Dressed in uniforms with sashes made from flour sacks, the first “Schoolboy Patrol Club” took to Calgary’s streets in 1937. The fifth- and sixth-graders were posted in the middle of intersections, where they directed carriages, cars, trucks and buggies—almost everything except milk wagons, which were too hard to stop due to horse power.
Reg Llewellyn Harvey, principal of Haultain School, instituted Alberta’s inaugural patrol due to his growing fears about the safety of his students. Located in downtown Calgary, the school drew heavy traffic that routinely put youngsters at risk.
“He was concerned about the little ones crossing the street; that’s how it all started,” says Jill Ebsworth, Harvey’s granddaughter and an AMA member since 1968. “I don’t think he ever dreamed the patrol would grow to what it is today.”
By 1938, 16 more schools were operating similar patrols, led by the Calgary Police Service. Soon enough, the Alberta Motor Association was approached in the hope that it could help support the program’s further development. AMA not only came on board, we expanded the patrol to Edmonton as well, instating patrols at Alex Taylor School and eventually across the province.
The program’s name changed to Safety Patrol in 1944, when girls were admitted to the ranks—a change that was in step with the greater equality women were gaining as part of the war effort. Edmonton’s contingent also began sponsoring a weekly radio program, Captain Duval and the Safety Brigade, that formed the basis of a kids’ club with more than 6,000 members.
Flour-sack sashes were no more. These kids were superheroes, says Carrie Herrick-Fitzgerald, supervisor of the AMA School Safety Patrol. They looked the part.
“In Edmonton, the uniforms had capes with AMA’s initials stitched prominently on the back,”Herrick-Fitzgerald says. “And in Calgary, the kids wore belts with authoritative colour bars: one stripe for a regular patroller, two for a lieutenant, and three for a captain.”
By the mid-1950s, the Safety Patrol was growing faster than any other AMA initiative. In 1957, it even formed its own marching band, which made weekly TV appearances to share safety messages through music and skits. (The group still exists today, as the Calgary Round-Up Band).
Come 1959, the Patrol had grown to include 1,800 boys and girls supervising 135 street crossings. Roughly two decades later, in 1976, the numbers had swelled to a whopping 11,000 students in 450 schools. And today, as the Patrol concludes its 80th school year on guard, it boasts nearly 17,000 youngsters in more than 500 schools across Alberta.
Ebsworth beams when she thinks about what her grandfather started, noting that she too was a School Safety Patroller in the sixth grade—though she confesses it wasn’t all about family tradition.
“To be honest, I remember being most excited about getting out of class 10 minutes early,” Ebsworth laughs. “But it was a wonderful responsibility. What these kids do—what a difference it makes! Traffic is much more dangerous now and they do a fantastic job. I’m so proud.”