PEEBLES, ADAM JOHN LAING, farmer, engineer, militia officer, and police magistrate; b. 24 Oct. 1812 in Kent, England, of Scottish parents; m. Elizabeth —, and they had two sons and five daughters; d. 10 Feb. 1902 in Winnipeg.
Educated at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst, England, Adam John Laing Peebles was commissioned an ensign in the 59th Foot on 12 April 1831, and was subsequently stationed in the Mediterranean for nine years. In 1846 and 1847 he served as a military engineer in Ireland during the famine. After he resigned from active duty in 1849 with the rank of captain, he and his family immigrated to Upper Canada and settled near Toronto, where he farmed and worked as an engineer.
Peebles joined the Canadian militia in June 1864. Appointed an adjutant with the rank of honorary captain, he served in several companies of the 12th (York) Battalion of Infantry. He resigned in May 1870 to join the staff of Colonel Garnet Joseph Wolseley* as deputy commissary officer with the rank of captain and accompanied Wolseley’s military expedition to the Red River settlement (Man.). Peebles remained in Winnipeg after the disbanding of the militia on 1 May 1871. When Military District No.10 was formed on 16 Oct. 1871 he was appointed supply officer and promoted major, at the rate of $4.90 a day. He was made a lieutenant-colonel in 1877, a position he would hold until his retirement in August 1893 at the age of 80.
On 8 May 1880 Peebles was named the first fulltime police magistrate for the city of Winnipeg. According to a local newspaper, “That strict sense of honor and justice characteristic of the gallant colonel will enable him to perform the onerous duties in a strictly impartial manner.” For a yearly salary of $600 Colonel Peebles, as he was known to everyone, handled hundreds of criminal cases, from minor charges of being drunk and disorderly or keeping a “house of ill fame,” to preliminary hearings of major offences that would be tried by a higher court, such as theft, rape, or murder. On one occasion an accused forger snatched the cheque in question, chewed, and swallowed it, hoping to destroy the evidence against him; Peebles none the less committed him for trial, where he was ultimately convicted.
Although he was not a lawyer, Peebles’s work as a magistrate was widely respected. In 1893, after he was viciously attacked in an anonymous pamphlet, he was strongly supported by Archer Evans Stringer Martin*, editor of the Western Law Times of Canada, himself a vigorous critic of the legal system. When Peebles retired on 30 Nov. 1899, after nearly 20 years on the bench, a leading Winnipeg lawyer, Hector Mansfield Howell*, said, “He had performed his duties with the fearlessness of the soldier, the justice of the judge and the integrity of a citizen.”
Peebles was a member of the first Board of Commissioners of Police, a body set up in in 1884 to supervise the Winnipeg police force; as well, he acted as an investigator for the attorney general of the province, inquiring into several suspicious fires. Winnipeg’s last full-time lay police magistrate died quietly after a short illness on 10 Feb. 1902 in his 90th year.
NA, RG 31, C1, 1851, 1861, York County; 1881, Winnipeg (mfm. at Provincial Arch. of Alberta, Edmonton). PAM, MG 3, D1, 621/13; MG 6, B1; MG 7, B7, RBMB (mfm.); MG 12, A, 90, 279, 494; MG 15, B4, Police Court record-book, 1881–82. PRO, WO 33/21 (mfm. at PAM). Winnipeg, Police Dept., Winnipeg police commission, minute-book, 1. Globe, 27 April 1900. Manitoba Morning Free Press, 1879–86, 1899–1900, 11 Feb. 1902. Manitoban (Winnipeg), 1871–72. Manitoba Weekly Free Press, 1873–79, 1889, 1892–93. Winnipeg Daily Times, 12 May 1880. G.B., Parl., Command paper, 1871, 48, [C.391], [A. G.] Irvine, Report on the Red River expedition of 1870. Robert Hutchison, A century of service: a history of the Winnipeg police force, 1874–1974 (Winnipeg, 1974). [A. E. S. Martin], “A malicious attack,” Western Law Times of Canada (Winnipeg), 4 (1893), no.4: 28–30. J. P. Robertson, A political manual of the province of Manitoba and the North-West Territories (Winnipeg, 1887).