A Police Force That is a Credit to Canada

May 1 1908

A Police Force That is a Credit to Canada

May 1 1908

A Police Force That is a Credit to Canada

The Part Which the Royal North West Mounted Constables Play in Preserving’ Law and Order in the West. Early History, Duties and Qualifications of This Splendid Body of Trained Men.

IT is a wonderful fact that throughout the vast prairie lands of Canada and throughout the length and breadth of the unorganized Territories that stretch from the shores of Hudson’s Bay to the boundary of Alaska, life and property are as safe as in any city of the realm, and law and order just as efficiently enforced. This fact is one that is universally recognized. It is a part of the good name that has grown up with the Dominion, part of a prestige of immeasureable value attaching to the country. Nobody ever thinks of associating lawlessness and crime with any district in Canada.

Sportsmen, prospectors, surveyors, explorers—none of these men ever give a second thought to the possibility of molestation when on a journey in the wilds of Canada. Settlers on the prairies, be they ever so far from town or railway, know themselves to be as safe as in any part of the civilized world. Newcomers ask all sorts of questions and make all sorts of investigations before settling down to homesteading in new and lonely districts on the prairie, and one of the most serious of all the questions that weigh with them is how far they will be from a doctor. The men 10 not mind. It is the women. Tney hate to be many miles from a doctor, and so serious a factor is this in settling, people on the land that the Canadian Pacific Railway at one time had a whole series of subsidized doctors dotted about in the homesteading regions of Western Canada.

Such points as these the majority of settlers are very particular about, but nobody ever thinks of asking: “Is it quite safe to go so far away from

the organized communities?” People regard perfect safety in these regions as a matter of course, and their confidence is never misplaced.

How is it that a good name of such magnificent moral influence attaches to Canada?

It is because throughout the immense regions of the Northwest law and order and justice are enforced for white and red man alike, by what, without exaggeration, has been described as “the finest organized mounted body devoted to police duty in existence”—the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.

Often has the prowess of the Mounted Police been related in story and song, but not a tithe has been told of what these men have done in blazing the trail for civilization, and in inspiring fear and respect for authority in that part of the world in which they hold sway. Long ago the Indians learned, through these men, the iron power of British justice; long ago the lawless elements among whites and half-breeds learned through the same medium its relentlessness. Their scarlet tunics have become the symbol of the Empire’s might ; so greatly to be feared and respected that a single member of the force has been known in the early days to go into a band of bloodthirsty Indians, fresh from the warpath, or into a company of white or half-breed thieves and murderers, and place the leader of the band under arrest. And what is more, he has marched him to where two horses were standing, and ridden off with him to the nearest post of the’ Mounted Police, perhaps one hundred miles away, without a hand being raised in attempted rescue or in attack upon the representative of England’s King or Queen, as the case might be, for, as the saying went in those remote places : “If you shoot or stick a knife into a member of the Northwest Mounted Police, you are doing the same thing to the entire British nation and the English will follow you to the ends of the earth and punish you.” For a long time the chief work of. the force consisted in managing the Indians, in acting for them as arbiters and protectors, in reconciling them to the coming of the whites, and in protecting the surveyors who had already begun to parcel out the country and to explore routes for railways. The headquarters of the force are now at Regina, and there are also large barracks in other places, notably at Calgary, where they form one of the sights of the place. Posts are scattered all over the region under jurisdiction, some of them as at Fort Churchill, on Pludson’s Bay, being 700 miles from any other post, while in other cases, as on the road from White Horse to Dawson, they are not more than twenty miles apart. In some places these consist only of a couple of loghuts. from which the policeman patrols his district, visiting settlers, obtaining information of every kind that may seem to be of value to the Government, such as the condition of the crops, cattle, etc. ; news of any violation of the law, either by theft, assault, the sale of liquor without authority, etc. Where crime is committed the police never rest until they have caught the guilty party, and many a time have they followed the trail of a criminal for months. On such criminal hunts they have covered thousands of miles, sometimes on foot, sometimes on horseback, and sometimes by portage and canoe, and sometimes on snowshoes, with dog teams to carry provisions. Such excursions into the wilás have meant the greatest hardships, but whatever be the demands on their pluck and endurance, the police never dream of giving up the chase until they have the handcuffs on the guilty party. From the very first a high prestige has attached to the force, and its success has been due in a large measure to the splendid quality of the men engaged. The standard was-set by such as Major-General Sir George French, K.C.M.G., under whom the force was1 organized; Major Walsh, who established a reputation for great courage and firmness in his dealings with the Indians, and more especially in his treatment of the Sioux Chief, “Sitting Bull,” and Colonel S. B. Steele, C.B., who joined the force at the start and accompanied it on its march to the Rocky Mountains. To. Honorable Alexander Mackenzie, who became Prime Minister of Canada in the same year, in which the nucleus of the force was gathered, and who took the keenest interest in its subsequent organization, is due no small measure of its success. His Government authorized the Mounted Police before they set out to take possession of the Northwest, to put into force a law for the absolute prohibition of the liquor traffic and never was a law more abundantly justified by results than was that one.

The origin of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police dates back to 1873. Three years prior to that the Province of Manitoba had been establishfd by the Wolseley Expedition, and a garrison was then located at the spot then called Fort Garry, but now known as Winnipeg. Beyond this fort on the Red River the country was practically unknown. Over the plains roamed Indians to the number of 40,000 or 50,000, and the buffalo by -the hundreds of thousands, while such white men and half-breeds as were in the country were mostly of a desperate character, and a law unto themselves. When, therefore, the Wolseley forces were withdrawn, the Dominion found itself in need of a body of regular troops to keep possession of the country acquired, and it was this need which resulted in the formation of the Mounted PoliceForce.


The nucleus of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police was gathered in Manitoba in the fall of 1873, under command of Lieut.-Colonel French, of the Royal Artillery, who had shown much aptitude and done splendid work for Canada in the organization of its artillery schools, and who arrived in Canada fresh from Australia, where he had won distinction and had been retired from the Imperial Army as a major-general. The remainder of the newly-organized force was recruited in Toronto, the entire force at that time numbering only 300. The force proceeded by railway to Fargo in June, 1874, and made a march to Duff erin of 170 miles as a foretaste of their work.

Then the force immediately started on a bold expedition through the

heart of a hostile country, inhabited by Indians and many white desperadoes. With two field pieces and two mortars, and relying solely on their own transport train for supplies, they marched 800 miles westward through an unknown country, until they reached the Rocky Mountains. Here Fort Macleod was established, in the very heart of the Blackfeet country, where no white man’s life was safe. Another force was sent northward to Edmonton, among the Assiniboines and Wood Crees. The main body turned back, crossing the plains to Fort Pelly, and then to Dufferin. The thermometer, which had stood at roo degrees in the shade, when they left Dufferin, marked 30 degrees below zero on their return. In four months to a day the force had travelled 1,959 miles.

This expedition had two great objects in view. One was to stop ruv sale to Indians of the liqQör which kept them in a chronic state of devilry. The other was to establish friendly relations with the Indians. In both of these objects the expedition was most successful. Though not entirely stopped, the sale of liquor to the Indians was greatly diminished, while the Indians became convinced that these men in scarlet coats meant what they said when they declared they were friends, and would see that other Indians and white men also gave them justice. As one Indian chief said to Col. Macleod, of the expedition : “Before you came the

Indian crept along ; now he is not afraid to walk erect.”

The Indians were given a general, idea of the laws, told that these were for white man and Indian alike, and that they need fear no punishment except when they had done wrong. They were assured that their lands would not be taken from them, and that treaties would be made, which would be respected, which promises, faithfully kept, have saved Canada from many costly wars in which hundreds of white persons would have lost their lives.

When the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway was begun, the duties of the force took on a wider scope. There came an influx of camp followers, gamblers, thieves, and other scum of the Western border into the country. The police were not only compelled to administer justice and keep this dangerous element in order, but also to maintain law among the thousands of laborers who were employed in the construction of the railway. Good work was also done in preventing strikes.

Then, with the rapid influx of settlers, the Police became responsible for the lives and property scattered over 375,000 square miles. Trading posts developed into towns and new centres of population came into existence, while cattlemen established themselves with their herds along the base of the mountains. The buffalo began to disappear with the coming of the white settlers, and the Indians, deprived of their chief source of food, became dissatisfied and unruly, thus adding to the cares of the police. Attacks were made by Indians on other tribes and on white men, but in each instance, the police, small though the force was, perhaps only one or two men being at some of the minor posts, did not hesitate to arrest the offender, no matter if he was in his own camp and surrounded by dozens, hundreds or thousands of his tribe, and take him away to the nearest post where a commanding officer of the police was located, for the purpose of having his guilt or innocence established, for the officers of the police sat as magistrates and dispensed justice. Many a brave policeman, or “constable,” as they are usually termed, has lost his life in the performance of duty, for while he could have killed his assailant had he decided not.to “take chances,” yet the rules of the force requiring every effort to be exhaust-

ed before a resort to force was made stayed his hand until too late.

By 1882 such progress had been made in the settlement of the country through the entry of the Canadian Pacific Railway, that it became necessary to enlarge the force to 500. Permanent headquarters were established at Regina, substantial barracks, instead of the log cabins and stockades which existed at other posts, being erected. The Riel Rebellion gave the police plenty of work, twelve men being killed and an equal number wounded in the first engagement with the rebels at Duck Lake. Immediately after the outbreak the force was increased to 1,000. A few years after it was again increased, this time to 1,100, which marks the greatest strength it has ever attained.


At the present time the strength of the Mounted Police is about 640, of whom 236 are stationed in Alberta, 277 in Saskatchewan, 32 in the Northwest Territories, and between 90 and 100 in the Yukon Territory. There are no Mounted Police in that vast unorganized territory in Eastern Canada known as Ungava, but the question of extending the jurisdiction of the force over that region is already being seriously considered, and it is not improbable that in the near future a detachment of the force will be stationed there.

“I might here observe,” says Commissioner Perry, in a report only made a few weeks ago, “that whether in bringing relief to isolated settlers in bitter cold and over the deep snow of the open plains, carrying mail to distant Hudson’s Bay posts, to the Arctic seas or to detachments interned in Northern British Columbia, or hurrying to the relief of unfortunate persons in remote parts, our men do not fail us. They undertake the work with cheerfulness, and carry it out indifferent to difficulties and hardships.”


The police are, too, the pioneers in road-making, their latest work in this respect being the construction of a trail from Edmonton to Dawson, a distance of nearly 2,000 miles, through the Peace River country. This section is indescribably rough and difficult of access, it having been necessary to cut a path through the primeval forest, ford deep and swiftmoving rivers, scale steep mountain sides, and make their way through heavy grass and weeds and across lakes where at times it seemed impossible to get through or across. The difficulty of constructing this trail may be understood when it is said that three years has been occupied in making it.

Its importance lies in the fact that it is the only overland route between Central Canada and the Yukon Territory. As such it is not only of immense value to trappers and traders, miners and others, but it is a great military asset inasmuch as it gives connection with Dawson without passing through United States territory.

It will thus be seen that the duties of the police are not confined to criminal matters. They take a great part in preserving game, and they often give assistance to struggling settlers in out-of-the-way places, either in the sowing of grain, the erection of a log cabin, the search for missing horses or cattle, or aiding in whatever way may be possible those who are seeking to help in sthe building up and general prosperity of the country.

Not long ago the duties of sailors were added to the many calls upon the police, a detachment being sent to patrol Hudson’s Bay in steamboats and assert the authority of the Dominion over the whaling fleets. As a result of this new duty, a division is now quartered at Fort Churdiill, on Hudson’s Bay, where the men have, with their own hands, erected a comfortable post, consisting of officers’ quarters, men’s quarters, guard room and storehouse. The logs that were used were cut at a considerable distance from the post, part being floated down the Churchill River, in the summer, and part being hauled in by dog teams during the winter months.

In the eye of the law, the force is a purely civil body, its officers under the law being magistrates, and the non-commissioned officers and privates, constables. Its internal economy and drill, however, is that of a mounted infantry regiment, so far as circumstances will allow.


Major-General French subsequently had a brilliant military career in England and Australia, and he retired on full pay in September, 1902. Col. Steele did distinguished service with the Mounted Police until 1899, when, as commander of Lord Strathcona’s corps, he went to South Africa and served in the Boer War. He was there given command of a regiment, and subsequently the command of the “B” Division of the South African Constabulary, a force modelled on the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. He now commands the Military District No. 11 in Canada.

The affairs of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police are managed by a distinct department of the Government at Ottawa, the permanent civil subordinate head being the ‘Hon. Frederick White, whose official title is Controller of the Force, and who, as secretary of Sir John Macdonald more than thirty-five years ago, was one of the chief movers in the establishment of the force. The executive command is held by Commissioner A. B. Perry, who holds the rank of Major and whose headquarters are at Regina. To assist him there is

an assistant commissioner, ten superintendents, thirty-five inspectors, six surgeons and a veterinary surgeon.

The rank and file have to pass the most rigid examinations as to their physical and mental fitness. Recruits must be between the ages of 22 and 40, of sound constitution, and must produce a certificate of exemplary character. They must bt able either to read and write the English or French language and be able to ride well. Married men are not enlisted. The minimum height for recruits is 5 feet 8 inches, the minimum chest measurement 35 inches, and the maximum weight 175 pounds. The enlistment is for five years. The punishment for violations of the rules of the force are exceedingly severe. For instance, for the infraction of any of the following rules a sentence of one month’s pay as a fine and one year’s imprisonment at hard labor may be imposed. For oppressive or tyrannical conduct toward any inferior; intoxication, however slight; directly or indirectly receiving any gratuity without the commissioner’s sanction, or any bribe ; wearing any political emblem or otherwise manifesting political partisanship ; divulging anything which should be kept secret; communicating anything to the press respecting the force, either directly or indirectly, without the commissioner’s permission; using any cruel, harsh or unnecessary violence to a prisoner or other person.

As pay, the Controller receives $4,000 a year; the commissioner. $2,400; assistant commissioner, $1,600; superintendents and surgeons $1,400; and inspectors, $1,000, with quarters, rations, fuel, etc. A staff sergeant’s pay is from $1.50 to $2 per day; corporals, $1.10 to $1.25 per day, and privates 60 cents per day for the first year’s service, with an increase of five cents per day until the ninth year is reached.