Millar, Charles Rait
WWI Soldier, Police Officer, Detective
Chaos during the Regina Riot. The man helping the man on the ground is believed to be Detective Charles Millar, who was killed in the melee.
July 1, 1935. CORA-RPL-B-392.
At the Regina Police Service Headquarters, a cenotaph commemorates the only 2 officers ever killed in the line of duty in the city: George Anthony Lenhard and Charles Rait Millar. Charles Millar’s death occurred during one of Canada’s ugliest labour incidents – the Regina Riot. Millar and trekker Nick Schaak both lost their lives in the riot and in the tumult no one ever learned who killed either man.
Millar was born in County Forfar, Scotland. Information on his personal life is spotty, but as the Leader-Post reported on July 2, 1935, Millar was survived by his father, who lived in Scotland, one brother, who lived in New York and his daughter Margaret. Millar was a widower whose wife had died during childbirth.
Millar fought in World War I, returning to Canada with a plate in his head from a devastating injury he suffered on the battlefield. He joined the Regina Police Service in 1920 as a constable. In 1929 he was promoted to detective, a position he held until his murder. By all accounts, Millar was a well-respected cop and a devoted father.
The On-To-Ottawa Trek began in Vancouver. The Great Depression had hit the country hard. Inadequate social relief and insular trade policies exacerbated a prairie drought, driving down grain prices and causing massive unemployment. The federal government of R.B. Bennett founded labour camps as a way to keep men busy and sequestered. Projects like the Albert Street Bridge construction and Wascana Lake deepening were created to employ the men. Conditions were terrible, however and labour leaders found the DND camps to be fertile ground for organization.
Angry men swarmed into Vancouver from the camps in April 1935 to draw attention to their plight. They boarded freight trains bound for Ottawa in June, picking up recruits as they travelled. By the time the train reached Regina on June 14, orders were issued to stop the trek by the federal Justice Minister, who called it a communist plot.
Liberal Saskatchewan Premier J.T. Gardiner was furious at the federal government’s decision. He felt that a showdown between the approximately 2000 men and the RCMP was inevitable and did not want Saskatchewan to be the site of such an event. Gardiner’s complaints were dismissed as partisan politics, but unfortunately, Gardiner’s concerns were well-founded.
Two weeks went by, during which the trekkers’ funds were exhausted and no progress was made in talks. The trekkers had decided to return to the west coast, but the federal government insisted that the men first travel to Lumsden to be processed. The trekkers, distrusting the Bennett government, appealed to the Gardiner government in an effort to get assistance to end their trek. Provincial cabinet members were considering the request when the Regina Riot broke out on July 1, 1935.
A public protest in Market Square became the site of the Regina Riot when the police decided to serve arrest warrants on the trek’s leaders. Ironically, most of the trekkers were not at the protest; most were at the Exhibition Grounds (where the Saskatchewan government had housed the men) playing baseball. Although an investigation later exonerated the police and blamed the trekkers for the riot, subsequent historical research has shown that police could have executed the warrants at any point in the day. The choice to execute the warrants during a public rally, while armed with tear gas and clubs, seems to show that police played a significant part in touching off the Regina Riot.
Once the riot had started, it spread like wildfire, engulfing pedestrians and spreading to nearby streets. It was into this melee that Detective Charles Millar stepped when he witnessed a fellow police officer being struck down. Millar ran out to defend the fallen officer and was beaten with heavy objects. The metal plate in his head, which once saved his life, may have been the instrument of his death – it was driven into his brain as he was struck, causing massive cerebral hemorrhage. Several other officers ran to Millar’s rescue, becoming injured themselves in the process. It was futile, as Millar had been killed instantly. Trekker Nick Schaak was also killed, although most accounts of the day reported that Millar was the only fatality.
Hundreds more were injured and property damage was estimated in the tens of thousands.
Millar’s funeral was one of the largest Regina had ever seen, with flags flown at half-mast and many businesses closing to accommodate mourners. Millar’s daughter Margaret went to live with a family friend and residents donated more than $3500 to a trust fund for her upkeep.
Millar’s death was commemorated when Millar Crescent was named in his honour.