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A blast from the OPP’s past

By Michelle Poirier [1]

BELLEVILLE – The Arresting Images exhibition at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery [2] is filled with some of the first mug shots ever taken in Ontario.

You may never have heard of some of the offences listed on the arrest sheets accompanying the photos. They were crimes from more than a century ago.

The travelling exhibition , from The Ontario Provincial Police Museum [3], consists of photos of accused criminals taken between 1886 to 1908.

A wide variety of crimes committed led to the arrest of these people. The gallery is filled with images of people that were arrested for pickpocketing, shoplifting, burglary, forgery, escaping arrest and murder. Some of the arrests were for crimes that no longer exist under the Criminal Code today, such as being a confidence man (old fashioned word for con man), a safe blower (a person who uses explosives to open safes and rob them), a bunco (a game played with cards or dice by swindlers) and a horse thief. Some people were arrested just on suspicion.

“It’s historically significant. It’s a great show,” said Susan Holland, the curator at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery. “The photographs are amazing.”

Information sheets were put up around the gallery detailing the history of the mug shot. Mug shots originated in 1841 in Paris, two years after the daguerreotype (the first photographic process) was invented. They were then introduced in England in 1848 and soon adopted in the United States and Canada. According to the information sheets, these mug shots may have been the first and only time that these people were photographed in their lifetime.

“The exhibition provides a unique perspective on the social history of Ontario during those years including police practices, the emergence of photography and the development and social phenomena of the mug shot,” is how the exhibit is described on the gallery website.

Susan Holland says her favourite mug shot is of a woman who was arrested for elopement because it’s a crime you wouldn’t hear of today.

The exhibition will be in gallery one at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery until Dec. 31.