On September 17, take a tour through Oshawa’s Union Cemetery with the dramatic tour Scenes from the Cemetery. On this walking tour, actors will bring stories to life, portraying people from Oshawa’s past, sharing stories of society, humour, and of war and loss.
One such character is George Gurley. Continue reading to learn more about his life, before seeing him brought to life through Scenes from the Cemetery.
Constable George Gurley is perhaps one of the more interesting characters in Oshawa’s history. The newspapers from his era as Constable contain numerous comical, unusual and, at times, horrific stories about crime in early Oshawa.
George Gurley was a tailor before becoming police constable, a position that he held for fourteen years. He was Oshawa’s first chief of police and started just prior to Confederation in 1867, although the exact date is not known. Constable Gurley was famous for saying “Don’t you know I have the power in my pocket?” in reference to the Billy club that he always carried around with him. Given George’s thick Irish accent, this line would have sounded even more comical in person. Although he possessed a thick Irish accent Gurley was actually a ‘Manchester Irishman’, which means he was of Irish parentage but born in Manchester. He came to Oshawa in 1856 and married Jane Stephenson on January 22 1862. The only record that survives of their children is that Jane gave birth to a daughter on October 23 1871.
There are many interesting stories about the numerous incidents that George had to deal with as Constable. One of the funnier ones involves a pair of shears that were stolen from the police office. A newspaper report of the incident describes that Constable Gurley made an “exhaustive search” of the police office and the area around it during the day. Finally he became resigned to the fact that the criminal would not be caught and simply bought a new pair. He also was assigned to find a missing coat. Apparently a visiting businessman left it on a fence post in the morning and returned after conducting affairs all day to find it stolen. Constable Gurley was dispatched to serve justice but was unable to find who the culprit was.
George also had to deal with some rather unusual situations. A stray cow was hit once by a ‘down special’ railcar a few roads west of the Simcoe railway street crossing. The train was not damaged but the cow had its hind legs broken and its shoulder cut. The owner of the cow refused to put it out of its misery, as he feared he would not receive compensation from the rail company so Constable Gurley had to end the creature’s life.
Another incident survives on record from 1871. George was called out to Hinde’s Hotel to stop ‘a row’ in progress. The Constable was kicked by one of the troublemakers, Michael Kennedy, who was soon after arrested. After Gurley refused to let the boy out on bail Michael’s father, Matthew Kennedy, threw a large rock and hit George in the back of the neck. A doctor stated later that if it had landed three inches up it might have killed the Constable. The father was committed to jail and the boy got to choose between a fine of ten dollars or thirty days in jail.
George was known to be an Orangeman and a staunch British Loyalist, therefore it is no surprise that he participated in the Fenian Raid of 1866. Unhappy with the interference of the British in Ireland, many Americans in the North Eastern States decided to invade Canada, then a British colony, in retaliation. Many Canadians took up arms in anticipation of the attack and George fought with the Oshawa Troops.
By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist; This originally appeared in the Oshawa Express, 2009