First Hamilton cop killed on duty remembered on 120th anniversary

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Published October 27, 2023 at 11:32 am

Const. James Barron Hamilton Police
Const. James Barron via Hamilton Police

Hamilton Police are remembering the first one of their own to be killed on duty on the 120th anniversary of his death.

Const. James Barron was born not long after Hamilton itself. The then Upper Canada Parliament, still a colony of the United Kingdom, created the Town of Hamilton in 1833. The town became on of the first in Canada to adopt the Barron was born in Scotland 22 years later.

After a brief two-year career in the Edinburgh Police, he immigrated to Canada. He joined the Hamilton Police around age 27 in 1882. Barron served his community for 21 years, but his career was suddenly ended on Oct. 27, 1903.

Around 1 a.m. that morning, Barron went out on a routine walking patrol from the police station at No. 3 King William St. He made his way along Catharine St. toward the Gore (now Wilson St.) two blocks north.

According to the Hamilton Police Historical Society & Museum, when Barron reached the corner of Catharine St. and the Gore, resident William Mills came out of his house. Mills whistled to catch Barron’s attention. Mills reported his mother had seen two suspicious men lurking behind a neighbouring home, which belonged to noted lawyer Francis MacKelcan.

While Mills volunteered to assist Barron, the officer elected to investigate alone. He hopped the fence into MacKelcan’s backyard. Barron soon found a man, up on a ladder, trying to get into the home’s second-story window, per former Hamilton Police officer, private investigator and amateur historian Robert Rankin.

Barron called up to the man on the ladder to ask what he was doing up there. However, he did not notice a second man hiding in the yard’s shrubbery. This man suddenly emerged and ordered Barron to put his hands up.

Rankin speculates Barron may have hesitated or tried to turn, but whatever the reason the man in the bushes fired three rounds. Two shots went wide of Barron but the third struck him right under his heart. The bullet deflected off a buckle on his suspenders.

Barron, badly wounded, staggered out of the yard past Mills and his mother. Despite his fatal injury Barron was able to blow his whistle to call for assistance. However, he collapsed before walking more than a block.

First responders rushed Barron to hospital where doctors worked to save him. Tragically, infection set in due to a puncture in his bowel. Barron, 48, died within 24 hours of the shooting. He left behind his wife and five children.

Barron’s death had a major impact on the community and police service. The police commissioners had resisted arming thier officers since the 1880s. After Barron’s murder they agreed to issue firearms to officers on night patrols.

Despite extensive investigation, Barron’s murderer has never been identified.

Hamilton Police would not lose another officer on duty until 1921, when Const. Reginald Pryer was killed in a motorcycle crash. Another would not be murdered on duty until 1929 when Det. William Clark was killed in a shootout with a bank robber.

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