Ever since I was a child I would see the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and think, “Wow! Our national police force is beyond cool!”
Today, I still think that. The Mounties definitely know how put on a good horse show and parade.
Located throughout every province and territory, the RCMP are there to “stand on guard for thee.” Before the RCMP came into existence, there was the Western Frontier Constabulary, founded in 1864, followed by the Dominion Police, founded in 1868. These protected Southern and Eastern Canada.
Establishing a northern police force became a priority after the Dominion of Canada purchased the Northwest Territories from the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1870.
The Northwest Mounted Police were formed in 1873 under the instruction of Sir John A. Macdonald with headquarters in Regina, Saskatchewan.
Because the Dominion of Canada had bought the land in the North West, the growing nation needed a policing division to control borders between Alaska and Canada, as well as keep the peace and uphold the law amongst inhabitants of Western Canada.
Their jurisdiction was extended to include the Yukon Territory in 1895. That’s when the Northwest Mounted Police were brought into the icy, wild west of the Yukon. Men between the ages of 20 and 40 were considered to be the best candidates, but still had to undergo physical and intelligence tests in order to join the service. After all, it takes a lot of courage to deal with the rugged north lands and its unpredictable wildlife. In the Yukon, the Northwest Mounted Police set up posts from Tagish all the way up to Dawson City.
When the Klondike gold rush hit, these officers had to work extra hard patrolling the influx of gold diggers. It is reported that between 1896 and 1899, almost 100,000 people passed through Dawson in search of gold.
Patrolling posts were set up at the Chilkoot Trail and extended all the way over to the White Pass. One of the main tasks of the Mounties was to make sure people were bringing enough supplies to last them all winter.
By the time 1898 rolled around, the gold rush was in full effect and the Northwest Mounted Police found themselves in need of more men. The Yukon Field Force unit, comprising 203 officers and men, was Stationed in Fort Selkirk. In October of that year a detachment of two officers and 50 other ranks were sent in to assist the Mounties in Dawson with a Maxim gun in order to guard gold shipments among other things. Together these two forces were able to monitor the safety of the growing crowds.
While the understaffed issue may have been solved, the uniform issues were not. The standard Mountie uniforms as we know them today were not cutting it in the severe Yukon winters. According to an excerpt from an 1898 Report of the Northwest Mounted Police (found online at www.VirtualMuseum.ca) “the fur caps were not suitable as they do not pull down over the ears and are too heavy. The present uniform of serves, breeches and boots looks well, but cannot be used for boat or general river or lakes.”
In many cases the officers relied on clothing made by the First Nation people to keep them warm. According to the Virtual Museum website, “Many Mounties adopted the clothing of the local First Nations people; fur-trimmed coats, hide mitts and mukluks.”
According to the Library and Archives Canada website “In 1920, the RNWMP (Royal North West Mounted Police) absorbed the Dominion Police and became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and was responsible for federal law enforcement in all provinces and territories.”
Today the Yukon division of the RCMP is called M division. The divisional RCMP Yukon headquarters is in Whitehorse located on 4th Avenue at Elliott St.
And while policing is the main task of the RCMP, the officers are also very much involved with community events.
“This often means coaching sports, helping to cut firewood, plowing out the rink, participating in annual hunts, sharing meals and coffee with Elders, delivering prescriptions and offering rides to make sure everyone gets home safely,” says Coralee Reid, director of strategic communications for the Yukon RCMP M Division.
The Showy Side of the RCMP
Yukon RCMP officers will be marching in the annual Canada Parade on Main Street on July 1 at 11 a.m. There will also be an RCMP Musical Ride sweeping through Canada in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary. The tour stops in Whitehorse on Aug. 12 and 13 and will be held at the Cross Country Ski Club – 1 Sumanik Drive. For more information about the ride or to purchase tickets you can visit the North Ridge Community Association website.