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The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was a Canadian police force. It was established in 1873, and in 1904 the name was changed to Royal Northwest Mounted Police, it merged with the Dominion Police to become the current Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald first began planning a permanent force to patrol the Northwest Territories after the Dominion of Canada purchased the territory from the Hudson's Bay Company. Reports from Army officers surveying the territory led to the recommendation that a force of 100 to 150 mounted riflemen could maintain law and order. The Prime Minister first announced the force as the North West Mounted Rifles but concern from the United States of America fearing a military buildup led the Prime Minister to rename the force the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) when formed in 1873.[1]

The police was established by an act of legislation from the Temporary North-West Council the first territorial government of the Northwest Territories.[2] The Act was approved by the Government of Canada and established on May 23, 1873, by Queen Victoria, on the advice of her Canadian Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, with the intent of bringing law and order to, and asserting sovereignty over, the Northwest Territories. The need was particularly urgent given reports of American whiskey traders, in particular those of Fort Whoop-Up, causing trouble in the region, culminating in the Cypress Hills Massacre. The new force was initially to be called the North West Mounted Rifles, but this proposal was rejected as sounding too militaristic in nature, which Macdonald feared would antagonize both aboriginals and Americans; however, the force was organized along the lines of a cavalry regiment in the British Army, and was to wear red uniforms.

The NWMP was modelled directly on the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.), a civilian paramilitary armed police force with both mounted and foot elements under the authority of what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.[3][4] First NWMP commissioner, Colonel George Arthur French was a British artillery officer who was born in Co. Roscommon, Ireland, and would have been familiar the R.I.C.[5] While the model of the Royal Irish Constabulary was influential in some respects (notably in designating ranks) British army traditions were strong. The Governor General explained that, "though nominally policemen, the men will be dressed in scarlet uniform and possess all the characteristics of a military force." [6] However, the original idea was not forgotten. Assistant Commissioner A.G. Irvine visited Dublin to study the Constabulary in early 1880. When he became Commissioner in November of that year he began to apply the lessons he had learned there.[7]

A North-West Mounted Police Lancer, 1875.

March West 1874

The initial force, commanded by Commissioner French, was assembled at Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. Most had departed Toronto June 6, 1874 via Chicago by special train. Special arrangements were made with the US to travel with guns and uniforms packed.[8] They then departed Fort Dufferin on July 8, 1874, on a march to what is now Alberta.

The group comprised 22 officers, 287 men – called constables and sub-constables – 310 horses, 67 wagons, 114 ox-carts, 18 yoke of oxen, 50 cows and 40 calves.[9] A pictorial account of the journey was recorded in the diary of Henri Julien, an artist from the Canadian Illustrated News, who accompanied the expedition.[10]

Their destination was Fort Whoop-Up, a notorious American whisky trading post located at the junction of the St Marys River and Oldman Rivers. Following incorrect maps, and low on supplies, a contingent rode south from the Cypress Hills to Fort Benton to hire a guide to lead them to the infamous outpost. After returning to the main column troop, Jerry Potts led the force west to Fort Whoop-Up. Upon arrival at the whiskey trading post, they were greeted by the few men remaining at the post. After being invited in for dinner, the force was unable to find any whiskey,[11] the Americans having been forewarned of the troops impending arrival by suppliers at Fort Benton. With no action able to be taken against the whiskey post, and no offer to buy the fort being agreed upon the troop continued a few miles north west and established headquarters on an island in the Oldman, naming it Fort Macleod. Their first strike on the alcohol traders came after a Native complained at Fort Macleod about a group of whisky traders who had sold him overpriced whisky. Shortly after, the North-West Mounted Police caught and fined the perpetrators, although they were not at Fort Whoop-Up at the time.[12] Although the presence of the NWMP decreased the abundance of whisky trading, it still occurred.

Historians have theorized that failure of the 1874 March West would not have completely ended the Canadian federal government's vision of settling the country's western plains, but could have delayed it for many years.[citation needed] It could also have encouraged the Canadian Pacific Railway to seek a more northerly route for its transcontinental railway that went through the well-mapped and partially settled valley of the North Saskatchewan River, touching on Prince Albert, Battleford and Edmonton, and through the Yellowhead Pass, as originally proposed by Sandford Fleming.[13] This would have offered no economic justification for the existence of cities like Brandon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Medicine Hat, and Calgary, which could, in turn, have tempted American expansionists to make a play for the flat, empty southern regions of the Canadian prairies.

Relations with First Nations

Single-Handed, Charles Marion Russell 1912. The painting shows a Northwest Mounted Police officer attempting to arrest a defiant warrior at a Blackfoot camp probably in Alberta or Saskatchewan.

The NWMP's early activities included containing the whisky trade and enforcing agreements with the First Nations peoples; to that end, the commanding officer of the force arranged to be sworn in as a justice of the peace, which allowed for magisterial authority within the Mounties' jurisdiction. In the early years, the force's dedication to enforcing the law on behalf of the First Nations peoples impressed the latter enough to encourage good relations between them and the Crown. In the summer of 1876, Sitting Bull and thousands of Sioux fled from the US Army towards what is now southern Saskatchewan, and James Morrow Walsh of the NWMP was charged with maintaining control in the large Sioux settlement at Wood Mountain. Walsh and Sitting Bull became good friends, and the peace at Wood Mountain was maintained. By 1879, bands of Sioux began to return to the United States, but Sitting Bull and others remained. The government believed that Walsh's relationship with Sitting Bull was encouraging him to remain in Canada. Walsh was replaced by Superintendent L.N.F. (Paddy) Crozier, who warned Sitting Bull that the government would no longer supply them with food. Facing the prospect of starvation, Spotted Eagle and 65 lodges returned to the United States. Sitting Bull finally surrendered to the U.S. Army at Fort Buford in July, 1881 after a winter of starvation.[14] In 1885, the NWMP helped to quell the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel. They suffered particularly heavy losses during the Battle of Duck Lake, but saw little other active combat.

Klondike Gold Rush

North-West Mounted Police officers, Yukon, 1900

In 1896, concerned about the influence of American miners and the ongoing liquor trade, the Canadian government sent inspector Charles Constantine to report on conditions in the Yukon. Constantine correctly forecast a coming gold rush and urgently recommended sending a force to secure Canadian sovereignty there and collect customs duties; he returned the following year with a force of 20 men. Under the command of Constantine, and his successor in 1898, the more famous Sam Steele, the NWMP distinguished itself during the Klondike Gold Rush, which started in 1896, making it one of the most peaceful and orderly such affairs in history.[citation needed] The NWMP not only enforced criminal law, but also collected customs duties, established a number of rules such as the "ton of goods" requirement for prospectors to enter the Yukon to avoid another famine, mandatory boat inspections for those wanting to travel the Yukon River, and created the Blue Ticket used to expel undesirables from the Klondike. The Mounties did tolerate certain illegal activities, such as gambling and prostitution, and the force did not succeed in its attempt to establish order and Canadian sovereignty in Skagway, Alaska, at the head of the Lynn Canal, instead creating the customs post at the summit of the Chilkoot Pass. At that same time, the dissolution of the NWMP was being discussed in the , but the gold rush prospectors were so impressed by the conduct of the Mounted Police that the force became world famous and its continuation was ensured.

With the outbreak of the Second Boer War, many officers, such as Francis Joseph Fitzgerald, were given leave to join the war effort in South Africa.

Evolution of the force

The North-West Mounted Police's jurisdiction was extended northward to the Yukon Territory in 1895 and then again in 1903 to the Arctic coast, with the establishment of a post at Cape Fullerton. In June 1904, the prefix "Royal" was conferred on the NWMP by King Edward VII.[15] Jurisdiction was extended to the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905, and to Manitoba's new annexation in 1912. During World War I the RNWMP was responsible for "border patrols, surveillance of enemy aliens, and enforcement of national security regulations".[15] In 1917, provincial policing contracts were terminated, and the RNWMP was responsible only for federal policing in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Territories. In 1918, however, enforcement was once again extended to all four Western Provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba).[15] A squadron was deployed to Vladivostok, Russia in late 1918 as part of the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force. Six months later, in June 1919, the RNWMP was called in to repress the general strike in Manitoba's capital, Winnipeg, where officers fired into a crowd of strikers, killing two and causing injury to thirty others. Another strike of that scale was never seen again, but clashes between the RNWMP and strikers continued; Mounties killed three strikers in 1931, when striking coal miners from Bienfait, Saskatchewan demonstrated in nearby Estevan. These incidents did not help the image of the RNWMP, which, since the end of World War I, was being looked at as an outdated institution, more suited to the 19th century frontier than with an industrialising 20th century Canada.

Aylesworth Perry served as Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police from 1900 to 1922. In this period the force was again faced with dissolution, but it was saved in 1920 when it merged with the Dominion Police and was renamed the "Royal Canadian Mounted Police".


In 1975, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police dedicated a memorial beside the Fred Light Museum in Battleford, Saskatchewan, consisting of a cemetery with gate, cairn and list of honour plaque is dedicated to the members of the North-West Mounted Police (1873–1904) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.[16]

Google celebrated the 140th anniversary of the North-West Mounted Police with a Google Doodle on May 23, 2013.[17]


  1. Sendzikas, Aldona (2011). Stanley Barracks: Toronto's Military Legacy. Dundurn. p. 52. ISBN 978-1554887880. 
  2. "The North-West Council". Vol II No. 197. Manitoba Daily Free Press. February 19, 1876. p. 8. 
  3. Bechtel, Kenneth (1995). State police in the United States: A Socio-Historical Analysis. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-313-26380-9. OCLC 31011667. 
  4. Graybill, Andrew R. (2007). Policing the Great Plains: Rangers, Mounties, and the North American Frontier, 1875–1910. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. p. 13. ISBN 0-8032-6002-4. OCLC 76183601. 
  5. Horrall, S.W., The Pictorial History of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973, p. 29
  6. Quoted in Horrall, S.W., The Pictorial History of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973, p. 42
  7. Horrall, S.W., The Pictorial History of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973, p. 85
  8. Foran, Max (1982). Calgary, Canada's frontier metropolis : an illustrated history. Windsor Publications. p. 35. ISBN 0-89781-055-4. 
  9. Diary of Commissioner George Arthur French, August 20, 2005
  10. "N.W.M.P. Expedition to the North-West". Retrieved May 22, 2010. 
  11. Schafft, Charles, Deer Lodge New NorthWest, Oct. 24, 1874
  12. Sessional Papers of Canada, Report of the Commissioner of the North-West Mounted Police, 1874, p. 59-61, Letter of Col. James Macleod, October 30, 1874
  13. Regehr, T. D. "Fleming, Sir Sandford", in Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton, Alberta: Hurtig Publishers, 1988), Volume 2, p.791, & diagram Volume 1, pp. 346–347.
  14. Horrall, S.W., The Pictorial History of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973, p. 74
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "RCMP Historical Highlights – Inception". RCMP. 
  16. North West Mounted Police memorial
  17. "RCMP Google Doodle salutes 140 years of Mounties". May 23, 2013. 

Further reading

External links

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