RCMP October 1948
A Short History of the Force 1873- 1948 p. 56 – 81
By John Peter Turner
The full tale of the Force’s 75 years’ service cannot be told within the compass of a magazine article. The author, as official historian of the R.C.M.P., terms this a summary in which he touches only briefly upon the milestones in the history of the old North West Mounted Police, the Royal North West Mounted Police, and the present-day Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
To the average Canadian mind of the early ‘70’s, Western Canada, “The North West,” stretched vaguely between Ontario and British Columbia – a veritable terra incognita, an unknown land. The great territorial monopoly of the Hudson’s Bay Company, granted under charter by Charles II of England, became, in 1870, the property of the Dominion of Canada, 200 years after the affixing of the royal signature to one of the most generous and mutually profitable covenants of all time. And a young but far-seeing statehood centred at Ottawa hurdled a thousand miles of wilderness to assume an enormous accession – an immensity of virgin soil, a region of magnificent promise to the settler.
Hitherto, occupation of the northwestern plains had rested upon the savage; barter and exploration had gone forward by sufferance of the natives; the log trading-fort had become an accepted attribute of Indian life. In the nature of selective choice, the era of initial conquest had drawn upon those best fitted to its needs; but in 1867 a more ambitious conception had blossomed, an enlightened transition was visualized, a new conquest was launched, intimately bound up with the scheme of a great confederation.
Three years after the initial fusion of Canadian interests in the East, the Province of Manitoba was created in the
West – to be included in the Dominion. British Columbia was soon to follow. Pushing wide the main gateway to the plains, the ambitious town of Winnipeg sprouted from the embryo of old Fort Garry, and a land of extraordinary promise loomed beneath Western skies.
Plans for the linking of East and West by a transcontinental railway were born. But before the rich resources of the recently-acquired realm could be developed, a new order was needed throughout what had always been an enormous Indian battle ground and buffalo pasture.
Incidental to the transfer of the Western country from the Hudson’s Bay Company to Canada, a semi-native opposition, under the leadership of the impetuous, 24-year old Louis Riel, flared on the Red River near Fort Garry. Barely was that uprising suppressed by the Red River Expedition in 1870, than startling stories began to filter eastward. Lawless adventurers were debauching the red men of the plains as a means to an appalling reign of robbery. Tribes were being inflamed against tribes, Indians against whites. In fact, the tidings from the “Far West” were sufficiently substantiated to warrant prompt official action; the new conquest called for precautionary and courageous planning.
It became the duty of the young dominion to furnish to the Western realm an adequate measure of the national authority, an efficient security for
settlers and natives, and a guarantee of protection for the proposed railway.
At this time, the American frontier directly south of the Canadian plains displayed a diametrically marked contrast to Saskatchewan country in the field of Indian trade. South of the line brazen defiance of civilized amenities found ready tolerance. Often, as against the ethics followed by trading interests in the North, methods took the form of ghastly inhumanities. Along the Missouri river, frontier heroes, fortune-hunting outcasts of both sexes, expungers of the law, side-armed sheriffs, desperadoes, murderers and degenerates, in short a majority of the white population, constituted a blunt and bloody spearhead that had sunk deeply into the vitals of the West. Concurrently, a long and uncompromising campaign waged by the United States Government in an attempt to subdue the Indians of the trans-Mississippi was in full swing. The only Indians deemed worthy of consideration were generally conceded to be dead ones. Shady characters with loose gun habits and callous insensibilities were commonplace. To a great extent, Montana was a land wilfully unmindful of the Decalogue. But, be it said, not all the good men belonged to the Canadian side, nor all the bad to the American.
Fort Benton on the Upper Missouri, less than 200 miles below the Canadian line, had grown to be a rough-and-tumble slattern of a place, a rendezvous for the evil, the indifferent and – in the minority – the untainted precursors of organized settlement. Formerly a stronghold of the American Fur Company, now an ungoverned, unshackled supply point at the head of steamboat navigation, the place had fallen to a group of free traders who, recognizing no international boundary (it being as yet unmarked across the farthest plains), had fostered a reign of outlawry that was spreading ominously across the southwestern portion of the Canadian West.
Between the Saskatchewan and the Missouri, a traditional ferocity among the tribes of the Blackfoot Confederacy toward all comers had long challenged and withstood the establishment of trading posts by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The widely-reputed terrors of the plains – the Blackfoot proper, the Bloods and Peigans, all speaking the same language, and the Sarcees, an adopted ally – were notorious for their hatred of intrusion. But despite their inherent antagonism, these Indians were now being systematically victimized from the south by lead and liquid position.
With remarkable effrontery and dare-devil courage, the consuming “Battle of Civilization” in North America was assailing its last major objective. Buffalo robes were the El Dorado. Less-sought skins of other animals and even the persons of young squaws were not despised, while the small wiry horses of the Indian, procurable by fair means or foul, held variable values. For all of which, simple commodities – blankets, antiquated firearms, trinkets, tobacco, and such – were traded to the red men. But gunpowder and liquor held the stage.
The establishment, in 1868, of Fort Hamilton (later to bear the appropriate appellation of Fort Whoop-Up) and the subsequent erection of smaller liquor posts such as Stand-Off, Slide-Out, Kipp, High River and Sheep Creek, north of the boundary and immediately east of the foothills of the Rockies, had presaged a state of lawlessness that promised evil to the Canadian scene. With the Hudson’s Bay Company’s influence removed, the Montana trade began to spread far northward above the U.S. Canada line, as well as eastward to the Cypress Hills. In sheer defiance of the laws of Canada and the United States, brigandage straddled and controlled the border country. Unlimited liquor portended utter ruination of Canada’s Indians of the plains. Uninterrupted rum-running, bare-faced robbery, unprovoked bloodshed were the common usages of an unpreventable free licence.
The reports were so serious that the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba assigned an officer to examine the conditions. His finding was that the entire North West was “without law, order or security for life or property,” and it was recommended that a civil magistrate or commissioner, after the models existing in Ireland and India, be appointed; that a well-equipped force of from 100 to 150 men, one-third to be mounted, be formed, also several government posts established, and Indian titles to the land extinguished by treaty.
The commanding officer of the Canadian Militia was also dispatched upon a Western reconnaissance. He reported that a large military force was not required, but that the presence of a certain force would provide safety, prevent bloodshed and preserve order. Among the locations he recommended was one in the Porcupine Hills, near the Rockies, to keep watch upon the international boundary. Regarding the uniform to be worn, he stressed the importance of the time-honoured British scarlet, it would gain the respect of the Indians, who had learned to trust the soldiers of H.M. 6th Regiment of Foot, formerly stationed at Fort Garry.
Meanwhile Hudson’s Bay Company officers and church missionaries made vigorous complaints; a veritable plague of illicit traffickers, swarming across the border was demoralizing human life. Smallpox had also come from the south and was taking its toll of the Indians of the plains.
Early in May, 1873, the inroad of alien despoilers seeking the last great Indian wealth of the plains culminated in an outburst of frontier depravity such as Canada could not and would not countenance. On Battle Creek in the Cypress Hills, primordial man was suddenly confronted by a wave of civilization gone berserk. Blood-lust and liquor ran hand in hand. A hapless camp of inoffensive Assiniboines, wrongly accused of stealing horses, was set upon and butchered by one of the Benton gangs. But even before word of this wholesale blood-letting came eastward, matters were progressing at Ottawa.
* * *
On April 28 (1873), a resolution introduced by the Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, in proposal of a bill “respecting the Administration of Justice and for the establishment of a Police Force in the North West Territories” was communicated to His Excellency the Governor General and recommended to the consideration of the House. On May 3, possibly the very day the Assiniboines in the Cypress Hills were being slaughtered, the bill was presented, and in due course was debated, given the prescribed three readings, passed by the senate, and adopted.
May 23 was one of those bewitching days that with the approach of summer shed their benisons along the Ottawa Valley. On “Parliament Hill,” 2,000 miles distant from the outrage on Battle Creek, a leisurely calm filled the legislative chamber of the Commons. Within the last several weeks there had been some acrimonious and politically-prophetic tilting over the engrossing topic of the proposed transcontinental railway, but apart from that, the work of the House had fallen into humdrum routine. The Treasury benches were full, pages flitted here and there with notes. His Excellency, the Earl of Dufferin, approached with dignified tread and took the chair. Under the Royal Assent, given on that quiet and humble afternoon on the banks of the Ottawa, 75 years ago, the North West Mounted Police became a living, sentient organism.
When the revolting details of the Cypress Hills massacre became known, indignation flared on the front pages of the eastern press, and arrangements for the guardship of Canada’s far-flung acquisition were speeded up.
It was a strenuous period for the young Dominion. The Fenian raids of 1866 and ’70 had drawn heavily upon the
Treasury. Because of the enormous outlay involved, the future of the transcontinental railway was obscure. The demarcation of the western boundary between the United States and Canada was being carried forward under armed escort by an international boundary commission (it had barely reached the neighbourhood of the Pembina Mountain in Southern Manitoba). A severe trade depression prevailed, and revenue was limited.
Nevertheless, a complete plan for the organization, equipment and distribution of the authorized constabulary was proceeded with. Only competent horsemen of sound constitution, good character, between the ages of 18 and 40, were to be enlisted. All had to be able to read and write either English or French. The command was to be divided into troops. The commanding officer was to hold the position of “Commissioner.” Service was to be for at least three years.
It was to be a semi-military body, the immediate objective being: to stop the liquor traffic among the Indians; to gain the Indians’ respect and confidence; to break them of their old practices by tact and patience; to collect customs dues, and to perform all duties such as a police force might be called upon to carry out. Sometime later an act was passed prohibiting the importation or manufacture in the North West of all intoxicating liquors, and a Board of Indian Commissioners was appointed to deal with treaty-making and such general policy as might be laid down by the Department of Indian Affairs.
The authorized strength of the Force was 300 men, but it was decided, for the time being, to form only three troops of 50 men each, these to proceed westward that autumn (1873) over the so-called Dawson Route from the head of Lake Superior.
* * *
In late October, the little command reached Red River, and quarters were assigned them 20 miles downstream from Winnipeg at the Lower Fort Garry, or “Stone Fort”, proffered by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Toward the end of the year, a young British officer, Lt. Col. George A. French of “B” Battery and the School of Gunnery, Kingston, Ont., officially assumed the office of Commissioner.
During the winter the men trained hard, preparing for the gruelling journey across the plains the following spring. From the Stone Fort the first patrol was made in bitterly cold weather after some whisky traders on Lake Winnipeg.
The Commissioner soon realized that the force would have to be well prepared before launching westward, for beyond the farthest point reached by the Boundary Commission, the country was practically unknown. Convinced that 150 men were not enough for the task, he recommended further recruiting, to bring the strength to the full 300. The move was officially authorized, and in the spring of 1874 three additional troops, with some spare men, left Toronto. Instead of travelling by the lakes and Dawson Road, this second group made the westward journey by rail through Detroit, Chicago and St. Paul, by permission from Washington, to a point in North Dakota, a few miles below the Manitoba boundary. When they recrossed the line, they were joined by those who had wintered at the Stone Fort.
Before this, a small detachment, the first in the history of the Force, had been stationed at the Hudson’s Bay Company post of Fort Ellice, 300 miles north-west of Winnipeg, on the main cart trail to Fort Edmonton. At the time, this point was favoured as a site for headquarters.
At Dufferin, just above the Canadian line, the newly-levied policemen made good use of the Boundary Commission headquarters. Here it was found that the three Troops “A”, “B” and “C” from the Stone Fort were short of the required 61
strength, due to careful weeding out, and men from “D”, “E” and “F” were transferred to make up the deficiency; others who seemed unequal to requirements were released.
On the second night at Dufferin a terrific thunderstorm swept upon the camp. Tents were blown away, wagons overturned, and most of the horses stampeded over the prairies for many miles. All but one were recovered, but valuable time was lost in rounding them up. The season was getting on; and the Blackfoot country was 800 miles away.
All necessary arrangements were pushed forward. The spirit of adventure, the zest of recognized danger provided the urge to press on.
On July 8, 1874, the entire Force, with the exception of a small staff remaining at Dufferin and the detachment previously sent to Fort Ellice, turned to its exacting task. To the clatter of accoutrements, the dull thud of hoofs, the wail of greaseless Red River carts, each troop took its place in the line. It was a scene never before depicted on the silent plains. Two hundred and seventy-four eager faces, not counting guides and cart-drivers, were set toward the West – a mere handful of men to patrol 300,000 square miles of virgin territory. A great experiment, built on sheer confidence and inspiration, had begun. Henceforth, if all went well, there was to be no further brigandage, no “Wild West”, in Canada.
Day after day, the diminutive army of riders, ox-carts, wagons, cattle for slaughter, two field pieces and two mortars, portable forges, wheeled kitchens, mowing machines and other equipment, flouted all discouragements and difficulties. To make the best of it soon became an essential part of duty. Often strung out for miles, the cavalcade pushed doggedly on its way. Bit by bit, the long grind left its impress, yet these first rough experiences disclosed an endurance that augured well.
Fort Whoop-Up was reported to be at the junction of the Bow and Belly rivers, but, at long last, the liquor traders’ main stronghold could not be found.
With provisions all but exhausted, with horses staggering mechanically forward, the red-coated command turned
southward near the junction of the Bow river with the South Saskatchewan toward the Sweet Grass Hills near the international boundary. Many horses and oxen had succumbed along the way. Immense herds of buffalo were on every side. Hard-bitten and trail weary, everyone from Commissioner to bugler was reduced to unsurrendering stamina to see it through. Sheer nerve energy kept the column moving – that and the enthusiasm of adventure. By late September they had traversed a vastness of stark and silent desolation, throughout which there were living probably not more than 100 white people.
A veritable realm of savagery lay on every side. On the plains north of the 49th parallel, about 30,000 Indians hunted buffalo, waged inter-tribal war, and enjoyed primordial opulence. In addition to the Blackfoot, Peigans, Bloods and Sarcees, wandering bands of Plain Crees, Assiniboines and Saulteaux occupied the country. Except for the widely-separated Hudson’s Bay Company posts along the north, a few half-breed settlements and some itinerant missionaries, the red men were the only inhabitants of the interminable grasslands. The Boundary Commission had completed the marking of the international boundary to a point in the Kootenay, having joined their work with a similar survey carried out a few years previously from the Pacific Coast.
Upon reaching the Sweet Grass Hills, “D” and “E” Troops were instructed to travel slowly eastward to winter at the headquarters post, and being within easy reach of the big supply centre of Fort Benton on the Missouri, Commissioner French and Asst. Commr. J. F. Macleod, leaving the Force encamped, proceeded southward with a small escort to purchase supplies and horses and communicate
by wire with Ottawa. At Benton it was learned that plans had been changed; arrangements were made for headquarters’ barracks to be erected on the Swan River near the Hudson’s Bay post of Fort Pelly, north of Fort Ellice.
From Benton, the Commissioner joined the returning troops, and after a long and arduous journey via the southern slopes of the Cypress Hills and across the valley of Qu’Appelle, reached Swan River. The barracks were incomplete and winter had set in. As a consequence, an officer and one troop were left in charge and the rest returned to Dufferin (later Emerson). In four months a round trip of 1.959 miles had been achieved and not a man had been lost.
* * *
Meantime, under the command of the assistant commissioner and guided by a remarkably efficient, half-Peigan plainsman picked up at Benton – one who was destined to be a faithful servant of the Force for many years – “B”, “C” and “F” Troops pushed north-westward through a country teeming with buffalo to a site on the Old Man’s river near the foothills of the Rockies. On the way they came across Fort Whoop-Up – almost deserted. The Missouri whisky-traffickers had been warned by some buffalo hunters that a large number of men wearing red coats and drawing two cannons were approaching from the east.
By mid-October the building of Fort Macleod – the first outpost of constituted authority in the farthest West – was begun, and a fortnight later, “A” Troop which had branched northward from a point less than midway of the main line of march from Dufferin, found temporary quarters in Fort Edmonton, the principal Hudson’s Bay Company post on the North Saskatchewan.
The 150 men on the Old Man’s river in the heart of Blackfoot-land were
completely isolated and without hope of reinforcements. Their inexperience, the unknown strength and disposition of the Indians and the lawless activities of border freebooters involved possibilities of danger.
Winter swooped down ere the first make-shift buildings were completed. As yet, no one had opposed the establishment of the little fort. But the immense panorama on every side gave ample evidence that the long arm of constituted authority had reached a land “beyond the world”. A sense of lonely, unending distance prevailed. The Old Man’s river from the Rocky Mountains flowed nearby; groves of tall cottonwood along the banks alternated with meads of withered pasturage; to the northwest, the forests of the Porcupine Hills stood out in dark contrast to the white summits of the mountains.
It was an ideal location. Building material and fuel were close at hand. In the broad bottoms hay could be gathered in the summer season. Deer, elk and smaller game frequented the river brushlands and the foothills. Countless buffalo and antelope promised a bountiful supply of meat, and the river teemed with fish.
Western Canada’s destiny rested upon that little company of ragged horsemen. Before the country could be settled, peace with the Indians had to be manoeuvred; the lawless traders had to go.
Fortunately, the task was approached with utmost foresight and a minimum ostentation. No great generals, no regiments of soldiery, no merciless cavalry, no prodigious munitions of war, no armed oppression. Just tact, courage, understanding and diplomacy. Assistant Commissioner Macleod had already made up his mind that firm and cordial relations alone would prevail, that honesty and perseverance would be the watchwords of the Force. A whole army could not allay an aroused Indian temper; a mere handful of fair-dealing and fearless men might plant the seeds of peace and concord.
The chief objective of the Force was now obvious – to make life and property secure; to establish law and order – and while preparing for winter, the pioneer policemen lost no opportunity to deal sternly with the hardened vendors of “fire-water”, or to introduce Indian and freebooter alike to civilized procedure and authority. From the very first, the Indians were not slow to sense the meaning of the scarlet tunic. In due course, Maitiens le Droit, “Maintain the right” – the motto of the Force – became a recognized tenet of the plains, an open passport to security.
Native chiefs visited the small outpost, first in timid curiosity, then in full confidence of Canada’s integrity, Barbarity and civilization met, and when at last the tall, lithe figure of Crowfoot, head of the Confederacy, rode up surrounded by his dusky retinue, the stage was set. Dismounting and advancing cautiously to where Assistant Commissioner Macleod waited to receive him, the “King of the Plains”, displaying an impressive dignity, cordially shook hands. On that day, Dec. 1, 1874, Canada’s ship of state was safely launched upon the broad prairie ocean of the West!
The calibre of Canada’s Mounted Police was early established and imperishably maintained. Soon, discipline in its most extreme requirements was accepted without complaint. Love of adventure was the moving force among the men, and from the outset there existed an unfailing esprit de corps.
By 1875 the Force was firmly planted. The bordermen responsible for the Assiniboine massacre in the Cypress Hills, two years before, were rounded up for trial. Close to the scene of their murderous outrage, 160 miles east of Fort Macleod, Fort Walsh was built and in no time was as busily occupied as the parent post. In the north, Fort Saskatchewan was erected, 19 miles from Fort Edmonton, and Fort Calgary sprang up where
the Bow and Elbow rivers meet, midway between Forts Edmonton and Macleod.
That spring the Commissioner and headquarters staff moved from Dufferin to Swan River establishing on the way several subordinate posts in communication with Winnipeg, whence a telegraph line was being built. The North West Territories Act, passed at Ottawa, established a lieutenant-governor and N.W.T. council. In the Force itself there was a notable absence of strong-arm methods, no swaggering; only a steady persistence to make both white men and natives law-abiding citizens.
During the Force’s first year, though many disruptions and evasions of the law were inevitable, it was soon felt that the restraining influence of the North West Mounted would be unyielding. In the summer of ’75, rumours spread that the French half-breeds near the Hudson’s Bay post of Fort Carlton on the North Saskatchewan were contemplating a separate government. The commanding officer of the Canadian militia was about to set out from Winnipeg on a tour of inspection, particularly of the Force. The Commissioner and 50 troopers accompanied him from Swan River, and at Fort Carlton the authority of the Crown was at once made apparent. The rumours died and disappeared like frosted leaves.
Major General Selby Smyth and his police escort proceeded westward, visited Fort Saskatchewan, then turned southward to Fort Macleod where he held council with the great Chief Crowfoot and a large number of Blackfoot. Crowfoot expressed great satisfaction with the presence in his country of the red-coated horsemen. With remarkable understanding this untutored statesman of the plains applied his discerning foresight toward peace as unremittingly as he had directed the welfare of his people in war. Macleod’s firm forbearance and friendly counsel had worked magic.
Subsequently, the commandant reported: “Too much value cannot be attached to the North West Police; too much attention cannot be paid to their efficiency.”
The East was confidently wooing the West. Save for occasional disruptions, the whisky traffic was a thing of the past. Fort Whoop-Up, the erstwhile headquarters of law-breakers from the south, was bridled and broken. It became a headquarters for supplies. The ability, character, tactfulness and courage of the N.W.M.P. had proved equal to the task.
The experiment – for such it was – was eminently satisfactory. The orderly procedure followed by a mere handful of determined men stood out in contrast with the armed clashes, misunderstandings, enmities and subterfuges south of the international boundary. Not that the task confronting Commissioner French, Assistant Commissioner Macleod and their six troops of mounted men was any sinecure; the very nature of the undertaking called for incredible efficiency. But a new day had dawned from Red River to the Rockies.
* * *
Early in 1876, the Sioux, the most powerful tribe in all the northwestern States, appealed to the Blackfoot to cross the border and join them against the U.S. cavalry regiments. They
promised booty and said that the combined forces would later turn northward, wipe out the Mounted Police and all white settlers. The offer was spurned, but was made again, and again refused. The Blackfoot maintained they were on friendly terms with the “Red Coats” and the “Great White Mother”. The Sioux then threatened to invade the Blackfoot country. But Crowfoot was adamant, and was informed that if the Blackfoot were assailed the Mounted Police would fight to protect their realm. Hearing of the dignified warrior’s loyalty, her Majesty Queen Victoria forwarded her grateful thanks to him.
Soon afterwards, the most ghastly clash between white men and red in all the history of the West stirred the civilized and Indian worlds.
In June, 1876, the long and bitter warfare between the U.S. Army and the Indians of the plains culminated on the Little Big Horn river, 300 miles south of the Cypress Hills. What was probably the largest Indian camp ever assembled on the North American continent resulted, composed almost entirely of Sioux and Cheyennes, under the leadership of the already renowned medicine man and necromancer Sitting Bull. Below the border, treaties had been disregarded by the feverish white invasion from the east, especially in the Black Hills of Dakota where gold had been discovered. The Sioux, on the defensive, were driven this way and that. Finally, they decided to make a stand. In that historic battle a fine military organization and one of the most picturesque and courageous officers – Major Gen. George A. Custer, of the 7th U.S. Cavalry – were needlessly sacrificed.
The result was cumulative. The great republic’s indignation was stirred to the depths. The Sioux, now scattered to the winds, turned northward to Canada for refuge. The first band of them crossed the international boundary to pitch their lodges 100 miles east of Fort Walsh. Further camps arrived, and in the spring of 1877, Sitting Bull and his immediate following appeared near the little police outpost at Wood Mountain.
More than 4,000 alien Indians soon occupied Canadian soil, and their coming marked the doom of native opulence – the extermination of the buffalo.
A supreme test confronted the Force. On the one hand, officers and men were continually called upon to pacify the Canadian Indians and prevent a union with the newcomers; on the other, to prevent the Sioux from spreading to the Blackfoot hunting grounds. But again, the loyalty of Crowfoot, staunch friend to Assistant Commissioner Macleod, together with a tireless and tactful handling of the situation, saved the day.
Shortly before the coming of the Sioux, Macleod was appointed to command the Force when Commissioner French resigned. Because of the general unrest along the border country, 100 men from the northern posts were transferred to Forts Macleod and Walsh, and Fort Macleod became the Headquarters. The security of life and property along the hundreds of miles of wild and treacherous boundary rested upon 213 officers and men.
Patrols from Fort Walsh and the sub-post at Wood Mountain, near the camps of the Sioux refugees, maintained the utmost vigilance, and Sitting Bull and his following were warned that they must live peacefully while in Canada. When U.S. Commissioners visited Fort Walsh to negotiate with Sitting Bull for his return to his own soil, they and the Mounted Police were disappointed. Sitting Bull liked Canada better.
Four powerful and influential elements now bore directly upon the human life of the Canadian plains – the Hudson’s Bay Company along the North Saskatchewan, the Sioux under Sitting Bull near the international boundary, the Blackfoot confederacy toward the west, and the North West Mounted Police everywhere.
With the disposal of Rupert’s Lan to the Crown, the Hudson’s Bay Company, though still exercising a highly important service in the supply trade, ceased to occupy a position of authority; the Sioux were undesirable visitors and an ever-present danger, and though the white man’s code had in most cases become the pattern of Indian life, the Blackfoot Confederacy still held the country bordering the foothills.
It was the aim and duty of the Mounted Police to reach a legal and lasting understanding with Crowfoot and free the country of the burden of Sitting Bull and his alien thousands. The seat of the Territorial Government was temporarily established at Swan River, under the Hon. David Laird, and shortly afterwards moved to Battleford.
* * *
Shortly after the establishment of the Province of Manitoba in 1870, treaties were made with the Indians adjacent to the Red river; and in 1874 and ’76, the way having been paved by the Force, the Crees, Assiniboines, and Saulteaux surrendered large portions of territory. But some 50,000 square miles, occupied by the Blackfoot, Bloods, Peigans, Sarcees and Mountain Assiniboines remained to be dealt with.
In view of the Sioux influx, the Government early in 1877 decided to delay no longer in bringing the entire North West within the legal scope of the administration, Lieutenant-Governor Laird and Commissioner Macleod were nominated to negotiate with Crowfoot and his brother chiefs. A great ceremony took place at the Blackfoot Crossing, on the Bow river, east of Fort Calgary. Amidst this last great assemblage of barbaric splendour, details were completed bearing upon the most important Indian treaty in Canadian annals. Proud chiefs, picturesque in their “war-bonnets” dominated the scene as they strode or rode silently through the throngs; but Chief Crowfoot, tall, straight as a lance, keen of eye, noble of feature and beautifully clad – the lord and master of the Confederacy – was by every comparison the most noteworthy and attractive. All the resplendencies of Indian finery were on parade – headdresses emblematic of valour and distinction, smoke-tanned war-shirts of wondrous texture, moccasins of intricate workmanship and decoration, painted symbolical robes, human-hair trophies from scalps of victims; head-bands, armlets, bracelets, garters, necklaces of bear-claws and elk teeth, ermine trimmings, fringes of otter and fox, and, not the least, war shields of buffalo hide decorated with brightly-coloured pigments and in many cases with a replica of the sun – the symbol of the red-man’s God.
The influence of the scarlet-coated riders was magical – the Force was regarded as the friend of all, and no one in all the thousands of copper-coloured Stone age people doubted that the police represented the great Mother’s authority fairly and squarely.
After signatures had been affixed by the representatives of the Government
and the Indian dignitaries, Crowfoot testified to the belief and faith his people had in the Mounted Police: “If the police had not come to this country where would we all be now? Bad men and whisky were killing us so fast that very few of us would have been left today. The police have protected us as the feathers of the bird protect it from the frosts of winter.” Chief Red Crow of the Bloods testified in behalf of his following: “Three years ago, when the Mounted Police came to my country, I met and shook hands with Stamix Otokan (Macleod) at the Belly river. Since that time he has made me many promises, and has kept them all – not one of them has been broken. Everything that the Mounted Police have done has been for our good.”
With the signing of this treaty in 1877, complete sovereignty of the plains passed to the Dominion Government. The North West had come to be something more than a geographical area.
The great transition from buffalo ponies to ploughshares was carried out wholly under Mounted Police surveillance. The laws of the Dominion, or, as the Indian often termed them, “the words of the Great White Mother,” were entirely administered by the Force.
And in countless ways officers and men performed their multifarious duties. Smuggling was checked, stolen stock returned to rightful owners; horse thieves, gamblers, murderers – all who participated in crime – were run down; prairie fires attended to; customs dues collected; victims of winter blizzards succoured; starvation and other forms of privation overcome; illnesses and accidents innumerable allayed; mails carried; insane persons taken in; lost travellers found; weddings and funerals arranged; and, as settlements spread, mining, lumber,
and railroad construction camps kept under strict observation.
In 1878-79, Fort Walsh became the Headquarters of the force. It was the natural result of a constant restlessness among the younger element in Sitting Bull’s following, and possible resistance to control among the other Indian bands in and about the Cypress Hills. For the command at Fort Walsh, slim enough at best, would be better able to keep pace with the situation. It also became necessary to increase the strength at Wood Mountain and maintain potential reinforcements at Fort Macleod outside but near the chief danger zone.
No more picturesque pages appear in Western history than those of the next few years, when the change from the old order to the new in and about the hills was taking place. And by no means the least onerous duty was to see that Sitting Bull’s Sioux did not use Canada as a base of operations against a friendly country, where an almost continuous condition of Indian warfare prevailed. Besides, there was a constant rumour that a Blackfoot-Cree-Sioux axis was being advocated by several native agitators.
* * *
In 1880, Commissioner Macleod, whose name was a byword for fair and fearless administration, became a stipendiary magistrate for the Northwest Territories, and Lt.-Col. A. G. Irvine, the assistant commissioner, was elevated to the command of the Force. Incidentally, about this time, the term “Troop” gradually gave way to “Division”.
The following year there were two outstanding events. The Marquis of Lorne, Governor General of Canada, escorted by Mounted Police, made a tour via the northerly posts, to Fort Calgary and For Macleod, and southward to Montana; and second, through the unremitting efforts of the police and the helpful sagacity, at the 11th hour, of a prominent French-Canadian trader in the Wood Mountain district, Sitting Bull was prevailed upon to give himself up to the U.S. authorities.
After the great chief’s surrender, the border posts of Macleod, Walsh and Wood Mountain became less important, and it devolved upon the Force to move the various Indians to allotted reserves, well away from the boundary.
Meanwhile the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was forging ahead, a natural corollary of the N.W.M.P., and the Commissioner advised the Government to arrange for permanent headquarters on the line of steel at a more central site. An increase in the personnel was also urged. Accordingly, late in 1882 a new headquarters post was under construction near the Pile-of-Bones Creek (the Wascana), on the C.P.R. at a point henceforth to be called Regina, which also became the governmental capital of the North-west Territories. Soon afterwards, the local activities of Fort Walsh were transferred northward to Maple Creek and Medicine Hat on the transcontinental track.
The same year, the North West was reorganized into the Provisional Districts of Alberta, Assiniboia, Athabasca, and Saskatchewan. The strength of the Force was increased from 300 to 500, and the important innovation of a training depot for Mounted Police was established at Winnipeg (later transferred to Regina).
The alchemy of time had brought great and good changes, chiefly attributable to the firmness and square-dealing of the Mounted Police. But most of the erstwhile buffalo hunters were in sorry straits – the days of easy meat were no more. Barbed-wire had reached the prairies!
The Force was entering the second phase of its work. Thus far the task had been one of organization and location, and to a great extent experiment. In this, an achievement was attained beyond the most optimistic dreams of those responsible for the formation of the red-coated custodians of the law. The greatest accomplishment was the conciliation of the Indians, coupled with the suppression of the iniquitous liquor traffic.
The way had also been paved for Indian treaties and land reservations. But the settlement of these threatened to be serious. Indians resented the encroaching influx of white settlers. Another problem was the assistance to be given in making the treaties with the various bands, including the distribution of rations and other help incidental to the disappearance of the buffalo. Members of the Force now acted as customs collectors, postmasters, issuers of marriage licences, justices of the peace and magistrates. Horse stealing, an outstanding “virtue” of Indian life – to them it was fully that – had been greatly suppressed. Due to the watchful eyes of the Force and the respect for the law so ably and quietly inculcated, murders had been few; there was little serious crime.
Though the Sioux problem was disposed of, the Force found itself confronted by many and ever-increasing demands. The forging westward of the railway alone called for constant supervision and protection; the construction gangs, often a violet lot, repeatedly resented what they considered to be exploitation by their employers. Strikes occurred; liquor smugglers attempted to find a ready market for their wares; Indians grew suspicious of the white man’s designs.
But to the credit of the Mounted Police, general order prevailed.
The second Riel Rebellion broke out in 1885. The services of the Mounted Police were utilized in many ways throughout the campaign, starting with the skirmish of Duck Lake, when the police, assisted by volunteers from Prince Albert, were the government forces. And upon the mounted constabulary fell the final chapter – the round-up of the Indian leaders who had joined the half-breeds in rebellion. Louis Riel was hanged at Regina.
Lord Lansdowne, the Governor General of Canada, made a hurried trip
through the West that autumn under police escort, visiting the Blackfoot and Blood Reserves, meeting the chiefs in friendly council about the time the last spike of the C.P.R. main line to the Pacific Coast was driven.
Then another jump in the strength of the Force occurred, this time to 1,000 men. In 1886 when Commissioner Irvine resigned, Lawrence Herchmer, of the Indian Department, was appointed to succeed him. A number of new officers were also brought in.
Increasing immigration into the North West saw new settlements springing up everywhere, and with the changing conditions an extensive system of patrolling was inaugurated; small detachments were established and a close and regular supervision of all points maintained, working out from strategically located posts. The swelling population added to the crime calendar, calling for rigid and special attention.
The force extended its field of operations in keeping with its traditional policy of preceding new settlements. Long Patrols were made into the Peace River country and along the Mackenzie.
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Then came rumours of gold discoveries in the Yukon. A police detachment went there in 1895, and when the famous “rush” which reverberated round the world got under way, the Mounted Police were already well established and prepared. Ample records show how well they succeeded.
The orderly settlement of the North West during the decade following the rebellion of 1885, permitted a gradual reduction in the Force’s strength, but the Yukon needs took up some of the slack. The 1898 the strength harboured around 750 all ranks.
At Regina, Medicine Hat, Calgary, Macleod, Edmonton, Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and other points, villages and towns were developing; the enforcement of law and order became greater and more difficult.
Within a period of 25 years constitutional authority had been firmly rooted; the last Great West had been won by patience and forbearance coupled with tolerant cooperation. The whole aspect of life upon the plains had altered. Ranch houses and corrals dotted the landscape where Indians had warred and buffalo wandered. On virgin meadows domestic cattle followed the time-worn trails. Far and wide, the red-coated corporal and the picturesque cowboy came and went. A pioneer railway spanned the plains, throwing out branches this way and that; wires carried tidings from the outside world.
Throughout all this, no portion of
the plains remained beyond the reach of the law.
Rapid developments followed one upon the other. Immigration increased; new settlements and mushroom villages sprang up; wheat-farming augmented the cattle industry. Many Indians turned to farming and ranching under government instructors. And in everything the Force helped, directed and influenced the multiplying citizenry of the plains. The entire West was settling down to a more varied form of life.
The North came steadily within the orbit of activity. In 1897, the most intensive activity was under way, but a detachment of 32 Mounted Police under Superintendent Bowen Perry, with 27 horses, were able to take part in London in a great procession celebrating Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
Following the great gold rush, a conglomeration of all classes of people infested with criminal gangs faced the little force of red-coated men in the Yukon. Stirring incidents followed, but owing to strict vigilance and activity, murders and other major offences were surprisingly few.
One of the outstanding chapters in the records of the Mounted Police was written here – an epic that called for the utmost in courage and determination. Detachments were placed on the Chilcoot and White Horse Passes on the Alaskan border; the Union Jack was hoisted and the collection of customs begun, though the boundary line was of doubtful location.
A patrol going overland from Edmonton took a year to negotiate the 1,600 miles of forest and mountains to the gold-fields.
A Yukon judicial district was established, and in 1898 there were 12 officers and 254 men doing duty in the district, despite the fact that the personnel of the Force had fallen to less than 700. The Commissioner was forced to ask for an increase of 100 men, which was granted.
Headquarters for the Yukon District was now Dawson City. Skagway, on the U.S. side of the Yukon-Alaska boundary, had earned the title of “the roughest and toughest place on earth”, the hangout of the notorious “Soapy” Smith and his following of ruffians. Dyea was no better, and Sheep Camp, at the foot of Chilcoot, seethed with robbery and murder. But, in the face of the most exacting conditions, the police prevailed, often extending their operations across the boundary with the tacit approval of the U.S. authorities.
The duty of carrying mails to the scattered gold camps was undertaken, 64,000 miles being covered in a single year. Meantime, patrols introducing boats and dog sleds branched out to Lesser Slave Lake, Fort Resolution, Fort Simpson and other remote points.
War broke out in South Africa in 1899, and 245 members of the Force were granted leave of absence to enlist in the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles and Strathcona’s Horse, both under the command of officers of the Mounted Police, and almost entirely officered by actual and former members of the Force. Many honours were bestowed, and for the first time the Victoria Cross found its way to the red-coated men of the West. Two were awarded the C.M.G., three the D.S.O., and three the D.C.M. Some gave their lives.
Upon their return, many of the seasoned Westerners retired, including Commissioner Herchmer, who had commanded the rifles and who relinquished the commissionership in 1900, to be succeeded by Supt. A. Bowen Perry.
Following the Boer War, settlers streamed into the West. More than 300,000, most of them inexperienced, took up prairie homesteads. The annals of the Force attest to the adventure, hardship and dogged perseverance undergone by the “Riders of the Plains” in administering to the countless needs of the newcomers.
The modern era had begun. Events followed events to add to the meritorious part already performed by the Force in building up the Dominion and broadening still further the field of its own usefulness. Striking changes were made in the uniform; all equipment requiring pipe-clay was discarded, the white helmet gave way to the Stetson hat.
In 1901, the Earl and Countess of Minto made an extended journey from post to post, all arrangements and escorts being attended to by the Force; and when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York visited Canada on a world-wide tour, the red-coated officers and men were constantly in attendance. The same year, the Yukon strength was again increased – to about 300; and in remote portions of the North, the sphere of contact with the wilderness was extended.
In 1903 several posts were opened in the sub-Arctics. The police distribution now reached from the international boundary to the Polar Sea and from Hudson Bay to the Alaskan border. With the succeeding years, the duties became even more onerous.
The records display a splendid, if at times tragic, devotion to duty, and the profound respect for the Force that grew up with the years received official recognition in 1904, when the prefix “Royal” was bestowed by King Edward VII to mark the brilliant and steadfast services rendered. Simultaneously, the Earl of Minto became the first Honorary Commissioner.
At this time there were eight divisions of the Force, each with a headquarters post, embracing in all 84 detachments. And, as there were now some 350,000 people in the entire field of operations, the work was widely scattered. British rights to the Arctic Archipelago had been transferred to Canada some years before, and northern whalers and Eskimos made the acquaintance of the Force.
In 1905, by direction of Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister, the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were created to form with Manitoba a triple division of the plains. The Force continued its duties in the provinces, the local governments sharing the cost. The Mounted Police had virtually raised the West from infancy to manhood.
That year, the customary tour by the Governor General brought Lord and Lady Grey to the plains, and again the Mounted Police provided escorts and made all arrangements.
Evidence of the distances that patrols often had to travel during this period is borne out in the files. Such an instance was that of an inspector, who with a corporal and three constables left Fort Saskatchewan on a morning in early June, headed northward to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake, crossed the vast, unfriendly wilderness to Hudson Bay, employed Eskimo dogs to Churchill, and eventually reached Lake Winnipeg in the following spring, – 3,347 miles.
In 1904-05, a superintendent, staff sergeant and three constables sailed from Halifax in the steamer Neptune for the North. Following the Labrador coast, they crossed Hudson Strait, inspected several whaling stations, traversed Hudson Bay and established the post of Fullerton, returning the following summer, during which season a post was erected at Prefontaine Harbour, on the most northerly tip of Quebec.
At the same time, an annual winter patrol was inaugurated between Dawson City and McPherson in the Yukon. The Government called for a trail between Peace River and the Yukon (the precursor of the Alaska Highway1 of today), and the Mounted Police drove a well-marked route through forests and deep valleys, across countless streams and summits of mountain passes.
Highwaymen held up a C.P.R. passenger train near Kamloops, B.C., in 1906, and orders were given to find and arrest the robbers. The surrounding country was a forbidding one, but, after some shooting, orders were obeyed in the best traditions of the Force.
And so the tireless and never-failing work went on.
In 1911, Canada’s red-coated riders with their matchless horses were the cynosure of millions of people as they shared in the Guard of Honour at the Coronation of His Majesty, King George V, in London.
The activities of the Force grew apace. The Canadian Criminal Identification Bureau, operated by the R.C.M.P. under the Department of Justice, was instituted. The bureau in course of time became a clearing house for all criminal information, operating in cooperation will all law enforcement bodies at home and abroad. The perpetrators of 44 murders were confronted within a period of 12 months by the unremitting Nemesis in scarlet and gold.
The Commissioner pleaded for more men. The call was promptly met, and with the total strength at 763, two new detachments were established in the Yukon, two in the Mackenzie River District, including Herschel Island on the Arctic Coast, one on Hudson Bay and 20 at various other locations.
A Royal North West Mounted Police Veterans’ association was formed in Vancouver in 1913. Among other things it was ready to serve Canada when called upon, to assist all ex-members of the Mounted Police and to further in every way possible the parent body.
* * *
Early in the Great War period of 1914-18, the strength was increased to 1,268, afterwards to fall to 929. In 1916, several hundred ex-members of the Force were enrolled in the army for duties abroad; some had completed their service as policemen or had purchased their discharge. This left the strength well below the authorized number. So many were anxious to enlist for overseas service, the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, found it necessary to issue a message that the service of the Force was more essential than ever. The strong arm of the Mounted Police could not be spared. Many additional responsibilities inseparable from war-time conditions were at hand.
However, in 1918, the Government gave consent to men of the Force to go overseas as units. “A” Squadron, as it was termed, proceeded to France, and shortly afterwards, “B” left for Siberia. Previous to this, owing to the additional calls arising from the war, the Government requested the three prairie provinces to forego their agreements for the services of the Mounted Police.
Relieved of many duties in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Northern Manitoba, the Force was enabled to give more attention to 1,900 miles of international boundary, and to the alien population. The strength fell to 656, but despite the
reduction, 26,356 patrols covering more than 800,000 miles were made.
Intensive work was done in the North, and marvellous travelling often under the most difficult conditions was carried on at a time when British armies were making a desperate stand in France. Several hundred additional men were recruited into the Force, but so heavy were the war demands that the strength fell to 303 – practically down to the number of the “Originals” who had struck across the plains in 1874.
The government then resolved upon a new and permanent establishment, an extension of jurisdiction, and a strength of 1,200. Operations were extended to British Columbia for Federal matters only.
The energies of the organization now crowd the records. Concurrently with the return of “A” Squadron in 1919, a general strike broke out in Winnipeg. Strikers assumed control of all public services, including the post office, fire and city police departments. Public order went completely out of hand. Mounted Police were called to restore order. It was soon accomplished, and with the arrest, trial and conviction of the leaders, following the memorable “Battle of Market Square”, a serious threat which indicated a spread to other points in Canada was quelled.
The guidon of the Force bore “North West Canada, 1885”, “South Africa, 1900-02”, “France and Flanders, 1918”, and “Siberia, 1918-19”.
* * *
The field of operations was extended to cover the whole of Canada in 1919, and in 1920 provision was made for absorption of the Dominion Police at Ottawa, the transfer of Headquarters from Regina to Ottawa (to be known as “A” Division, and a change in the title to “Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, of which H.R.H. the Prince of Wales became the Honorary Commandant.
At this time, the Force entered a new territory east of Hudson Bay – murders had been committed on Baffin Island in 1920 – and the following year a detachment was established at Port Burwell on an island in the Hudson Strait, and one at Pond Inlet on the Eastern Arctic. An Eskimo was even made a special constable in the Force.
Henceforth, the R.C.M.P. was to be the only Federal police force in the Dominion, entrusted with the enforcement of all Federal statues, as well as any provincial police work required through agreement with the provinces concerned.
In 1921 the Force entered the anti-narcotic campaign, and travel by aeroplane was first used. In 1923 Commr. A. Bowen Perry retired with the rank of major general, to be succeeded by Asst. Commr. Cortlandt Starnes. The strength was dropped to 1,148 by Government orders.
Some famous Arctic patrols added to the lustre of Mounted Police history in 1922-24. Like the Indians of the plains, the Eskimo accepted the firm, cooperative
hand of authority. A detachment was established at Craig Harbour in Ellesmere Land, the most northerly outpost of its kind in the British Empire at the time. Mounted Police officers and men travelled into the arctic on the Canadian Government steamship Arctic and the Hudson’s Bay Company’s renowned Nascopie.
Patrols reached out from the outpost of Pangnirtung on Baffin Island to relieve hunger-stricken Eskimos; others covered the entire Cumberland Gulf coast line to investigate murders among the natives. Arctic travel by the R.C.M.P. became commonplace, and the North saw many remarkable achievements under almost impossible conditions.
In 1926 an officer of the Force made a 975-mile patrol from Craig Harbour to Axel Heiberg Island along the forbidding, ice-bound west coast of Ellesmere Land, and later established a detachment on the Bache Peninsula less than 800 miles from the North Pole.
In 1928 the Arctic waters witnessed the appearance of the 80-ton patrol vessel St. Roch, built in Vancouver for the Force’s Northern service. Patrols entered Coronation Gulf and the Anderson river in the Arctics, and in the following year one of the most famous was a 1,700-mile trip through the northern islands about the time when far away in London, England, a special detachment was giving a display of horsemanship at the International Horse Show.
The Force took over all the provincial duties in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The Preventive Service Branch of the Department of National Revenue was absorbed by the Force. A small detachment went to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1931 to act as guard at the British Empire trade Exposition.
The same year, Major Gen. (later Sir) James H. MacBrien became Commissioner, and under his leadership the Force was fully modernized.
Gradually, the strength was increased to 2,500. During 1932-34 the Marine Section2 became a constituent part of the Force in Preventive Service work; this department cooperated with the U. S. Coast Guard, and waged an intensive war against smuggling of all kinds, as well as the traffic in opium and other narcotics. Rum-runners on the St. Lawrence river learned to their sorrow that the Force meant business.
During this period also, a Mounted Police Museum was established at Regina. The Finger-print Section was enlarged. All matters relating to the enforcement of the Migratory Birds Convention Act throughout Canada were transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Mounted Police. In 1933, the first number of The R.C.M.P. Quarterly appeared.
Following a “Musical Ride” by members of the Force at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 1934, an American publication remarked: “No police force in the world has a more enviable record that that established by what we used to know as the North West Mounted Police. A background of over 60 years of faithful service and unfailing attention to duty has woven a glamour about them which was undimmed by their appearance at ‘The Garden.’”
Precipitated by about 1,400 relief camp strikers from farther west on their way to Ottawa, a serious riot at Regina occurred in 1935. A report of a commission sent to investigate stated: “In our opinion Colonel Wood, during all the time the strikers were in Saskatchewan, acted with care, discretion and moderation. . . . During the riot they (the Mounted Police) acted with courage and marked restraint, often amidst circumstances of the greatest danger to themselves, notwithstanding they were repeatedly engaged in repelling attacks
which were characterized by viciousness, brutality and a disregard for human life.”
Commissioner MacBrien was knighted by King George v in 1935.
During 1936, police motor cars covered approximately 7,000,000 miles in the course of law enforcements and other duties. The strength grew to 2,717 officers and men, of which 217 belonged to the Marine Section. With horses now largely subsidiary in the activities of the Force, automobiles, large and small craft on maritime waters, and dogs for Northern patrols came more and more into use.
Headquarters at Ottawa were moved into the imposing nine-storey Justice Building, which was designed with the fullest consideration for the Force’s needs.
In 1937 a crime detection laboratory was established at Regina, and two years later a similar one was set up at Ottawa. Science became an important aid in Mounted Police service. This most essential branch was destined to be as well equipped as any in the world. In addition to crime detection, it provided in the curriculum of recruits an intensive training in forensic medicine, ballistics, photography, finger-printing, handwriting, plaster casts and moulage, restoration of numbers on metals, lock-picking, glass fractures, etc. Test tubes, microscopes and other scientific media were henceforth to help largely in the work of the Force.
To help cope with smuggling on the Atlantic Coast, the aviation Section3 came into existence. A well-equipped Photographic Section also was organized.
Meanwhile, 38 members of the Force, chosen from all divisions, were called to Regina and trained for the formation of a detachment under Asst. Commr. S. T. Wood to represent Canada at the Coronation of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The favourable impression made in the great coronation procession was overwhelming.
His Majesty became Honorary Commandant of the Force. The Governor General, Lord Tweedsmuir, travelling under police guidance and protection, visited the Arctic. The R.C.M.P. Reserve4 which consisted of officers and men who had previously served in the Force was extended to consist of men not necessarily having former service. The first copy of the R.C.M.P. Gazette appeared.
Following the sad and untimely death of Sir James MacBrien in 1938, Assistant Commissioner Wood was appointed to the command.
Upon his accession to the highest office in the Mounted Police, Commissioner Wood took steps to form a band5 which would redound to the credit of the Force, both musically and
as an adjunct to the universal respect Canada’s red-coated constabulary enjoyed.
It was a fitting climax after 65 years of faithful and exemplary service that the Mounted Police should participate prominently in the first visit of British Sovereignty to Canada. In 1939 the Royal Tour of Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Canada and the United States was an outstanding event, and thanks to the R.C.M.P. – Commissioner Wood and an escort were on the Royal Train throughout the entire tour – a remarkable freedom attended the Royal couple.
In its multitudinous duties, involving operations by land, sea and air, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had spread their direct supervision over the northerly half of North America, a land as large as the whole of Europe. Posts existed at all interior strategic points, with divisional headquarters in the larger cities. Except in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, provincial police duties were now carried out by the R.C.M.P. in addition to Federal service everywhere.
In the summer of 1939, a musical ride was given by request at the Golden Gate International Exposition in San Francisco.
A Los Angeles publication commented: “The R.C.M.P. musical drill captivated the crowds. . . . The presence of the Canadian troopers engendered the finest branch of patriotism and created a new sense of friendliness towards our good neighbours across the boundary.”
For some time prior to 1939 it had been apparent to the civilized world that the international situation in Europe was heading toward a crisis. Dire uncertainty darkened the future. In Canada there was a marked activity in Government departments, and the R.C.M.P. undertook new and important work, especially in conjunction with the Department of National Defence. Preparation was made throughout the Dominion to ensure cooperation of provincial authorities and private corporations against sabotage should hostilities arise, and for the protection of public utilities, the safeguarding of vulnerable points, transportation and communication.
* * *
On Sept. 3, 1939, the British Government declared war against Germany, and with the announcement of a proclamation in Canada on September 10, declaring that a state of war existed from that date, R.C.M.P. responsibilities multiplied tremendously. In anticipation of such a possibility, the Force had already planned for public security. Besides surveys of bridges, canals, dock-yards, etc., contact was made with large corporations. Plans for detection and apprehension of alien enemies were completed.
The strength of the Force was increased by re-engaging as many ex-members and pensioners as possible, as well as a large number of war veterans to guard bridges, canals, etc. Eternal vigilance, a byword in the Force, was now a war essential. Alien registration was taken up, and promptly upon the outbreak of war all known Nazi agents were arrested by the Force and placed in internment camps.
Soon after the outbreak of war, No. 1 Provost Company, R.C.M.P.6, was sent overseas. Lt. Gen. A. G. L. McNaughton expressed the wish that they be the senior provost company in the Canadian Corps and also stated that the honour rightly belonged to the R.C. M.P. Soon, not a road or highway in south-eastern England was unknown to members of the company.
So heavy became the additional duties and responsibilities of the Force that the entire trained personnel was working to the limit, and it was seen that any more calls upon it would seriously affect the efficiency of the organization. However, with the entry of Italy into the war in June, 1940, swift action was possible because of previous preparations.
The Intelligence Branch, including the Anti-Sabotage Section, called for the highest pitch of efficiency; there were also continual duties in assisting the Foreign Exchange Control Board, the control of censorship, checking and reporting of all kinds, registration of all firearms, etc. The Defence of Canada Regulations necessitated the most intensive work. The Finger-print Section experienced a large increase of work. Air raid precautions were given the closest attention, while industrial and other disturbances called for constant surveillance.
In addition to Federal and provincial jurisdiction, and fulfilling duties attendant to wartime, the Force was now policing some towns and municipalities – eight in Saskatchewan, three in Manitoba, and one in Nova Scotia. The largest amount of work in the history of the organization was being performed; the strength was pushed to the limit as new wartime regulations were constantly enacted. But the usual work – enforcement of the Criminal Code, the provincial statutes in six provinces, and many other urgent and important duties – was also attended to with grim determination.
Not the least, were a number of serious industrial disturbances in mines and industrial plants that were contended with successfully. Both the trained and untrained personnel rose to the occasion.
To facilitate the handling of its ever-increasing duties the R.C.M.P. in 1940 installed a prairie radio system which forms the nucleus of the greatly enlarged network7 in use today. The value of radio in police work is now well established. An inter-divisional hook-up makes for higher efficiency and better co-ordination all-round, and the Force has found it a wonderful asset in various ways.
St. Roch made two historic voyages through the North-west Passage8 – from Vancouver to Halifax, June, 1940–October, 1942; and from Halifax back to Vancouver, July, 1944-October, 1944 – the only vessel ever to make the trip from west to east and the only one to conquer the passage both ways. The achievements of that staunch little vessel belong in the front rank of Northern explorations and adventures.
Result of the Commissioner’s reporting several years before that as the Force had about 40 mares he deemed it
advisable for it to breed its own stock to overcome the difficulty of securing the right type of remount, 720 acres of land, including the site of historic Fort Walsh, were purchased as a breeding station for horses, and for gazing purposes. In addition 2,305 acres were leased from the province of Saskatchewan.
Toward the close of 1944 the R.C.M.P. Personnel Department9 (now called section) came into being, and it has proved to be an asset in many ways. One of its chief functions is to select suitable recruits and assist in placing them according to their ability and the type of work they will be most interested in. It classifies every man and indicates where he can serve most usefully and contentedly, be it on detachment, doing detective work, clerical assignments or in laboratory technician activities. By thus testing applicants for aptitudes and abilities, the section protects the welfare of the individual policeman and promotes the general efficiency of the Force.
It is a busy section. Six years of warfare left their mark on the Force; recruiting was at a standstill and members with pensionable service were “frozen” to their jobs if their health permitted to help the Force through that trying period.
As a consequence the Force today is much below strength. At present a concerted drive for recruits is in progress, and it is in this field that the Personnel Section plays an important part.
The most up-to-date methods of crime prevention and detection are employed. A great forward stride in the field of preventive policing was taken in the autumn of 1945 with the inauguration of a movement10 to encourage and foster more friendly relations between Canada’s youth and the police, and to building good citizenship. In all, members of the R.C.M.P. have already addressed close to a million young persons in the schools, and the project has won ever-widening approval with the passing of time.
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The Force’s history is that of Canada’s great expansion. As in a building, its soundness depended on the materials used and the integrity of its builders, its honour on those who live within it. The men who gained the Force’s prestige and traditions came from many climes and walks of life. Those from the two dominant tides of Canadian manhood have contributed greatly to an essential unity, and, equally worthy of their faithful and exemplary devotion to duty, they have earned and won the deep respect of their countrymen – not only for the part they played in the past, but for services today in the cause of law, order and good citizenship. The fact that this year the Force celebrates the 75th anniversary of its birth is a tribute to the builders, their faith and integrity. It is testimony too that if the Force is to endure, the components of its structure must remain equally durable and strong.
To relate fully the story of the Mounted Police from the days of pagan chivalry to this modern day of marvellous and bewildering development would require no inconsiderable volume. This little resume touches only on the more salient facts.
1 See The Highway to Alaska, 13 R.C,M.P. Q. 320.
2 See The Marine Section of the Force, 11 R.C.M.P. Q. 192, and The R.C.M.P. Marine Section in War, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 34, for a detailed story of the R.C.M.P. Marine Division in war and of its re-establishment as an integral part of the force’s peacetime organization.
3 See The Aviation Section of the Force, 13 R.C.M.P. Q. 306, for a detailed story of the section’s history, re-establishment after the war, and its present activities.
4 See The R.C.M.P. Reserve, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 287.
5 See Bands of the Force, 8 R.C.M.P. Q. 155 et seq. and 265 et seq. for a history of the Force’s bands.
6. See Battle-dress Patrol, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 192, for an outline of the activities of No. 1 Provost, Company (R.C.M.P.), Canadian Army.
7. See Radio in the Force, 13, R.C.M.P. Q. 222, for the detailed story of the use of radio in the Force.
8. See East Through the North-west Passage, 10 R.C.M.P. Q. 149, and Our Return Voyage Through the North-west Passage, 11 R.C.M.P. Q. 298, which tell respectively of St. Roch’s two historic voyages through the North-west Passage.
9. See R.C.M.P. Personnel Department, 12 R.C.M.P. Q. 121 for a short history of the section since its inception.