Reading the Riot Act

"Police Chief Sammy Baird shows the obscenities written on the Campbellford sign to reporters. Story retold from Gleanings: a history of Campbellford/Seymour. Photo courtesy The Toronto Star Archives"

Campbellford 1968

The trouble began late saturday afternoon in April 1968 when police chief Sammy Baird picked up a couple of kids for speeding up and down Front Street in Campbellford. He arrested one for causing a disturbance and drinking underage and charged the other with careless driving. But it didn’t end there.

By 6:30 that evening when Baird was off duty, Constable Leonard Thompson chased another gang of kids into the parking lot at Sharpe’s Market where they taunted him with “we’re going to get Sam tonight; we’re going to slit his guts from here to here and spill them all over the street.”

In no time the mob had grown to 200 people who were breaking bottles and blocking traffic.

Thompson put a call in to Chief Baird, who was working that night at his part-time job as an usher at the Aron Theatre. Baird knew there was trouble brewing so he left the theatre, headed back to the station, strapped on his gun and called in twelve reinforcements from Hastings, Peterborough and Brighton.

The police arrested a number of the unruly punks and threw them behind bars, but the mob followed them to the jailhouse.

At one point a police cruiser pulled into the back of the jailhouse with “the toughest kid in town” in the back seat. The kid came out of the cruiser swinging and knocked the officer to the ground with a punch to the jaw, and then someone kicked him in the face. The crowd went crazy and swarmed the police car. Sammy Baird took control of the situation, barking “get back” to the crowd and firing a single slug from his .38 revolver into the air. He managed to get the accused into the jailhouse and locked the door behind him. He then called Ev Steele, the town justice of the peace.

Ev Steele stood on the back steps of the jail and read the Riot Act. Under its terms, the mob had 30 minutes to disperse or be charged. According to the Toronto Star report, “the mob screamed so loud Steele could hardly be heard until he said the last words: ‘may be sentenced to life imprisonment.’ At 1:30 a.m., everybody was gone and all was quiet at the back of Sammy Baird’s jailhouse.”

[Spring 2023 departments]