In Collaboration With Charles Griffin

Regimental History
Metis Scout
Jerry Potts
The history of British involvement in Canada began in 1670 when King Charles II granted a charter to the Governer and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay. They were better known as the Hudson's Bay Company and dealt in furs bartered from the natives of North America. Settlement in Canada was discouraged by the Company because it was in their interests to retain the country as a wild game reserve.

The British government established the Dominion of Canada in 1867, although half the country was still under the control of the Hudson's Bay Company. The government was keen to bring the wild outreaches of Canada under their control and acquired control of the Red River Colony from the Company. The Colony, situated near Winnipeg, was inhabited by Metis and Canadian Indians. Metis were people of mixed race who lived by hunting buffalo and bear, selling the hides and fur to the Company.

The Metis had not been consulted about the transfer of control of the Colony so appointed the articulate Louis Riel to be their leader to oppose the government. He established his own Provisional Government and sought negotiations. The Government response to this was to send the Red River Expedition (1870) under the command of Garnet Wolseley to crush the 'rebellion'. It was well organised and met no resistance. Louis Riel fled to America and Red River Colony came under government control.

In Wolseley's army lay the beginnings of the future North West Mounted Police. His force was made up of Canadian militia battalions, the Quebec Rifles and the Ontario Rifles as well as the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps. A small mounted police force was organised from the men of the militia under the command of Captain Villiers. This was the first police force to be organised in Western Canada and contained officers who were to become famous 'Mounties'; James Macleod, Sam Steele, A G Irvine and Charles Constantine.

The North West Mounted Police
The Canadian Prime Minister at the time was Sir John A Macdonald. He is regarded as the founding father of the Mounties. Two fact-finding tours were initiated by him, one led by a British officer, Lt William Butler in 1870 and the other by the Adjutant-General of the Canadian Militia, Lt-Col P Robertson Ross in 1872. Butler went to North Saskatchewan and recommended the establishment of a well-equipped police force of 100-150 men, one third to be mounted, to maintain order in the North-West. Robertson-Ross reported that a regiment of 550 mounted riflemen was needed.

What prompted this need for a police force was the illegal whisky trading that had occurred as a result of incursions by American hooch-merchants. Nineteenth century Canadians were a North American extension of Victorian Britain and were horrified at the tales they heard of the American wild west. They, under their Conservative Prime-Minister Macdonald, were keen to maintain government control in the wilderness areas of the north-west.

On May 23, 1873 enabling legislation was passed which authorized the formation of "a Police Force in and for the North West Territories." The Force officially came into being on August 30, 1873. It consisted, initially of 3 divisions of 50 men each and was commanded for the first 3 years by Commissioner George Arthur French who had been in the Royal Artillery. French realised that the force was too small and a further 3 divisions were raised in Toronto. When these had been trained up the plan was for them to travel to Fort Garry and take part in the great March West.

The March West
The March West
The 6 divisions of the fledgling force met up at Dufferin, Manitoba on the 19th June 1874. They paraded together at full strength, 318 officers and men, the only occasion in their history when the North-West Mounted Police were together in one place. Various detachments were sent off and the main body of 275 headed west with 114 ox carts, 73 wagons and a herd of cattle for food. The aim was to deal with the whisky traders and set up a post at the forks of the Belly and Bow Rivers. It was decided that one division should take a seperate route west under Inspector W D Jarvis to Edmonton. But the main part of the force set off on the 9th July under the command Assistant Commissioner James Macleod. It was a mommoth undertaking covering more than 1000 miles and fraught with hardship. The artist Henri Julien accompanied the force and his drawings of the march appeared in the Canadian Illustrated News. This helped create the mystique that the Mounties had amongst the Canadian people and the rest of the world.

The whisky traders were based at a place called Fort Whoop-Up but they had all gone by the time Macleod arrived. He decided that the area was unsuitable to establish a post so they marched a further 3 days to an area within a loop of Old Man's River and set up Fort Macleod, a permanent presence of the NWMP in the west.

Jarvis set up a post at Fort Edmonton. Other posts were subsequently set up at Fort Walsh, Fort Battleford, Swan River, Fort Saskatchewan and Shoal Lake. The local populations came to depend on the Mounties for ensuring fair trading practices, supervision of treaty payments and providing medical services on top of their policing duties.

The Mounties themselves, were mostly English-speaking and born in Britain, whose families had settled in Ontario and Quebec. Because Canada did not have a regular army at the time, the NWMP attracted men of a military inclination, and indeed many of the officers were former British soldiers. Only a small proportion of them were married as the job required much time spent on patrol. Their uniform consisted of scarlet Norfolk jackets without facings, brown leather belts, bandoliers and haversacks and white helmets. Breeches were of various colours, boots were black. They were armed with Snyder carbines and Adams revolvers.

The 1885 Rebellion
Constables, as early as July 1884, had reported that Louis Riel was back. Louis Riel had fled to the USA after the Red River trouble but was now organising the Metis and Indians for a more serious uprising. He was based at Batoche on the South Saskatchewen river, so a new post was set up at Carlton a few miles north.

On March 26th, the North West Rebellion erupted with the Battle of Duck Lake in which a force of 56 NWMP, along with with 43 Prince Albert Volunteers, fought a group of Metis led by Gabriel Dumont n the battle, three NWMP Constables, and nine Prince Albert Volunteers were killed, or mortally wounded; along with 5 Metis. In addition, several men of both forces were wounded. In the first national military experience since the Confederation of Canada in 1867, the government mobilised its Militia and many of the men travelled west on the new Canadian Pacific Railway as far as it had been built. Other units were raised in Western Canada. The NWMP were commanded by Commissioner A. G. Irvine but he was ordered to place himself under Middleton's command which was inept and hesitant.

Louis Riel was advised by Gabriel Dumont to wage guerilla war, but he felt himself to be guided by God and decided wrongly to defend Batoche with rifle pits and fight there. Due to Middleton's bungling, the battle lasted 4 days but the Metis were defeated through exhaustion, and Louis Riel was captured, tried and executed.

The police were busy in the aftermath of the rebellion, restoring order and seeking out those rebels who had avoided capture after the battle. The patrol system was introduced at this time by Commissioner L W Herchmer a strict disciplinarian who made many improvements to the training and organisation of the force. Their strength was raised to 1000, but the Prime Minister, Macdonald was under pressure from the Liberal opposition to reduce the force and phase it out altogether. When Macdonald died in 1891 the future of the NWMP looked bleak. But the North-West was being opened up following the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and a further development saved the Mounties and brought about a time in their history for which they are, perhaps, best known.

The Klondyke Goldrush
A major discovery of gold in the creeks draining into the Yukon River in 1894 led to the famous Klondyke Goldrush which attracted people from all over the world and lasted until 1900. There were prospectors and gold-dealers but also criminals, so Inspector Charles Constantine was ordered, in 1895, to take a party of police into the territory which is situated in the most north-westerly and inhospitable region of Canada. At first there were 100 constables but this was increased to 285 and was commanded from 1898 by one of the force's most colourful and competent officers, Superintendent Sam Steele, one of the original members from the Red River Expedition. The main centre for the Klondyke was Dawson City and this was governed very effectively by the NWMP under Steele's stern but benevolent leadership. Apart from law-keeping, the Mounties performed such duties as recording mining claims, carrying mail, collecting customs and saving lives on the White Horse Rapids. Steele insisted on Sabbath day observance; even the bars and dance-halls had to close on Sunday. When Sam Steele left Dawson in 1899 to fight in the Boer War he was presented with a bag of gold dust.
The South African War
The NWMP served in the Boer War, but not under that title. Leave of absence was granted to 290 men, most of whom formed the 2nd battalion 1st Regiment Canadian Mounted Rifles under Herchmer's command. Steele commanded Lord Strathcona's Horse, in which many Mounties served, including Sgt Arthur Richardson from Liverpool who was the first man serving in the Canadian forces to win the VC. The 1st CMR suppressed the Rebellion in Cape Colony and fought in all the battles from Bloemfontein to Pretoria.

In recognition of their services to Canada, King Edward VII conferred, effective June 24, 1904, the title Royal upon the North West Mounted Police. In 1905 the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewen were created and expected to provide their own police force. In the event the provinces decided to contract the services of the RNWMP to use as provincial police.

World War 1
Leave of absence was not granted to the Mounties to serve in the First World War. There were many German immigrants living in Canada and there were fears of raids from pro-German groups in neutral USA so the Mounties were required to stay in Canada. Despite this, about 500 men left the force to serve in the British Army in Europe. Towards the end of the war one unit was permitted to go overseas which included 12 officers and 231 men of the RNWMP. They formed A Squadron under Superintendant Jennings. A further B Squadron of Mounties went to Siberia in 1918 to help the White Russians.

By the end of the War 900 policemen were serving overseas whch left 300 at home. Social unrest at the end of the War brought about the Winnipeg General Strike. The Police were required to use force on the strikers resulting in a man killed and 31 injured.

In December 1918, the duties of the RNWMP were extended to the whole of Western Canada and in July 1919, to throughout Canada. In November 1919, enabling legislation was passed in which the Dominion Police, whose primary responsibilities were protecting government buildings in Ottawa {although over the years sundry other duties were added} were to be amalgamated with the RNWMP and the name of the new Force was to be the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The changes were effective on February 1, 1920 and legislation passed the following day transferred the Headquarters of the Force from Regina to Ottawa.

The RCMP - Interwar Years
The RCMP absorbed 152 men from the Dominion Police and In the fall of 1920, the RCMP had a strength of 1,671, all ranks. The training depot remained at Regina. The HQ was moved from Regina to Ottawa. Training was hard and of a military nature. Strict obedience and loyalty to the regiment was stressed on the men.

As well as normal crime prevention work, the RCMP were responsible for intelligence and security. During the 1920s and 30s the chief target of intelligence activity was the Communist Party but in the years before World War II, the Fascists were also under surveillance. After the War it became clear that a seperate organisation was needed to cope with the Cold War and so in 1956 the Directorate of Security and Intelligence was formed, reporting directly to the Commissioner.

The RCMP was under contract with the province of Saskatchewan since 1928 and in 1932, additional contracts were entered with the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. In August 1950, the provinces of Newfoundland and British Columbia were added. In all cases, where a particular police force was absorbed, the majority of the members of that police force were offered employment with the RCMP. The provinces of Ontario and Quebec retain their own Provincial Police Service.

The period between 1931 and 1939 saw many positive changes to the RCMP under the vigorous leadership of James MacBrien. Training was improved including sending some officers to university. An aviation section was established and a national crime laboratory opened.

World War II
Battledress, 1943
In 1939, following the outbreak of WW II, 155 officers and men of the RCMP Marine Section and their ships, along with personnel and aircraft of the small Aviation Section were, under a pre-war agreement with the Federal Government, transfered to the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force respectively. For the army it was decided to allow only 112 Mounties to go to Europe as No 1 Provost Company. see Corporal in Battledress 1943. By 1942 recruitment for this unit came from other sources but by the end of the War 213 members of the Force had served in the Canadian Provost Corps.

The post War tensions between East and West put great strains on the Intelligence branch of the RCMP and by the 1970s the activities of the Quebec separatists, especially the murder of Pierre Laporte and kidnapping of British Trade Commissioner James Cross created a climate of fear that prompted underhand methods to be employed by some Mounties. In 1974 Sergeant Robert Samson injured himself while planting a bomb in a Montreal suburb and was arrested and imprisoned. Whilst on trial he let it be known that the RCMP often did far worse things. A major investigation followed and consequently, in 1984 the Intelligence and security work were handed over to a new civilian organisation.

Female Mountie
The dark days of the 1970s are long gone and public confidence in the RCMP is fully restored. Competition for a position in the RCMP is intense so the Force is able to pick the best. The Force has always been highly accountable and for that reason has treated public relations as a top priority. To this end, the traditional image of the Mounties continues in the form of the Musical Ride while modern day policing becomes more and more sophisticated. Today (2005) the strength of the Force is 22,472. Several thousand of these are civilians but the actual Mounties include 564 officers and 15,241 other ranks. Almost a thousand of these are women. The original members of the NWMP would be surprised and amazed to see how their descendants have turned out but the spirit of 1873 lives on.

Maintiens Le Droit
Honourary Commissioner
HM Queen
1873 -
1873 -
1873 -
1873 -
Long Service Medal
1873 -
Battle Honours
North West Canada
South Africa
1899 - 1902
France and Flanders
1939 - 1945
Predecessor Units
North West Mounted Police
1873 - 1904
Royal North West Mounted Police
1904 - 1920
Successor Units
(Gendamerie Royale du Canada)
Suggested Reading
Insignia of the Canadian Mounted Police: 1873 - 1998
by Donald Klancher
The North West Mounted Police and the North West Rebellion
by Donald Klancher
The riders of the plains; a record of the Royal North-West Mounted Police of Canada 1873-1910
by A. L. Haydon
The First Contingent NWMP 1873-74
by Philip Goldring Canadian Historic Sites Occasional Papers in Archaeology & History No. 21. Parks Canada, Ottawa
The Pictorial History of the Mounted Police 1873-1973
by S W Horrall McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Toronto 1973
Papers Relating to the North-West Mounted Police and Fort Walsh
by R C McLeod University of Toronto Press. Toronto 1976
The NWMP & Law Enforcement 1873-1905
by R C MacLeod Manuscript Report No. 213. Parks Canada 1977
Police Powers in Canada
by R C Macleod and David Schneiderman. University of Toronto Press 1994
The Mountie from Dime Novel to Disney
by Michael Dawson. Toronto: Between the Lines 1998
North West Mounted Police 1873-1883
by Edwin Charles Morgan Parks Canada Manuscript No. 113. 1970
Showing the Flag. The Mounted Police and Canadian Sovreignty in the North 1894-1925
by William R Morrison. Universit of British Columbia Press, Vancouver 1985
William Parker, Mounted Policeman
by William Parker ( ed. Hugh A Dempsey) Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Calgary & Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton 1973
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police 1873-1987
by David Ross and Robin May, Illustrated by Richard Hook. Osprey 1988
Visions of Order: The Canadian Mounties in Symbol and Myth
by Keith Walden. Toronto: Butterworth 1982
Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State 1945-1957
by Reg Whitaker and Gary Marcuse. University of Toronto Press 1994
Forty Years in Canada
by Samuel B Steele. McClellan Goodchild & Stewart, Toronto 1914 (Fascimile edition 1972 McGraw-Hill Ryerson Toronto)
Red Coats on the Prairies: The North-West Mounted Police 1886-1900
by William Beahen and Stan Horrall
The North West Mounted Police
by John Peter Turner. King's Printer Ottawa 1950
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police
by David Ross and Robin May
Arms & Accoutrements of the Mounted
by Roger F Phillips and Donald J Klancher. Museum Restoration Service, Bloomfield Ontario 1982

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