Police are investigating the thefts of bronze and brass plaques in and around Calgary, many of which commemorate Alberta veterans and pioneers.
Police say they are aware of 13 reported burglaries so far this year, spanning residences, businesses, bridges and memorial sites.
Documented robberies are widespread in Calgary and even extend south of the city.
Last week, eight plaques went missing at Currie Barrack; they honored Canadian World War II veterans who received the Victoria Cross, considered the most prestigious decoration in the British honors system. Other plaques acknowledging military history, including those on the Western Canada High School cenotaph and the Mewata Armoury, were also recently stolen.
Other reported thefts in Calgary include plaques at the Ukrainian Pioneers Park, honoring the Ukrainians who came to Alberta 130 years ago, and at George Murdoch Park, recognizing Calgary’s first mayor.
Heritage Calgary CEO Josh Traptow said similar thefts have been a problem for years but appear to have skyrocketed in recent weeks.
“There are a lot of groups and individuals coming forward and saying their plates are disappearing, so it seems to be a growing problem,” Traptow said.
“It’s going on for the last few weeks, the last few months, and I’m worried that there’s nothing left with the number of break-ins that have been going on.”
However, police said initial investigations into the break-ins suggest there is no criminal trend.
Most of the plates that have been stolen are made of brass or bronze, Traptow said, leading him to suspect they are being stolen for resale as scrap metal, possibly after being melted down. Police said they also believe this is driving the crimes.
It’s a scheme that Traptow says seems pointless given its comparatively low resale value compared to its rich historical value.
“They would get pennies on the dollar in terms of what the actual manufacturing cost of these plates would be,” he said.
“It would be difficult for people to replace a significant number of these plaques because the groups or individuals who put them up no longer exist or don’t have the resources… It’s even more difficult to find a way to attach them to a building or a wall that goes to be able to support a lever”.
John Thompson is the CEO of ReconMetal, a scrap metal recycling facility in the southeast part of the city. He said his business requires sellers to provide identification and a license plate, and said the information, as well as security camera footage of the sale, is passed on to police after suspicious transactions.
That’s the protocol followed by all the big-name scrap dealers in the province, Thompson said.
“I have to assume that there are some guys who are not following the rules. Not the regular big junkyards, but someone is a conduit for this stuff,” she said. He added that even with information passed to police, it can be difficult for officers to press charges, with suspects sometimes claiming they found the stolen material.
“We found it very frustrating. We work with the police as much as we can, and it would be nice to see something happen to these guys. Frankly, that doesn’t happen very often.”
Alberta passed legislation in 2020 aimed at making it harder for thieves to resell stolen metal as scrap, a measure aimed primarily at theft of catalytic converters. Those rules require scrap dealers to report sales involving some high-theft metals to the police and conduct these transactions only using traceable forms of currency.
‘It’s horrible’: Groups deal with ‘senseless’ robberies
Community groups affected by license plate thefts are trying to understand what motivates thieves to target items that have great historical significance.
Earlier this month, at the Ukrainian Pioneers Park in Renfrew, a plaque paying tribute to Calgary’s early Ukrainian settlers was torn from its cellar where it had been since 1991. Ukraine.
“It’s annoying that people walk around and damage property… it just doesn’t make sense. Society has reached a point where we have lost respect for other people’s property, memories and memories,” said Wilson, a member of Calgary’s Ukrainian community who helped lead the plaque installation.
“There’s just no rhyme or reason why people are doing it.”
Another robbery south of Calgary also creates frustration.
Three bronze plaques on the Little Chicago-Royalties monument were stolen sometime between July 5 and 12, with the stone burial mound being damaged in the process. The site, located on Highway 22 north of Longview, commemorates an outpost formed during the area’s 1930s oil boom.
“We are quite upset about that. There are no people around anymore. Their families are, of course, but none of the people in the community are alive and I can’t imagine how upset they would be,” said Irene Kerr, director and curator of the Highwood Museum, which has maintained the monument since 2008.
“We went and cleaned it up (Tuesday). Someone in Longview has volunteered to fix the masonry and we’re going to replace the panels for sure. It’s too important, you have to tell the story… It’s horrible. Talk about disrespectful.
Kerr said he plans to have the replacement plates made of a material other than metal to deter future theft.
Traptow called on thieves to consider the impact of their crimes and asked scrap dealers to be on the lookout for suspicious sales.
“I think they need to understand how much they mean to the community and how much work and effort has gone into not just getting those plaques ready but putting them up,” he said.
“If the plates have been taken and you still have them, take them and leave them at a police station or fire station so that they can be returned to you.”
Police asked anyone with information about stolen plates to contact them or Crime Stoppers.
They said license plate maintenance consists almost exclusively of pressure washing, which means the public should contact police if they see someone trying to remove the plates.