In celebration of Canada’s Centennial year in 1967, everybody on the Toronto police force was issued a new colourful hatband to mark the occasion. Inspector Johnson of the Mounted Unit decided that a better tribute was required, so he had a special dress uniform designed for his unit. It was a gaudy affair with bright red accented lapels and cuffs with clusters of white piping applied to blue serge jackets. Extra wide even redder stripes were added to the britches and all this was topped by a white pith helmet.

The Inspector explained that the department had gone to a lot of trouble and expense for the issue and that it would be a one-off gesture, consequently we would have to take scrupulous care of it.

As luck would have it, I was the first to receive mine and the Inspector made a big fuss about making me get dressed in it and having press photographers take pictures of me in all my splendour before sending me down to show it off at City Hall.

I remember him standing there, gleaming with pride, while watching me as I departed from the corner of Belmont and Davenport on my way to Bay Street riding my horse Roy. I felt like a clown in the flashy garb but mine was not to reason why, so I pressed on, determined to keep the uniform, as directed, as clean and unsullied as possible.

Even later in the afternoon, when it started to rain, Roy and I were able to shelter under the mezzanine in Nathan Phillips Square and protect my flashy new attire.  I even declined the free coffee one of the venders offered me because Roy was fidgeting a bit and I didn’t want to risk spilling it on myself.

The time to return to the stables came none too soon. I couldn’t wait to get away from the hordes of tourist taking photos and asking why I looked like a Bengal Lancer.

I put Roy into a trot and headed north up Bay Street. He was eager for his evening oats and bran and didn’t need much encouraging. We had just zoomed through the intersection at Bloor Street when I noticed a crowd gathered in a vacant lot behind a tavern on Cumberland just ahead. As we got closer it was evident that one of the frequent fights that were held in that location was in full swing.

Now, the police horse is a wonderful mediator in situations like that and on several previous occasions I had simply moved my horse in between the contestants, scowled down at them and they had stopped fighting and slipped away. There had been no need for me to get further involved.

As it turned out this simple non-violent intervention was not going to work in this instance. The men were fighting ankle-deep in a large puddle and appeared to have been at it for a while, both smeared in mud and blood. As the old saying goes, “A common danger will unite even the bitterest of enemies,” and I was about to endure the validity of old Aristotle’s prediction.

I moved Roy easily through the crowd and placed him between the two burly combatants, but instead of cowering away, both men decided instantly to put aside their differences and join forces to attack me from two sides.

When they started punching Roy and yanking at his reins, I pulled out my little leather Billy, swung down and struck the man on my right on his head with such an impact that it burst its seams and sent a shower of the lead shot into the puddle.

The fellow just shook his head, leapt up and grabbed the front of my jacket and started pulling me down. I might have managed to stop a downward plunge off my horse if the man on the other side hadn’t grabbed my boot and shoved upward. I flew off over Roy’s head, landing flat on my back in six inches of black ooze. I did manage at least to hold onto the reins while olling over in the mud and slipping in my attempts to get to my feet. Both combatants – now apparently the best of friends – took the opportunity to deliver a couple of parting kicks to my ribs, stomp and crush my helmet, and then run off into the distance.

I painfully mounted back up and was setting off for the stable just as a patrol car arrived. They said they would radio info about what had happened and set off looking for the men who had assaulted me.

Inspector Johnson was waiting, looking out of his office window when I arrived back. I was slumped over in the saddle, bruised and beaten, my torn, mud-caked uniform unrecognizable and the remnant of my formerly white pith helmet suspended, dirty and battered, by its chinstraps from the pommel of my saddle. I can’t vouch for it, but I think I saw tears in his eyes. I knew that they weren’t out of concern for me but for that darned uniform — his precious new pride and joy.