Serving the Nation
NWMP at end of CPR tracks, Golden, B.C., 1886
Canada's boundaries were extended in 1870 with the acquisition of Rupert's Land -- the entire drainage basin of Hudson's Bay, formerly owned by the Hudson's Bay Company. The federal government now had to exert authority over these vast territories. The creation of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was, in part, one element of a larger plan to prepare the western prairies for settlement and the development of agriculture, and to extend Canadian sovereignty from coast to coast.
Maintaining law and order was certainly a priority, but for the first 10 or 15 years of its existence, the NWMP was the predominant, if not the sole, federal authority in the Territories. Members assumed responsibilities usually carried out by other officials. They played a significant role in the development of western Canadian society. What follows is a description of their "other" duties.
Civil Servants in Red Serge
Before the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was completed, mail delivery in the Northwest Territories was irregular. Mail for the Mounted Police was carried through the United States to Fort Benton, Montana, and then overland to Fort Walsh. From there, it was distributed to the various forts and detachments. Any civilian mail traveled the same route. Mounted policemen often delivered the mail once it arrived in Canada, especially in the years prior to the North West Rebellion in 1885.
George A. Kennedy, surgeon, served 1878-1887
Mail delivery from eastern Canada to the Prairies certainly improved with the completion of the railway, but the mounted policeman as mail carrier continued, especially in isolated areas, well into the 1890s. The patrol system made the policemen familiar with settlers' residences. Their knowledge of the community -- which, on the Prairies and in the Yukon, extended over hundreds of thousands of miles -- was extraordinary.
As early as 1884, members were sworn in as employees of the Post Office in order to serve as mail clerks on the trains running west from Moose Jaw to the mountains, in part to protect the mails, but also to work as postal employees. This unusual practice continued until the Post Office extended the postal system, including the use of railway mail clerks, to western Canada in 1885 and 1886. Similar work was done in the Yukon.
Their deep familiarity with their communities made the NWMP the logical choice for census taking. As early as 1879, the police took a census of for the government, repeated for the 1881 and 1891 ten-year censuses. In 1885 and 1895, the force prepared a report on the number of First Nations, non-First Nations, and Métis people, the area of land under cultivation, and the numbers of livestock. Since members of the Mounted Police had a thorough knowledge of local populations on and off reserves, taking responsibility for the census only made good sense. Members earned a few extra dollars as enumerators. In the Yukon, the Mounted Police helped federal census takers in 1901. In one instance, two constables from Dalton Detachment made a 964-km round trip to record a small group of Native people.
Letter of engagement of "Stick Sam," Tagish, Yukon, October 16, 1899
The NWMP's detailed knowledge of the landscape made them the logical customs agents for the government. Soon after they were established in 1873, the force began collecting customs duties on goods brought into Canada. Fort Walsh was declared a port of entry. In 1880, the Mounted Police collected more than $17,000 in duties, while Canada's "red-coated" customs agents at Fort Macleod reported returns exceeding $15,000.
Expansion of the patrol system after 1886 was, in part, in response to increased smuggling along the international border. The Mounted Police were concerned that liquor was being smuggled into the Territories, but more importantly, that legitimate goods were being imported without duties being paid. In an unusual move, a squad of mounted policemen was dispatched to Manitoba in 1888-89 to extend customs surveillance along the American border.
In September 1889, Mackenzie Bowell, Minister of Customs, traveled the entire length of the international border to see for himself the challenges faced by the Mounted Police in enforcing customs regulations. He was suitably impressed, but the department soon appointed its own officials, thus relieving the NWMP from collecting duties. This allowed the police to concentrate on the law enforcement aspects of the smuggling problem.
Members of the NWMP also acted as customs agents in the Yukon. The first mounted policemen set foot in the Yukon in 1894. They were Inspector Charles Constantine and Sergeant Charles Brown, acting as official agents of the Department of Customs. Brown collected duties at Dawson through the winter of 1894-95. When the Gold Rush began a few years later, the NWMP served as customs officers on the Chilkoot Pass and elsewhere until departmental officials arrived on the scene. The Mounted Police patrolled wherever miners were working. They controlled the movement of people over the Chilkoot Pass and by boat from Whitehorse to Dawson.
Mounted Police Escort on the occasion of the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (the Duke was later King George V), Vancouver, British Columbia, 1901
In addition to carrying the mail, taking the census and acting as customs agents, the Mounted Police also undertook escort duties for viceregal and other important visitors to the territories. In 1881, Governor General Lord Lorne decided to see the West for himself. In early July, Sergeant Major Lake and 21 non-commissioned officer (NCOs) and men left Fort Walsh for Qu'Appelle where they met the viceregal party and escorted it to Battleford and Fort Macleod. They arrived on September 17 and were met by an honour guard commanded by Inspector Francis Dickens. The NWMP then escorted the Governor General to Fort Shaw in the United States. In the course of a 17-day tour, the group covered almost 2,000 km. The members not only provided an escort; they pitched tents, foraged for wood, and hunted game for their guests. Lorne was impressed. When Commissioner Irvine asked for assistance to increase the number of Mounted Policemen, the Governor General readily agreed and lobbied Sir John A. Mcdonald upon his return to Ottawa. In the spring of 1882, the authorized strength of the NWMP was increased by 200.
More visitors followed in the years ahead. Governor General Lord Lansdowne toured the Prairies in September 1886. In 1887, Sir John and Lady Macdonald crossed the Prairies en route to British Columbia. In 1889, Lord and Lady Stanley made the grand tour under the watchful eyes of their Mounted Police escorts. They visited Depot Division at Regina, Lethbridge, the Blood Indian reserve, and various ranches in the Fort Macleod area, Calgary and Edmonton. Members of the NWMP made all the local arrangements, from setting up nightly camps to providing the band at a gala ball in Banff.
It was now customary for Governors General to visit the Prairies. Lord and Lady Aberdeen toured in 1894. In 1901, Lord Minto walked the old Northwest Rebellion battleground at Batoche with Sergeant William Armer (1874) who was subsequently in charge of the escorts for the tour of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to Banff in 1901. It was on Lord Minto's urging that King Edward VII conferred the title "Royal" on the NWMP in June 1904. Minto was a keen supporter of the Mounted Police and in December 1904, he was named the first Honorary Commissioner.