Whether you were a thief on the run or a track star lunging for the finish line, you best kept your head on a swivel with an eye out for the one and only “Flying Cop” Jack Harrison.

The fleet-footed Harrison patrolled Vancouver streets as a city police officer and also burned up cinder tracks across the country as one of Canada’s fastest sprinters during the 1930s. Later on following his retirement, Harrison was one of the driving forces behind BC track and field and remained a notable figure in the sport in BC for over sixty years.

Harrison, also nicknamed “Ten Second Harrison,” represented Canada at the 1938 British Empire Games in Sydney, Australia, running the 220 yards, while also defeating many of Canada’s top sprinters of the period including Howie McPhee. A long-time Vancouver policeman, Harrison coached, officiated, and organized the annual Police Force Benevolent Association Meet for nearly 25 years, while at the same time was largely responsible for developing a strong track and field program in BC following the Second World War.

Born on December 23, 1909 in Departure Bay, near Nanaimo, Harrison grew up on his family’s small dairy farm in Parksville. Among his daily chores, Harrison was responsible for rounding up the cows for milking. His natural speed first became apparent when he outsprinted strays and corralled them back to the barn.

Following graduation from high school, he moved to Vancouver and worked in a foundry and as a truck driver saving money towards his goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot. The stock market crash of 1929 forced him to change those plans and he entered the police force instead. A relative late-comer to sprinting, he only began training at the age of 22 after joining the Vancouver Police Department. He had never competed before because he didn’t think he was fast enough, but after seeing his first police track and field meet, he decided to try running himself.

“I was just a farm boy from Vancouver Island and I remembered watching some of the boys running one day,” said Harrison in 2000. “I thought about how back home in Parksville I used to chase the bloody cows faster than that!”

One of the most memorable races of Harrison’s life took place on his first official day training down at the track. Training by himself was Vancouver’s Percy Williams, considered the fastest man in the world after winning the 100m and 200m sprints at the 1928 Olympic Games. They spoke and decided to race one another. Williams took the race easily, but must have seen the potential in Harrison as the two regularly trained together from then on with Harrison soon holding his own against the double Olympic gold medalist.

Harrison soon developed into a sprinter of some repute himself regularly winning races at Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island meets and defeating the fastest men in Canada. His best time in the 100 yards was a blistering 9.8 seconds ran in 1936.

His athleticism also regularly came in handy for his day job in his 34 years as a cop. Constable Harrison once raced out of his house to arrest a youth attempting to steal his car from his driveway. Another time in 1958 Harrison ran down a thief clutching a paper bag containing nearly $4000 stolen from a bank. Harrison happened to be driving by when he spotted the fleeing thief, parked his patrol car, and took off on foot in pursuit. After vaulting a fence and sprinting against oncoming traffic while crossing a busy street, Harrison nabbed the bandit barely two blocks from the robbery. Front page headlines the next day read: “Ex-Track Star Chases, Arrests Bank Suspect.”

After 1945, Harrison devoted himself to the coaching and administration of track and field in BC. From 1945-48, he served as president of the BC Track and Field Association. In 1947, he formed the Arctic Club Track and Field Team and a few years later the Harrison Flyers Track Club. In 1948, 1952, and 1956 he organized BC teams to the Canadian Olympic trials and helped numerous athletes win a place to represent Canada internationally. In 1954, he played a prominent role in the organization of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games track and field events held in Vancouver.

In 1982, Harrison was inducted into the BC Athletics Hall of Fame. In ensuing years, he continued to coach and officiate at numerous meets and events annually, even helping coach young athletes for the Richmond Kajaks Club well into his nineties.

He also continued competing. In 1985, Harrison set a world record at the age of 76 in Victoria as he ran 100m in 18.0 seconds in the transplant disabled persons category. Amazingly, Harrison had had a hip replacement just a few years earlier.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.