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A new Canadian police force

Around 1860, the new Dominion of Canada acquired the vast territory of Rupert's Land from the Hudson's Bay Company.

To avoid the recurrence of the bloody American confrontations with the Indians, the Canadian government in Ottawa wanted the law to be represented in the new territory from the beginning, even before new colonists were allowed to settle...

Prime Minister Sir John A. McDonald sought in Great Britain after the right structure. In 1869, he chose the Royal Irish Constabulary as a role model for a central paramilitary police. Even before the new organization was ready, a first rebellion presented itself.

The Red River colony, the most populated part of Rupert's Land, opposed its inclusion in the new Canadian government, and it rebelled. Later, that part became the province of Manitoba, and it preferred to enforce its own laws within its borders.

The rest of Rupert's Land, now called the Northwest Territories, still needed a police force. This became abundantly clear in 1873, when twenty to thirty Indians of the Assiniboine nation were killed by American hunters in the Cypress Hills. This crime produced a tremendous response from the Canadian people, and the Ottawa politicians immediately took action.

The parliament voted the necessary laws, and by 1874, the newly created Northwest Mounted Police already had 300 recruits!

The Northwest Mounted Police

During the summer of that same year the new force, dressed in bright red uniforms, rode from Manitoba to present day Alberta. American hunters from Montana had set up a trading post, and they illegally sold whiskey to the Indians, in exchange for buffalo hides.

After three months of hardship and bad weather, on their arrival they managed to arrest the dealers very quickly, which in turn immediately created an excellent relation with Chief Crowfoot, the Indian chief of the Blackfoot. This impressive achievement was the basis of a growing mutual respect between the Mounties and the Indians.

After 1875, the Mounties built a network of posts in Saskatchewan and Alberta, with the forts Macleod, Calgary and Walsh. This network was further expanded across all territories, and the illegal whiskey trade was quickly brought under control.

The Mounties mediated conflicts between settlers and Indians, and advised the latter in the negotiation of treaties with the Canadian government. In 1877, most Indian tribes signed these treaties, which yielded new territories for colonization.

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The Métis

In 1882, the unrest grew with the Métis, who were descendants of Europeans, mostly French, and Indians. They were heavily affected by the simultaneous disappearance of the buffalo, and several bad harvests through drought, so that famine broke out.

The Ottawa government however, never lifted a finger, and in 1885 the Northwest Rebellion broke out, led by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont from the Metis Community. On March 26, 1885, the Metis defeated a Mountie detachment at the Battle of Duck Lake, but quickly new troops were sent from the east, and they crushed the uprising. Read my article about Louis Riel.

This whole episode, however, smelled very badly politically, and to date it remains highly controversial. It is noteworthy however, that the Metis received little assistance from the other Indian tribes, which is proof of the excellent relations between the Indians and the Mounties.

The Mounties : To be or not to be?

Actually, the Mounties were destined to disappear, as soon as the complete colonization had occurred. In 1896, the Liberal party won the federal elections with the promise that the Mounties would be dissolved, which would make more money available for other things.

But the Ottawa government soon discovered that the Mounties were very popular in the West, and new tensions between Indians and settlers presented themselves. In that same year, gold was discovered in the Klondike area, which one year later caused a veritable Gold Rush!

A 250-men detachment of Mounties succeeded in controlling a potentially chaotic situation, as had happened before in the USA, and turn it into an orderly and lawful process.

In 1905, the new provinces Saskatchewan and Alberta were created, and they asked the North-West Mounted Police to act as their provincial police. Moreover, the Mounties expanded their scene of action to the far North, and they built Fort McPherson in 1903, just above the Arctic Circle. They also built a fort on the western bank of the Hudson's Bay.

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The Royal Northwest Mounted Police

During World War I (1914-1918), the (now Royal ...) Royal Northwest Mounted Police undertook all kinds of new tasks, including an intelligence service and national security.

In 1917 however, the role of the RCMP was interrupted when Alberta and Saskatchewan also voted Prohibition Laws, after the American model. The then Commissioner A. Bowen Perry stated that such laws were unenforceable, and he cancelled his police contracts with these two provinces. Upon which the Mounties had to lay off many officers, and furthermore many other officers enlisted in the army.

After the war, Newton W. Rowell, a federal minister, was sent out to Western Canada to investigate the future of the Mounties. Their fate was hanging by a thread. Either they would be completely disbanded, or they would be transformed into a national police force.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The outcome was finally resolved in their favor by sheer happenstance. In 1919, social unrest broke out in the West, after the general strike in Winnipeg. The federal government feared a further expansion of the riots, and almost immediately in 1920 the Mounties were merged with the Dominion Police. These had maintained the federal laws in central and eastern Canada since 1868. The result was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In the 1920's, they were very active against drugs and subversion. They continued to expand their presence in the far north with a ship in the Arctic Islands, and they made really pioneering expeditions by dog sled, in the Eastern Arctic. New criminal investigation methods were introduced, and six provinces now contracted for their services. In 1950, two more provinces joined them.

World War II (1940-1945) brought new responsibilities for the Mounties, national security and counterintelligence. Close ties were established with other police organizations, and especially with the FBI. After the war, these responsibilities became very important when the Russian spy Igor Gouzenko defected. After a few scandals about somewhat doubtful procedures, in 1984 another organization was established, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, who took over these duties from the Mounties.

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In 1966, the traditional Mountie horse was replaced by a variety of motorized devices, allowing the Mounties to control land, sea and air, and to really stand their ground anywhere. Until then, the Corps was made up exclusively by men, but in 1974 the Mounties started with the recruitment of female police officers. However, it took almost another twenty years (1992), before the first female officer was appointed.

The organization now counts about 16,000 officers and 5,000 civilian employees. It maintains the federal laws across the whole of Canada, and the provincial laws in eight of the ten provinces. They are the only police force in the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and the more recent Nunavut Territory.

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