Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

AdChoices
While head of the Montreal police’s Night Patrol, Mr. Cinq-Mars led a group of rough and tumble officers, creating fodder for later fictionalized accounts of 50s and 60s Montreal. (Robert Côté)
While head of the Montreal police’s Night Patrol, Mr. Cinq-Mars led a group of rough and tumble officers, creating fodder for later fictionalized accounts of 50s and 60s Montreal. (Robert Côté)

Jacques Cinq-Mars was a tough, rule-bending Montreal police captain Add to ...

For most of the 1970s in Montreal, enforcing the law from midnight until dawn was the responsibility of Jacques Cinq-Mars, a tough, rule-bending police captain who eventually became the inspiration for a series of bestselling crime novels.

The nightly parade of violence, suffering and squalor that he witnessed as he patrolled the streets after dark didn’t faze him, he said, for he had already learned much about life, death and crime as an infantryman during the Second World War.

Mr. Cinq-Mars, a veteran of the bloody raid on Dieppe and the last commander of the Montreal police’s famous Night Patrol, has died. He was 96.

His daughter Danielle Bales said Mr. Cinq-Mars died of cancer on Sunday at Sainte Anne’s Hospital, a facility for veterans in the Montreal suburb Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. His father, who had served during the First World War, also died there, 48 years ago.

“They say you can’t appreciate food unless you’ve been starving and you can’t appreciate life unless you’ve been close to death. I’ve been there many times,” Mr. Cinq-Mars said in a 1979 Montreal Gazette profile.

The legendary Montreal cop was an inspiration for novelist Trevor Ferguson, who created a stubborn, old-school character named Émile Cinq-Mars for his critically acclaimed series of detective novels.

Several events from Mr. Cinq-Mars’s real life appear in Mr. Ferguson’s novels, which he wrote under the pen name John Farrow.

In one incident in the 1950s, for example, Mr. Ferguson said Mr. Cinq-Mars found officers telling him that a man with a gun had barricaded himself inside his house.

“Then why are you out here?” Mr. Cinq-Mars asked. He went inside alone and disarmed the gunman.

This episode features in the third instalment of Mr. Ferguson’s series, a book titled River City.

Mr. Cinq-Mars’ can-do attitude was the modus operandi of the elite squad he commanded.

“The criminal element, especially the thugs prone to violence, feared the Night Patrol. These were the detectives who seemed to like nothing better than crashing through doors,” the late Gazette columnist Nick Auf der Maur once wrote about the squad.

The youngest of two children, Mr. Cinq-Mars was born on March 11, 1920, in Montreal.

His father, Benoit, a law student, and his mother, Blanche Lefort, a nurse, had both volunteered to serve with the Canadian military in Europe during the First World War.

Both came home in bad shape. Benoit had contracted tuberculosis. His wife was discharged because of rheumatism and heart problems.

She remained in poor health and died a few months after giving birth to Jacques.

Young Jacques grew up restless and seeking adventures. He went to the Prairies to work in railroad camps during the Great Depresssion, Mr. Cinq-Mars told Mr. Ferguson.

Just after Mr. Cinq-Mars’s 20th birthday, in April 1940, with Canada and Britain at war again with Germany, he enlisted.

His regiment, Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, was sent to Iceland, then to Britain, where the infantrymen took part in the disastrous amphibious raid against the French port of Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942.

The regiment was supposed to be held in reserve but, in the confusion of battle, it was sent into action even though the first waves of Canadian troops hadn’t been able to break out of the pebble beach in front of Dieppe.

Mr. Cinq-Mars said 24 of the 26 men aboard his landing craft died that morning.

“We were pinned to the beach and were stuck there. There was a 65-foot cliff and the Germans were above, shooting as us below. It didn’t go well,” he recalled in the veterans’ website The Memory Project.

He was hit twice by bullets and more than a dozen times by shrapnel.

By the morning’s end, the survivors were ordered to retreat. Mr. Cinq-Mars helped another wounded soldier onto a landing craft. “I grabbed the chain to pull myself up. Then five or six guys came running from the beach; they banged my head and pushed me underwater and then the boat started to back up and I was left there,” he told The Memory Project.

He tried to swim to one of the British destroyers, HMS Calpe, but he turned back when he saw that it came under attack from German planes.

So he returned to the beach and joined more than 1,940 other Canadians in captivity. The enlisted men were held at Stalag VIII-B, a camp near Lamsdorf, in Silesia.

Conditions at the camp were grim, Mr. Cinq-Mars and other Dieppe veterans told Simon Leduc, a student interviewing French-Canadian POWs for a 2015 master’s thesis, describing the cold, the meagre food rations, the lice infestations.

They had to cut wood or work in a sugar plant. Mr. Cinq-Mars tried to escape but was recaptured.

Then in January, 1945, they were hastily assembled and moved out of their camp.

With the Red Army approaching, the Germans forced prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates into deadly journeys toward the west, forcing tens of thousands of weak, ill-fed people to march for hours in the winter cold.

“Every day we passed an unbroken line of corpses on the road,” he recalled in The Gazette. “The Russians got it worse than us because they weren’t in the Geneva Convention. If they couldn’t get up in the morning, the Germans shot them.”

At night they slept in barns or in open fields, burrowing into the snow to escape the biting wind. They weren’t fed and had to find their own food. Ms. Bales said her father told her about sneaking into chicken coops to steal eggs.

By the time they were liberated by U.S. tanks on May 1, he weighed only 128 pounds and was sure he would die within days.

After he returned to Montreal, he spent a year recovering then applied to join the police.

The police force at the time was rife with corruption and Mr. Cinq-Mars refused to go along, but his unbending attitude was on the right side of history, Mr. Ferguson said.

Within years, two reform-minded lawyers, Jean Drapeau, who would become the mayor, and Pacifique (Pax) Plante, a future police chief, started seeking changes. At their behest, the Caron inquiry revealed how the police had allowed gambling dens and brothels to proliferate.

Mr. Cinq-Mars started as a constable, doing foot patrols in central and east-end Montreal. Within a decade, he had been promoted to the holdup squad.

A 1959 Gazette article described how he identified and arrested a robbery ring by identifying the kind of matches and cigarettes the suspects had left behind.

By the 1960s, he was a lieutenant with the Night Patrol, an elite group of 30 detectives who handled all major crimes in the city after dark.

The nights had their own criminal patterns, Mr. Cinq-Mars explained in a 1968 issue of the Star Weekly magazine.

For example, in the first hours of the evening, it was mostly domestic disputes. Then, the bars closed at 2 a.m. and they had to deal with knife fights.

The patrol also handled tactical operations, carrying with them an arsenal of rifles, shotguns and submachine guns as they hunted for runaway convicts or robbery suspects.

On one occasion, in June, 1967, Mr. Cinq-Mars spotted the former professional boxer Reggie Chartrand, a supporter of Quebec independence, putting a “Québec Libre” sticker on a parked car with Ontario plates.

Mr. Chartrand punched Mr. Cinq-Mars in the jaw when the detective tried to stop him. The boxer was acquitted after he argued that he didn’t realize Mr. Cinq-Mars was a police officer.

Mr. Cinq-Mars became a captain and the head of the patrol in 1970.

During that time, the patrol handled major cases such as the arson at the Gargantua Bar where gangsters killed 13 people, and the 1972 bombing at the Cuban Trade Commission, where gun-pointing Cuban guards tried to prevent the police from entering.

The patrol’s methods were expeditious. Mr. Ferguson said Mr. Cinq-Mars confided to him that some of their tactics would have gotten them arrested today.

In a documentary aired last fall, Robert Ménard, a member of Mr. Cinq-Mars’s patrol, described how he cleared outlaw bikers from a nightclub by striking their leader’s face with a flashlight, and how he secured a rape confession by publicly stripping off the suspect’s clothes.

Mr. Cinq-Mars appreciated officers like Mr. Ménard, who was unorthodox and ruthless when dealing with criminals. “If we asked him to do something, he never said ‘No, I’ll get in trouble,’” Mr. Cinq-Mars said in the documentary, aired on the Historia network.

Even as he neared his 60s, Mr. Cinq-Mars still worked on the front lines, said former detective Claude Aubin, who recalled running alongside the captain, who carried an M-1 carbine, as they chased a fugitive on a downtown street.

The Night Patrol was abruptly disbanded in 1979 during a controversial overhaul of the police force. Mr. Cinq-Mars retired a year later.

His going-away party was attended by more than 400 officers. “We’ll never have another one like him and the last vestige of the old police goes with him,” one participant told Mr. Auf der Maur, the Gazette columnist.

Mr. Auf der Maur’s writing about Mr. Cinq-Mars stuck in the mind of Mr. Ferguson, the novelist.

His first crime novel, City of Ice (1998), featured a stubborn, old school detective named Émile Cinq-Mars.

Because Mr. Ferguson had established his hero in a contemporary setting of Montreal’s biker wars of the late 1990s, his fictional character had Mr. Cinq-Mars’s traits but couldn’t share the real detective’s back story.

Mr. Ferguson’s River City is a prequel set in the 1950s, where a younger Émile Cinq-Mars meets a more experienced mentor figure, Captain Armand Touton, a grizzled Dieppe veteran.

While in retirement, Mr. Cinq-Mars reconnected with Ms. Bales. She was born in 1948, but Mr. Cinq-Mars did not marry her mother and started a separate family.

Ms. Bales said she grew up unaware that he was her biological father, though her mother, Irene, would read her articles about Mr. Cinq-Mars from the crime tabloid Allô Police and would tell her he was “a great friend of the family.”

They had only met once, when she was 16 and attending a wake and he happened by coincidence to be at the funeral parlour for another person’s visitation. She recalled that he looked at her intensely but didn’t reveal his ties to her. When she learned the truth, she wrote him a letter and they eventually met in 2001. “Can I call you Dad?” she asked. “You can’t call me anything but that,” he replied, hugging her. Mr. Cinq-Mars leaves four children, Louise and Daniel Cinq-Mars, Ms. Bales and Claude Dion. He was predeceased by his wife, Gisèle Roy.

To submit an I Remember: obit@globeandmail.com

Send us a memory of someone we have recently profiled on the Obituaries page. Please include I Remember in the subject field.

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @TuThanhHa

 

Next story

loading

Trending

loading

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular