ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE
By George Siamandas
On May 23, 1873 The Canadian Parliament gave royal assent to the introduction of bill establishing the North West Mounted Police. Captain WF Butler who was Col Wolseley's Intelligence Officer, was sent to scout out this area in 1870 and he reported that there was "no law, no security of life or property; legal and civil institutions were unknown and murder was commonplace."
Criminals were drifting across the border from places like Helena Montana (location of Legends of the Fall) to trade whisky and arms with the Indians on the Canadian side. In 1871, 100 Indians had been murdered in the Cypress Hills massacre , and with the Indian wars happening in the US Sir John A. McDonald's government wanted to bring some peace and order. They also wanted to establish a Canadian presence on the prairies. The new force was to protect the Indians from the whisky traders, cultivate the aboriginal's respect and prepare them for the impending changes that were spreading across the plains.
HOW PREPARED WAS THIS FORCE FOR WHAT THEY FOUND IN THE NORTH WEST?
Some of the men had military experience but others could not even ride a horse. Pay was $1 per day. They left Toronto by steamship to Thunder Bay and arrived through the Dawson Trail to Winnipeg in October of 1873. They had no uniforms and no equipment and borrowed from the militia at Lower Fort Garry were they were quartered. They trained through the winter and were met with new recruits and equipment, horses and guns. This second group which came out the following year faced even more trials and tribulations. One thousand five hundred men had applied for the jobs as mounties. Three hundred men in their famous red serge uniforms left Toronto expecting to have one big long party on the prairie.
It was not to be. They faced starvation, locusts that ate everything in sight including their uniforms, and not enough water. In a sudden prairie thunderstorm their horses stampeded knocking down tents and trampling the men beneath. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George French, the force of 300 men assembled for their great march west. The procession was several kilometres long. The horsed were ill suited to the harsh prairie weather. The mounties worked the entire first year without a pay-check. They were to work for three years and would then receive a land grant of 160 acres.
HOW WERE THE MOUNTIES RECEIVED BY THE NATIVE POPULATION?
They established good relations with the natives and came to be trusted in their work in the north. They earned a reputation for fairness. Men like Jerry Potts, born of a Scottish father and Indian mother translated in dealings with the Blackfoot. The Mounties established Fort McLeod in 1874, led by James Farquarson McLeod. They built Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh in 1875. They got rid of the whisky traders and put an end to Fort Whoop Up. In 1882 they set up their headquarters in Pile of Bones Creek which became the city of Regina. They were involved in suppressing the second Riel Rebellion of 1885 and became involved in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1896.
Once established, the NWMP did more than arrest criminals. They helped with mail service, census takers, customs collectors and Indian Agents. They recorded vital statistics, controlled prairie fires, and spread of infectious diseases. They were Canada's first civil servants in the north west.
By 1900 they were well established in the north. And as each new province entered Confederation, the Mounties were engaged on a contract basis to provide efficient and inexpensive policing. These contract arrangements continue today, and Quebec and Ontario are the only provinces to have their one provincial police forces.
In 1920 the name was changed to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.