B.C. Sheriff Service history

The history of sheriffs in our province goes back to the roots of British Columbia. In 1857, Governor James Douglas appointed Andrew Muir to be the first sheriff of the Colony of Vancouver Island. The following year, the Gold Rush brought boom times to British Columbia and Muir had his hands full. He was called upon to quash riots and unlawful assemblies as well as to track down lawbreakers. These duties were in addition to his role as coroner, constable and returning officer during Parliamentary elections. In 1860, the Sheriffs Act was created, and the province was divided into nine counties, each with its own high sheriff.

Early sheriffs were called on to perform a variety of duties, in some cases serving as the jailhouse manager, tax collector, government agent and even gold commissioner. It’s no surprise that over the years those jobs became specialized, and the administration of justice evolved, this time into a county court system.

In the early to mid-20th century, the role of sheriff continued to evolve, with duties ranging depending the area of the province in which they served.  Some of the more interesting roles included serving as justice of the peace, marrying people in civil ceremonies, and raising the ‘hue and cry’ and ‘posse comitatus’ to chase and capture criminals. As late as 1960s, sheriffs were responsible for executing death sentences at the old Okalla prison.

In 1974, the government of the day instituted a significant restructuring of the office of the sheriff in British Columbia. Responsibilities were increased and the nine existing County Sheriff Offices were merged into one provincial department called the British Columbia Sheriff Services, and the organization as we know it now was placed under the Attorney General.

Over the past four decades, the service has distinguished itself to British Columbians for its professionalism, code of honour, integrity and commitment.