Discusses the RCMP program in Regina, Saskatchewan. From You Tube.
Canada in the 1870s, like most other jurisdictions whose legal systems were based on English common law, had few police forces. The larger cities had primitive local constabularies; small towns and the countryside had no police at all. In these areas the burden of maintaining public order fell upon the courts, backed up in emergencies by the military.
The British government had some experience with centralized police forces in India and Ireland, however, and the forces there were unquestionably effective. Prime Minister Sir John A. MACDONALD therefore adopted the Royal Irish Constabulary as the model for Canada. The police for the North-West Territories were to be a temporary organization. They would maintain order through the difficult early years of settlement, then, having served their purpose, they would disappear. In 1869 William MCDOUGALL, sent out as first Canadian lieutenant-governor of the North-West Territories, carried instructions to organize a police force under Capt D.R. Cameron. Half the men of the force were to be local Métis. These plans had to be shelved when the RED RIVER REBELLION of 1869-70 led to the creation of the province of Manitoba, since, under the BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT, law enforcement was a provincial responsibility.
Not until 1873, when Ottawa created an administrative structure for the remainder of the territories, was the idea of a police force revived. Parliament passed an Act in May establishing a force, and 150 recruits were sent that August west to winter at Fort Garry; the following spring another 150 joined them. The new police force, which gradually acquired the name NORTH-WEST MOUNTED POLICE, was organized along the lines of a cavalry regiment and was armed with pistols, carbines and a few small artillery pieces. Several reports on the state of affairs in the North-West Territories had stressed the symbolic significance of the traditional British army uniform for the Indians. A scarlet tunic and blue trousers were thus adopted. The commanding officer was given the title "Commissioner."
There was an assistant commissioner and 2 officer ranks, superintendent and inspector; noncommissioned ranks were staff sergeant, sergeant, corporal and constable. The commissioned officers were given judicial powers as justices of the peace. Lt-Col George Arthur FRENCH, commander of the Permanent Force gunnery school at Kingston, Ont, was the first commissioner.
On 8 July 1874 the 300 mounted police left Dufferin, Man, and marched west. Their destination was present-day southern Alberta, where whisky traders from Montana were known to be operating among the Blackfoot. The previous June there had been a serious incident in the Cypress Hills at a whisky trader's post in which several Assiniboine were massacred by whites. After a gruelling march of more than 2 months the force arrived to find that most of the traders had fled. The Blackfoot almost immediately tested the intentions of the police by reporting the activities of some of the remaining whisky traders. The immediate arrest and conviction of the traders pleased Chief CROWFOOT and laid the foundation for good relations with the police. Asst Commissioner James F. MACLEOD with 150 men established a permanent post at FORT MACLEOD. Part of the remaining half of the force had been sent to Fort Edmonton and the rest under the commissioner returned east to Fort Ellice (near St-Lazare, Man), which had been designated as headquarters.
The following summer FORT CALGARY on the Bow River and FORT WALSH in the Cypress Hills were established. In 1876 another major post was set up at Battleford. The network of posts and patrols thus began, and was extended year by year until it covered all of the territories.
For a decade and a half the NWMP concentrated on establishing close relations with the Indians. The police helped prepare the Indians for treaty negotiations and mediated conflicts with the few settlers. Their success is indicated by the signing of treaties covering most of the southern prairies in 1876 and 1877 (see INDIAN TREATIES), by the fact that they rarely resorted to armed force before 1885 and by the small number of Indians who participated in the NORTH-WEST REBELLION that year. Growing unrest in the early 1880s because of the disappearance of the buffalo and crop failures in the Saskatchewan Valley led to an increase to 500 men in 1882. But this did not keep pace with the force's growing responsibilities. CPR construction had drawn the police into a limited role in southern BC as well as the prairies. The police were particularly concerned with the situation in the Saskatchewan Valley and warned Ottawa that serious trouble was certain unless grievances there were addressed. The warnings were ignored and the rebellion took its tragic course. Belatedly the government increased the NWMP to 1000 men and appointed a new commissioner, Lawrence W. HERCHMER, to modernize the force.
Herchmer improved training and introduced a more systematic approach to crime prevention, thus preparing the police to cope with the large increase in settlement after 1885. As memories of the rebellion faded, criticisms began. In Parliament the Opposition reminded the government that the NWMP had been intended to disappear when the threat of frontier unrest passed. The NWMP's demise seemed certain with the election of Wilfrid Laurier's Liberals in 1896; their election platform had called specifically for the dismantling of the NWMP.
In power the Liberals quickly discovered intense opposition in the West to their plan. The highly publicized murder of Sgt C.C. Colebrook by ALMIGHTY VOICE in 1895 and the manhunt that went on for more than a year raised renewed fears of a general Indian uprising.
By the mid-1890s, too, the NWMP had begun moving north. Rumours of gold discoveries in the Yukon prompted the government to send Insp Charles CONSTANTINE to report on the situation in that remote region. His recommendations led to the stationing of 20 police in the Yukon in 1895. This small group was barely adequate to cope with the full-scale gold rush that developed when news of large discoveries reached the outside world in 1896. By 1899 there were 250 mounted police stationed in the Yukon. Their presence ensured that the KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH would be the most orderly in history. Strict enforcement of the regulations prevented many deaths from starvation and exposure by unprepared prospectors.
By 1900 the gold rush was over and the police turned their attention to other parts of the North. In 1903 the first mounted police post north of the Arctic Circle was established at Fort McPherson. Later the same year the NWMP began collecting customs duties from whalers at Herschel I in the Beaufort Sea. At the same time a detachment under Supt J.D. Moodie established a post at Cape Fullerton on the western shore of Hudson Bay. The police presence in the Arctic grew steadily from these beginnings, especially after the schooner St. Roch began to be used as a floating detachment among the Arctic islands in the 1920s.
The permanence of the mounted police was tacitly accepted by all parties by the early 20th century. When Alberta and Saskatchewan were created in 1905, the RNWMP (the "Royal" added 1904 in recognition of distinguished service by many NWMP men in the SOUTH AFRICAN WAR) was, in effect, rented to the new provinces. Agreements were signed under which the NWMP acted as provincial police.
This arrangement worked well until WWI. The war created severe shortages of manpower and brought new security and intelligence duties to the police. When Alberta and Saskatchewan decided to adopt PROHIBITION in 1917, Commissioner A. Bowen PERRY, who believed the new liquor laws were unenforceable, cancelled the contracts. Alberta and Saskatchewan maintained their own provincial police forces for the next decade and a half.
When the end of hostilities in 1918 reduced the need for security work, the future of the mounted police was very uncertain. Late in 1918 President of the Privy Council N.W. ROWELL toured western Canada to seek opinion about what to do with the RNWMP. In May 1919 he reported to Cabinet that the police could either be absorbed into the army or expanded into a national police force. The government chose the latter course. In Nov 1919 legislation was passed merging the RNWMP with the DOMINION POLICE, a federal force established in 1868 to guard government buildings and enforce federal statutes. When the legislation took effect 1 Feb 1920, the name became Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and headquarters were moved to Ottawa from Regina. In the 1920s the force's principal activities were enforcement of narcotics laws and security and intelligence work. The latter reflected widespread public fear of subversion that had been fueled by the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the WINNIPEG GENERAL STRIKE of 1919. In 1928 Saskatchewan renegotiated its provincial policing agreement with the RCMP, thus beginning a return to more normal police duties for the force.
In August 1931 Maj-Gen Sir James H. MACBRIEN became commissioner. The 7 years of his leadership of the force was a period of rapid change. The size of the RCMP nearly doubled in this period, from 1350 to 2350 men, as the force took over provincial policing in Alberta, Manitoba, NB, NS and PEI and took over the Preventive Service of the National Revenue Department. Before MacBrien died in office in 1938, he had established a policy of sending several members of the force to universities each year for advanced training, had opened the first forensic laboratory in Regina and had organized the aviation section. An RCMP Reserve was established in 1937 in the expectation that war was coming and would make heavy demands on the force. When WWII began the RCMP had comprehensive plans for the protection of strategic installations, and in fact no acts of sabotage were recorded. Nazi sympathizers were rounded up for INTERNMENT. Despite suspicions about Russian espionage, however, the RCMP was as surprised as most Canadians by the revelations of Igor GOUZENKO in 1945.
The heightened international tensions of the COLD WAR era, which the Gouzenko case inaugurated, ensured that security and intelligence work would continue to be a major preoccupation for the mounted police. These activities attracted almost no public attention until the mid-1960s, when Vancouver postal clerk George Victor Spencer was discovered to have been collecting information for the USSR. The tacit agreement among politicians that security matters were not subjects of open debate was shattered when John Diefenbaker's Conservative Opposition attacked the Pearson government for mishandling the case.
In retaliation the Liberals revealed details of a scandal involving a German woman named Gerda Munsinger, whose ties to some Conservative Cabinet ministers and Russian espionage agents had apparently been ignored by the previous Diefenbaker government. A Royal Commission on Security was appointed in 1966 as a result of these cases and reported in 1968. The commission's recommendation that a civilian intelligence agency replace the RCMP was rejected by the new prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.
By 1969 the rise of separatism in Québec had produced a major shift in security and intelligence operations from foreign threats to a perceived threat within the country. The OCTOBER CRISIS of 1970 with the kidnapping of James Cross and the murder of Pierre LAPORTE added enormous impetus to undercover antiseparatist operations in Québec.
The RCMP was subsequently discovered to have engaged in such illegal activities as burning a barn and stealing a membership list of the Parti Québécois. These revelations raised fundamental questions about the place of the police in the state. Are there situations in which the police can break the law? Who is ultimately answerable if they do? To help answer these questions the Royal Commission of INQUIRY INTO CERTAIN ACTIVITIES OF THE RCMP was appointed under Mr Justice David McDonald. The commission again recommended removing intelligence operations from the RCMP to a civilian agency. Legislation creating such an agency, the CANADIAN SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, was proclaimed on 1 July 1984. However, problems with the ill-defined nature of CSIS plagued its first 3 years and in late 1987 the Conservative government announced that its mandate would be changed.
The postwar period also saw a continued expansion of the RCMP's role as a provincial force. In 1950 they assumed responsibility for provincial policing in Newfoundland and absorbed the BC provincial police. In 1959 the most serious conflict over the split federal-provincial jurisdiction of the force took place. A loggers' strike in Newfoundland led the superintendent in charge of the RCMP there to ask the provincial attorney general to request 50 reinforcements from Ottawa. Justice Minister E. Davie FULTON refused and Commissioner L.H. Nicholson resigned in protest. The question of which level of government controls the RCMP in a given set of circumstances remains vague. It has been a source of tension between the federal and provincial governments, leading on a number of occasions to threats by the latter to cancel their RCMP contracts and establish provincial police.
Since 1945, 3 areas of criminal investigation have occupied a large and growing portion of the force's time: ORGANIZED CRIME, narcotics and commercial FRAUD. The first 2 were closely linked, and from the late 1940s onward there was growing evidence that illegal drug traffic was controlled by Canadian branches of American crime syndicates or "families." In 1961 the RCMP established national crime intelligence units across the country to gather information on organized crime and to improve co-operation with other police forces. Similarly, growing numbers of securities frauds and phony bankruptcies led the RCMP to establish commercial fraud sections, with specially trained personnel, beginning in 1966.
Since 1886 all basic training of RCMP recruits has been carried out at Depot Division in Regina. Today the course is 6 months in length and includes a variety of subjects from basic criminal law to driving and shooting. Depot Division also gives courses for fisheries enforcement officers, correctional services personnel, native special constables and tribal police. Since 1974 women have been recruited into the force and undergo the same training as male constables. Upon graduation the female constable is assigned duties on the same basis as her male counterpart. Female members of the force are as likely to be found in remote northern communities or on highway patrols as on desk jobs.
From the earliest years of its existence the mounted police have attracted the attention of writers. Hundreds of novels, stories and films, mostly by British and American authors, have appeared over the last century, creating a vivid popular image of the mounted police as fearless and infallible.
The Canadian government realized the usefulness of this image as early as the 1880s. The scarlet-coated policeman began to appear on Canadian immigration pamphlets and shortly after that on tourist advertisements. The police themselves have always recognized the value of good public relations. Early riding drills developed quickly into public exhibitions of horsemanship set to music. Thus the origins of the famous musical ride can be traced back to the 1870s. Although mounted training once required of all recruits has long since disappeared, the musical ride remains an enormously popular public attraction in Canada and elsewhere. The symbolic importance of the "mounties" may help to explain why they have retained their popularity in spite of adverse publicity in recent years.
Author R.C. MACLEOD
Nora and William Kelly, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1973); R.C. Macleod, The North-West Mounted Police and Law Enforcement (1976); William R. Morrison, Showing the Flag: The Mounted Police and Canadian Sovereignty in the North, 1894-1925 (1985); Keith Walden, Visions of Order: The Canadian Mounties in Symbol and Myth (1982).
Links to Other Sites
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is the Canadian national police service and an agency of the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.
Sam Benfield Steele
A profile of the legendary Sam Steele from the website for the RCMP.
Fort Walsh National Historic Site
This Fort Walsh National Historic Site in Saskatchewan was an early North West Mounted Police/Royal Canadian Mounted Police post (circa 1878-83). A Parks Canada website.
Fort Battleford National Historic Site
This Parks Canada site commemorates the 1876 North West Mounted Police headquarters in Battleford, Saskatchewan. Includes detailed notes about Big Bear, Poundmaker, the Cree, Sir Frederick Dobson Middleton, North-West Rebellion, the Battle of Cut Knife, and related topics.
Fort Calgary Historic Park
This brief history of Fort Calgary is part of the Applied History Research Group website from the University of Calgary.
The RCMP March West
Read Commissioner George Arthur French’s day-by-day account of the treacherous journey that brought peace and order to Canada’s prairies -- the March West of 1874. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police website.
Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP
The website for the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP.
The Muskox Patrol: High Arctic Sovereignty Revisited
A 2003 article about the role of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Canadian government’s quest to secure international recognition of its claims to sovereignty over the High Arctic islands. Includes photos of the ship “Beothic,” the Dundas Harbour RCMP Detachment, and more. From the Arctic Institute of North America.
Four Directions Teachings
Elders and traditional teachers representing the Blackfoot, Cree, Ojibwe, Mohawk, and Mi’kmaq share teachings about their history and culture. Animated graphics visualize each of the oral teachings. This website also provides biographies of participants, transcripts, and an extensive array of learning resources for students and their teachers. In English with French subtitles.
In Depth: Tasers
A CBC special feature on the use of "tasers" in law enforcement.
BC Civil Liberties Association
The website for the BC Civil Liberties Association. Their mandate is to preserve, defend, maintain and extend civil liberties and human rights in British Columbia and across Canada.
Inuit Sled Dogs
Final Report: RCMP Review of Allegations Concerning Inuit Sled Dogs. From the RCMP website.
Inuit Truth Commission
CBC News article: Inuit truth commission begins hearings on sled-dog deaths.
A Century of Law
A history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police completed in May 1973 to mark its hundredth year of service. From the rbc.com website.
The Force in the North
This site highlights how commercial films have portrayed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police over the years. From the MacBride Museum and the Virtual Museum of Canada.
N.W. Mounted Police Waltzes
This site features the finely illustrated cover and sheet music for "N.W. Mounted Police Waltzes." Click the cover for a larger view and the red icon to see the sheet music. Check the menu on the left for additional information about Library and Archives Canada's collection of sheet music published in Canada prior to 1921.
The Memory Project: Canadian forces Base Borden and RCMP
Listen to an interview with Canadian veteran Don Duke in which he discusses his wartime military service. Also check out related digitized artefacts and memorabilia. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.