POLICE CHIEF PATROLLED KENTVILLE ON BIKE (February 5/19)

(Note: Tentative plans are being made to recognize an early Kentville police officer, Rupert Davis. The following account about Davis is based on a column I wrote in 2001 and from information found in the archives of the Kings County Museum).

In the December 26, 1938 issue of The Advertiser, the newspaper reported that Kentville’s former Chief of Police was in critical condition after being struck by an automobile on a town street.

“Rupert Davis, for 45 years Kentville Chief of Police… is in critical condition in Eastern Kings Memorial Hospital, Wolfville”, reads the newspaper report. “Returning to his home on his bicycle, the former Chief, now nearing 80 years of age, was struck by an alleged hit-and-run auto driver. Davis sustained a broken left arm, other injuries and severe shock.”

As I wrote in a column in 2001, Davis never recovered from his injuries and he died a few months after being hit. At the time there appeared to be little doubt that Davis had been run down by a vehicle on Kentville’s east Main Street but no charges were made and his “alleged” hit and run driver was never found. Supposedly there were suspects and the bootleggers whom Davis had pursued relentlessly as a police officer would have been among them. However, when I did research for the 2001 column on Chief Davis I checked several editions of The Advertiser and Wolfville Acadian for follow-up reports on the incident and found nothing. According to The Advertiser, John Brown, the then current Chief of Police, announced he was investigating the incident but apparently it was inconclusive.

Few people living today remember Rupert Davis, one of Kentville’s earliest police officers; oddly, on the rare occasion that his name comes up, it’s usually noted that he patrolled the town during his entire career on a bicycle. Rupert Davis was the chief of police in Kentville from 1894 to 1931, succeeding Thomas O’Grady (1888-1894) who in turn had followed the town’s first policeman Robert Barry (1887-1888). Davis was born in Baxter’s Harbour in 1857 (or in 1858) and based on newspaper reports, died in February of 1939.

I bring up Rupert Davis’ name since I hear there are plans to recognize his exemplary career as a Kentville police officer. Since I wrote the 2001 column I’ve unearthed additional information about Davis; I found a lengthy obituary/news report on his funeral service which noted that he was hurt when thrown from his bike. Despite earlier news that it was a hit-and-run incident, this isn’t mentioned in the report. Davis lived for about two months after the incident and perhaps he was able to say yes or no on a motor vehicle being involved in his fall. However, while we can only speculate about this today, newspapers published at the time did claim initially that Davis was the victim of a hit-and-run.

Here’s an excerpt from the news story on his funeral: “Mr. Davis was one of the town’s most well-known figures. For 40 years he was chief of the Kentville police force, an office he held until March 1931, when he was succeeded by John H. Brown. Since that time he has been a special officer and tax collector in the town.

“The chief, or ex-chief in later years, was known to everybody in Kentville and to most of the people in Kings County and the Valley. He was respected by all and to see him riding his bicycle abut the town, even as he was approaching the age of eighty years, was a sight familiar to all.

“It was while he was riding his bicycle homewards after special duty last Christmas Eve that he sustained the injuries which, according to medical testimony at an inquest Monday afternoon, hastened his death. He was found lying on the roadside by a neighbor and rushed to the hospital by a passing motorist. He failed to show any marked improvement during two months there and finally, on Thursday morning, passed away.”

In her book on Kentville (The Devil’s Half Acre) Mabel Nichols offered an excellent tribute to Davis: “From 1894 to 1931 Rupert Davis was Chief of Police. Davis was a man of splendid physique as he was six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. During his long period of service he served under 37 Town Councils. Lawlessness was rampant and because of it, Kentville was known as the Devil’s Half Acre. When (Davis was) first appointed, there were 14 licensed bars and trouble was continually brewing; however, Mr. Davis never carried a gun. He maintained control without the aid of any firearms, combining fearless enforcement of the law with diplomacy and sympathy for thoughtless offenders. He was also the Nova Scotia Temperance Act Inspector for Kentville and it is said he made the town dryer than any other place of its size in the province.”

To that I add a final “Amen” and the hope that this column will be useful when a salute to Davis comes together.

 

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