of the Presbyterian Church. Currently he is an elder and chairman of the board at Grace Presbyterian Church. The MacAndrews have three sons, Donald, Angus, and Norman.
In all of his work, his years on the police force, his community involvements, and now his work with the seniors in our town, George is guided b his very keen sense of justice. He detests any abuse or wrongdoing and seems to be the kind of person who will go out of his way to right these wrongs.