History of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

There is no more dynamic, recognizable and meaningful symbol for a nation than the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They have played a leading role in Canada's history and remain an integral part of our fabric. Their legacy, like that of Canada itself, is one of great events, sweeping backdrops and larger-than-life individuals.

In 1873, the Canadian Government formed the North-West Mounted Police. They were to ensure peace and order in a wilderness jurisdiction that stretched from the western border of Manitoba to the Rockies and as far north as anyone dared go.

Their primary responsibility was to suppress an all-too-prevalent practice of white trader using alcohol as currency for buffalo hides. The Mounties were to protect aboriginal people from an ever-increasing wave of white settlers. They would soon become everything from judge to jury to teacher to referee.

July 1874 saw the first detachment of red-coated young men set off on an epic journey across what would become Western Canada. They crossed mile after endless mile of prairie grass, wooded coulee, rolling hill and flatland - with no bridges, no roads and few supplies.

After travelling 14 days they reached the Roche Percee on the Souris River. Their supplies were depleted, horses were exhausted, and many men were sick. The RCMP Commisioner, George French, decided to split the group in two. The sickest horses and weakest men would travel the easier route along a 800 mile cart trail toward Edmonton, while the rest would take the shorter but more difficult 550 mile journey toward the foothills of the Rockies.

With the completion of their journey in October 1874, a relatively small band of policemen was established on the western frontier. From this modest beginning, its influence on the future of the west in particular and Canada in general would grow enormously. A police force was in place which asserted the sovereignty of Canada over this vast territory and which would be a powerful influence for peace in the difficult days of transition ahead for the frontier.

There are many true stories of the Mounties which are full of the adventure in an untamed land. These stories are available for you to read in the books you can order from this website.

Historical Highlights

1873: The Mounties are Established:
Canadian prime minister, Sir. John A. Macdonald, wishes to put an end to the illegal trade of liquor with the native people in the Northwest Territories (the area covered today by most of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, the Yukon , Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories). Order had to be restored to the area to make it safe for aboriginal people and settlers. Contrary to popular belief, the force was not established to protect the white against the Indians, it was to protect the Indians from the whites. The whites were U.S. whiskey peddlers, controlling what is now most of southern Alberta, who were destroying the natives with booze and bullets.

1874: The March West:
The Mounties first commissioner, George A. French, gathered 275 policemen (the youngest of which was 16 year old Fred Bagley), 339 horses, 142 oxen, 114 Red River carts, 73 wagons, and two cannons weighing a ton each. From Fort Dufferin, near Winnipeg, they headed 800 miles west toward the Rocky Mountains, to restore order in the North West. They had to be self-sufficient and carried an enormous amount of supplies. They endured terrible hardships: lack of water, insect plaques, lack of fire wood. Most of the horses died, and the equipment soon proved to be inadequate. The tents blew down in the prairie winds and the pillbox hats were of little use. Their Fate changes, when the force meets up with Jerry Potts, an extraordinary guide, who leads them to the hub of the illegal whiskey trade at Fort Whoop-up.

American Whiskey Traders from Fort Benton, Montana had established a fort near what is now Lethbridge Alberta some years earlier. The fort, called Fort Whoop-up, traded with the natives for hides in exchange for guns and whisky. The fort was well armed and even had a cannon. However, when the traders heard the Mounties were coming, they abandoned the fort. Thus allowing the Mounties to take the fort without a shot fired. Thus began the Mounties reputation thru the epic March West and the successful expulsion of the American Whisky Traders.

In that same year, the NWMP established their base at Fort MacLeod on an island on the Oldman River (located south of Calgary near the town of Fort MacLeod).

1875: Fort Saskachewan, Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh are established

1882: The Mounties get new headquarters:
The Forces' headquarters are transferred from Fort Walsh to Regina. As the Canadian Pacific Railway construction brings more settlers to the west, the Mounties duties included delivering mail, keeping records of births and deaths, as well as weather, they even give farming advice.

1885: The Mounties help put down a Rebellion:
The North west Mounted police assists the militia in quelleing the North West Rebellion and deal with the influx of thousands of settlers

1898: Gold is Discovered, the Mounties maintain Law and Order:
Gold discoveries in the Yukon, bring many ill-equipped fortune seekers. The Mounties check over 7000 boats before the gold-hungry embarked on a perilous trip down the Yukon River to Dawson City. The Mounties needed more people to handle the influx of Gold Seekers. Thus they began a recruitment drive using this now famous poster:

July 1898 Northwest Mounted Police Recruits Wanted Applicants must be between the ages of twenty two and forty, active, able-bodied men of thoroughly sound constitution, and must produce certificates of exemplary character and sobriety. They must understand the care and management of horses: and be able to ride well. The term of engagement is five years. Members of the force are supplied free with rations a free kit on joining, and periodical issues during the term of service. Applications to be made to Recruiting OfficerN.W.M. Police At 677 Main Street, Winnepeg, between the hours of 9am and 6pm

1904: King Edward VII grants the prefix 'Royal' and the force became known as the Royal North West Mounted Police

1914: World War I, the Mounties are part of the war effort both at home and abroad:
World War I saw many Mounties turn into soldiers and were amoungst the bravest in the Canadian contingent overseas. On the homefront, there was growing prejudice against German -origin Canadians. The Mounties were ordered to arrest anyone with German origin who tryed to leave Canada. At the time, the government feared German Canadians would leave to join the German army, and so many were detained in work camps here in Canada.

1916: Mounties begin using cars

1919: Mounties are called in to break up strikes, the most famous of which was in Winnepeg

1920: The Royal North West Mounted Police absorbs the Dominion Police and headquarters are transferred from Regina to Ottawa. The force becomes known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police

1932: The marine division of the RCMP is created

1935: Three German Shepherds become the first canine members of the force

1937: The air section is created

1966: This was the last year that recruits were taught to ride and care for horses. Since then, horses have only been used for the Musical Ride, ceremonial events or public relations.

1974: Women become regular members of the RCMP

1990's: The RCMP become regular members of Canadian Peacekeeping forces: International Policing begins in Haiti, Namibia and the former Yugoslavia.

Sources: Historical information on the RCMP by the Mounted Police Foundation. The Musical Ride of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by William H. Kelly & Nora Hickson Kelly. RCMP Fact Sheets 2000/01.