Horse thieves, prostitutes and forgers: Century-old mugshots offer unique glimpse of history

Sylvia the manicurist was a prostitute who frequented opium dens. Frank the farmer was caught stealing horses. Harry from Austria was busted with vagrancy and escaping custody. These Calgary Police Service mugshots offer unique perceptions of gender, race, ethnic origin and crime a century ago.

Take a look at Calgary's past through archived police photos from 1917

Harry Terlyski was a labourer born in Austria who was charged with vagrancy, breaking and entering, escaping custody and receiving stolen property in the early 20th Century in Calgary. He's just one of the faces captured by the Calgary police roughly a century ago, when the force's newly founded criminal identification bureau adopted photography to document criminal activity. (YouthLink Calgary)

First published March 19.

This article was written by Sean Corscadden, a historian and collections manager, and Noreen Barros, director of museum operations at YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre.

They are the faces of our past, and through them, we can understand our present.  

In the early 20th Century, the Calgary Police Service's newly founded criminal identification bureau adopted photography to document criminal activity.

Roughly 100 years later, we can explore this mugshot book as a rich window into our city's past. Through these photographs of people long since come and gone, we see a wilder Calgary — the Wild West when it was still wild.

Each face has its own story, and through the photographs we can see more than the moment of an arrest and the recording of an offence — we can investigate the evolution of Calgary's culture from its formative years.

In 1914, as now, Calgary was a city of immigrants and travellers — people of different races and creeds arriving with their own dreams and purpose. Some faced greater challenges than others as they struggled to stake their own claim within Canada's evolving social frontiers. 

'Faces tell a hundred stories'

From "alien enemies" of the First World War, to single, unemployed women — their faces tell a hundred stories. As this book of mugshots attests, no gender, race or religion was immune to the arm of the law.

Charges of prostitution, gambling and drug use accompany the more innocuous crimes of public drunkenness and false pretense. With crimes ranging from the darkest of human impulses to semi-comic human weaknesses, these photographs tell an important story about the people who founded our city, about the police who tried to keep order and about our cultural heritage.

While the mugshot book captures a myriad of social ills and criminality, it is also a rich artifact of history in its own right with its fading handwriting, cracked pages, oily handprints and ink smudges.

It's part of what we do at the YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre. We preserve and share the history of our city, and the police service.

  • NAME: George McDerwid
  • BORN: Ireland
  • OCCUPATION: Boiler Maker
  • CRIME: Burglary
  • NAME: Sylvia Boyd
  • BORN: Canada
  • OCCUPATION: Manicurist
  • CRIME: Frequenting opium joint
  • NAME: Frank Medicineshield
  • BORN: Canada
  • OCCUPATION: Farmer
  • CRIME: Horse stealing
  • NAME: William Dean
  • BORN: Ireland
  • OCCUPATION: Railway
  • CRIME: Theft, assault and D&D
  • NAME: Rueben Goldberg
  • BORN: "Jew" [Description from Calgary police at the time]
  • CRIME: Indecent assault
  • NAME: Marcus Edward Whitehead
  • BORN: Ohio, U.S.A.
  • OCCUPATION: Auctioneer
  • CRIME: False pretence
  • NAME: Leslie Nixon
  • BORN: England
  • OCCUPATION: Farm Labourer
  • CRIME: Receiving stolen property
  • NAME: Charlie Chang
  • BORN: China
  • CRIME: Theft
  • NAME: Laurence B. Morgan
  • BORN: U.S.A.
  • OCCUPATION: Musician 
  • CRIME: Living on the avails of prostitution
  • NAME: Edward Nelson
  • BORN: Texas, U.S.A.
  • OCCUPATION: Farmer
  • CRIME: Cattle stealing
  • NAME: (Mrs.) Alf. Young
  • BORN: U.S.A.
  • CRIME: Vagrancy
A group of city police in Calgary pictured sometime between 1911 and 1918. (Glenbow Museum photo archives)

And here are the mugshots for the authors of this article: 

Sean Corscadden is a historian and collections manager.

He graduated with a master of arts from Ryerson University and George Eastman House in 2013 and has since found a welcoming home in Calgary. 

Noreen Barros graduated from Queen's University in 1994 with a masters in Public Administration.

With the Calgary Police Service since 1998, she was assigned to YouthLink in 2013 as director of museum operations.

Calgary at a Crossroads is CBC Calgary's special focus on life in our city during the downturn. A look at Calgary's culture, identity and what it means to be Calgarian. Read more stories from the series at Calgary at a Crossroads.