From the year 1873 onwards there has been in existence a force of a military character operating in Western Canada, under the control of the Dominion Government, which has established for itself a reputation which is world wide.
At the time the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory was taken over by the Government of Canada, the early settlers who went West required, it was thought, the protection that could only be afforded by a force of constabulary. Statutory power was granted to the Governor in Council under an Act passed in 1873 to constitute a Police Force in and for the North-West Territories. This Act provided that the number of the force should not exceed in the whole the number of 300 men, a portion of whom were to be mounted, and that the duty of the force should be (1) ” To perform all duties assigned in relation to the preservation of the peace, the prevention of crime, and of offences against the laws and Ordinances in force in the NorthWest Territories ; (2) To attend upon any Judge, Stipendary Magistrate or Justice of the Peace, when required, and, subject to the Commissioner or Superintendent, all duties and services in relation thereto, which may, under this Act, or the laws or Ordinances in force in the North-West Territories, lawfully be performed by constables ; (3) To perform all duties which may be lawfully performed by constables in relation to the escort and conveyance of convicts and other prisoners or lunatics, to or from any Courts, places of punishment or confinement, asylums or other places.
The force was organised by Major-General Sir George Arthur French, who became its first Commissioner, and in the following year commanded an expedition sent from the Red River to the Rocky Mountains by the Canadian Government. Subsequently the command was taken over by Lieutenant-Colonel A. G. Irvine, the Assistant Commissioner, who in turn was succeeded by Colonel L. W. Herchmer. The present Commissioner, Colonel A. B. Perry, was the first graduate of the Royal Military College, Kingston, Ontario, after its foundation, later becoming a Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers. On retiring from the Army he was appointed Inspector in the Police and was promoted Superintendent in recognition of his services with the force during the North-West Rebellion in 1885. The force is administered, under the supervision of the Prime Minister, by a Comp-troller at Ottawa, whose office forms one of the Departments of the Government at Ottawa, and who ranks as a Deputy Minister.
The Commanding Officer, having the title of Commissioner, has his headquarters at Regina. There are also two assistant commissioners, eleven superintendents, thirty-one inspectors, five surgeons and assistant-surgeons, eleven staff-sergeants, forty-six sergeants, sixty-four corporals, three hundred and seventy-two constables and eighty-five special constables, making a total of six hundred and fifty one.
The various detachments into which the force is divided cover an enormous stretch of territory, including the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Yukon Territory, and the districts of Mackenzie and Keewatin, which two latter form part of what are now known as the North-West Territories. One detachment in the Keewatin district is actually on the Arctic Ocean, no less than 2,500 miles from headquarters, involving a period of two months for the journey.
The main strength of the force is, however, stationed in the southern portion, to the south of the two provinces first named.
Candidates for enlistment as constables must be British subjects between the ages of twenty two and thirty, intelligent, active, able-bodied men of thoroughly sound constitution, sober and steady, and must produce certificates of exemplary character from reliable persons. They must be able to read and write either the English or French language, have some knowledge of the care and management of horses, and be able to ride. The term of engagement is five years, but the Commanding Officer has repeatedly recommended that it be reduced to three. A ‘recruit of less than three months’ service may claim his discharge on payment of fifty dollars, but after that period it is only granted as a special privilege and on payment of three dollars per month of the unexpired term of service, with a minimum payment of fifty dollars.
Extra pay is allowed to a limited number of blacksmiths, horseshoers, carpenters and other artisans. Members of the force are supplied with free rations, free uniforms and necessaries on joining and periodical issues during service. The minimum height of recruits is 5 feet 8 inches, the minimum chest measurement 35 inches, and the maximum weight 175 pounds. Non-commissioned officers and constables on discharge, after completing twenty years’ service, or, who have completed not less than fifteen years’ service and are incapacitated, are entitled to receive a pension. The standard of requirements is very high, and the medical examination of candidates a strict one. Unless intending recruits are convinced that they are thoroughly sound and fit for service it is unwise of them to incur the expense of preceeding to Regina, which is the only point at which enlistment takes place.
The nature of the duties performed by the Royal North West Mounted Police is most varied, and when it is realised that the annual number of convictions of various kinds within their jurisdiction during the past three years is almost 6,000, it is obvious that they are kept fully employed. A list of general headings under which convictions were obtained, in itself indicates to a large extent the wide scope of the duties of the force :offences against the person ; property ; public order ; religion and morals ; misleading justice ; corruption and disobedience ; Railway Act ; Customs Act ; Indian Act ; Animals’ Contagious Diseases Act ; Fisheries Act ; Dominion Lands Act ; Election Act ; Rocky Mountain Park Regulations ; Militia Act ; Inland Revenue Act ; Penitentiary Act ; Lord’s Day Act ; Manitoba Grain Act ; Trades Union Act ; Provincial Statutes and Ordinances.
There are, besides, the duties of providing common gaol accommodation almost throughout the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta and rendering important assistance to several of the Dominion Government Departments such as the Department of the Interior, the Customs Department, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Indian Affairs. For the most part, however, the patrol work, the detection and suppression of crime and other duties ordinarily associated with a force of the kind are the matters which particularly occupy the attention of the Police.
There are, however, many duties of a different character which are performed, one of the most pleasant of which is that of providing guards of honour for distinguished visitors to the North-West, and His Majesty King George, Prince Fushimi of Japan, and many of those who have held the position of Governor-General, have spoken in highly complimentary terms of the smartness and efficiency of the force. On one occasion during Prince Fushimi’s trip through Canada in 1907, the programme which had been arranged for a certain day did not meet with his Highness’ approval, and he set it aside to go fishing in a boat with a corporal belonging to the Bank-head detachment of the Police. The corporal was well provided with flies and hooks, and at the first cast the Prince drew out two fish on one hook which caused him to laugh heartily, for the first time (according to his staff) since leaving Quebec.
Prior to the formation of the province of Saskatchewan and Alberta out of the enormous stretch of territory between Manitoba and the Rocky Mountains, the maintenance of law and order in that section of Canada rested with the Dominion Government, and was delegated to the Royal NorthWest Mounted Police. When the new Provincial Governments were formed, it became their duty to take over the responsibility, but by an agreement arrived at in 1906 the two provinces arranged to contribute a portion of the cost of maintaining the force, the control to remain with the Dominion Government as hitherto. The arrangement has worked in a satisfactory way, and appears to have proved very advantageous from all points of view.
Innumerable instances of strenuous duties admirably performed by members of the force could be given, but one or two will suffice. A sergeant immediately on his return from a northern patrol received a communication from an Indian living at Fort McKay on the Athabasca River, requesting him to come and take charge of his insane son who had become violent and dangerous. Although his train dogs were not in a fit condition to make another long journey, he hired others, and travelled from his northern post of Fort Chippewyan amid heavy snowstorms. Having provided the unfortunate lunatic with suitable clothing and prepared him for the journey, the sergeant journeyed from Fort McKay to Lac-la-Biche, and notwithstanding the absence of a trail and a heavy snowstorm, succeeded eventually in reaching Fort Saskatchewan, where he handed over his charge to the proper authorities. Mention was made that the trip was the most difficult he had ever undertaken, owing to very deep snow and inclement weather. In addition to these difficulties, the lunatic was so violent for the greater part of the journey that he had to be strapped to the sledge on which he was being conveyed. It can be readily imagined that the experience was an extremely terrible one for his conductor, yet the sergeant’s formal report of the incident was made in the most matter-of-fact terms.
In another similar case, where a constable stationed at Fort Chippewyan had to conduct an insane prisoner to Fort Saskatchewan, he became violently insane himself as the result of the hardships of his trip and his anxiety for the safety of his charge. After a period of treatment and of special leave, he recovered and returned to duty.
Another instance of heroic work performed by a member of the force is that in which Corporal D. B. Smith, who was stationed at Norway House to the north of Lake Winnipeg, aided the unfortunate inhabitants of that neighbourhood when a severe epidemic of diptheria and scarlet fever occurred there in 1904. This non-commissioned officer undertook to supply them with food, disinfect their houses, help to care for their sick, and buried the dead. Without his aid things would have undoubtedly gone badly with the afflicted settlement.
The moral effect of such a force, thoroughly organised, splendidly disciplined, with all the power of the Dominion Government behind it, has from the very first been undoubted, both by its influence in keeping down lawless tendencies, and in serving to exemplify to the homesteader and the new corner in the West that his interests were being carefully safeguarded.
The ordinary scope of the duties performed by the Mounted Police has been outlined above, but it remains to speak of the new phase of work which has been allotted to it in recent times. In 1903 the field of operations was considerably widened, a detachment of five men under the command of Superintendent Moodie being selected to accompany a Government expedition to Hudson’s Bay. Another expedition was despatched to the Arctic Ocean under the command of Superintendent Constantine, and one of the members (Sergeant Fitzgerald) established a detachment at Herschel Island, eighty miles north-west of the mouth of the Mackenzie River in the Arctic Ocean. The establishment of outposts of this character shows that a determination exists to enforce the law of the country at whatever cost or however remote the district. Besides the detachment working in the Arctic, there is another small force operating along the Western shores of Hudson’s Bay. Yet another piece of pioneer work undertaken by the force, was the construction not long since of a pack trail from Fort St. John in British Columbia to the Yukon Territory through the Peace River district.
The latest report of the Commanding Officer speaks of the many pressing applications which he is receiving from points all over the Western Provinces for the establishment of new detachments ; and points out that if he were to meet the demands made upon him, the present strength of the force which, as before stated, numbers 651 officers, non-commissioned officers and constables, would have to be doubled. He adds that the ” development of the Western Provinces will go on even more rapidly than before, and the Police requirements must increase.”
At the time of the South African war, several of the officers, noncommissioned officers and men were granted leave to join the mounted regiments which went out from Canada, and the services they performed were of the utmost value. The nature of their duties in the Dominion naturally enabled them to cope with the work for which they were required, and their example was a valuable asset to regiments formed in a comparatively short space of time.
The force has all along been largely recruited from young Englishmen, as the life does not, in the opportunities at present offered by the rapidly expanding western country, appeal at all strongly to the Canadian.