Downtown Prince Albert was bustling with activity and Central Avenue was in tip-top shape. The buildings were clean, the windows were washed, the doorways were swept. Drunks and prostitutes did not stagger down the streets. Addicts did not shoot up in the alleys.
© Courtesy Prince Albert Historical Society.
Central Avenue in the early 1950s.
That’s the way long-time resident Ken Guedo remembers downtown Prince Albert when he was growing up in the ’50s and early ’60s.
“Nobody locked their doors,” he said. “Like anywhere else in those days.”
Unlike today, people did not have the perception that downtown was a dangerous or troublesome place, he added.
“Nobody had any qualms about walking around any time of the day or night.”
Statistics Canada released its Juristat Crime Severity Index last month. As usual, Prince Albert has one of the highest crime rates in the country. The good news is that it is falling.
According to Doug Elliott of Sask Trends Monitor, Prince Albert’s crime rate fell last year for the third year in a row and, although crime rates are falling across the province (and the country), they are falling faster in P.A.
It is very hard to explain why crime rates go down or up, Elliott cautioned.
For example, a drop in the crime rate doesn’t necessarily mean a drop in crime. It could mean that people are reporting crime less. According to Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey from 1993, 42 per cent of people who had been victimized by crime in the 12 months before the survey reported the incident to the police. In the 2009 survey, that number was only 31 per cent.
“There’s way too many variables to draw too much of a conclusion,” Elliot said.
Statisticians are especially wary when comparing crime stats across decades, he added.
Nevertheless, Statistics Canada data tables tell a striking story. Between 1962 (the earliest year for which Statistics Canada says comparable data is available) and 1991, the crime rate in Canada dramatically increased, from 2,771 crimes per 100,000 population to 10,342. Since its peak in the early ’90s, it has steadily fallen.
Those numbers fall in line with the perception, especially among those who remember the ’50s and ’60s, that crime is worse today than it was in the past.
Elliott, who remembers the ’60s himself, understands Guedo’s argument.
Adolescents in those days got into “mischief,” Elliott said, but he doesn’t recall the same degree of violent vandalism that, it seems to him, happens today.
“My suspicion is that young people respected the police and feared them more in the ’60s,” he said.
We didn’t do drugs because there weren’t any. We didn’t even know what they were. Ken Guedo, Prince Albert resident
“But that’s just my own view,” he hastened to add. “I’m a statistician; I’ve been taught to dismiss that as anecdotal.”
The problem, Elliott said, is that old-timers in every era say that manners have slipped and kids are poorly behaved. How do we know it isn’t just a perception people get as they age?
Guedo has evidence. As an archivist at The P.A. Historical Society, he has at his fingertips thousands of photos that show the downtown exactly the way he remembers it.
He dug up some photos from the ’50s and ’60s for the Herald. Central Avenue is lined with cars. There are shoe stores, banks and clothing stores. A fancy department store, Kresge, dominates the corner of 12th Street.
There is no litter on the ground.
“No,” Guedo said. “People didn’t throw garbage in the streets in those days.
“As a rule people were more polite.”
Not that everyone was a saint. There was a rough bar here and there. But there might have been fewer opportunities to get into trouble. For Guedo, the way to rebel against parental authority was to go to Grotto’s, or one of the many other pool halls.
“Dens of iniquity,” he said facetiously.
“When I was growing up the big bad thing to do was drink beer,” he added.
“We didn’t do drugs because there weren’t any. We didn’t even know what they were.”
Not all bad behaviour is reflected in the crime rate
There is another reason why crime statistics may not be helpful. Those who say society is becoming more disorderly often point to antisocial behaviour, such as rowdiness, public drunkenness, spitting and littering.
Such behaviour is generally not criminal, so it is not reflected in the crime rate. But it adds to a sense of insecurity and can also contribute to the perception that crime is increasing.
Guedo doesn’t have crime statistics in his archives, anyway. He has lots of photos -- and common sense.
His suspicions are similar to Elliott’s: a big difference between today and 50 years ago is that there is not as much authority in adolescents’ lives.
“A lot of those guys in prison are there because they didn’t have a mum or dad to kick their ass at home.”