Mounties Saddle Up
Home Radio Television Curio.ca
CAPH banner left CAPH banner centre CAPH banner right
Pioneers Head West
Mounties Saddle Up
History Home
Mounties Saddle Up
A legendary police force is born on the western frontier.
In 1873, a legendary police force was born when Canada turned its attention to it vast unsettled frontier.
The North West Mounted Police was formed in 1873 to bring Canadian law and order to the immense Northwest Territory - present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
The North West Mounted Police was formed in 1873 to bring Canadian law and order to the immense Northwest Territory - present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

The original members of the North West Mounted Police faced a daunting mission. They had to bring Canadian law and order to the immense Northwest Territory (present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan) with fewer than 300 men.

At the time, the territory was sparsely settled but home to a thriving whiskey trade. Fur traders, many from the United States, brought whiskey to the natives in exchange for buffalo furs. By the early 1870s, more than a dozen "whiskey forts" had been built on Blackfoot territory (what is now southern Alberta) and the native population was mired in alcoholism.

The NWMP - later renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - had exceptional powers. They were soldiers and police at the same time. They also had judicial powers. The constables caught the criminals; the officers tried them.

On July 8, 1874, the first NWMP force left Dufferin, Manitoba and headed to Blackfoot territory. The great "March West" was a grueling journey that lasted more than two months.

When the NWMP arrived in the territory, their first major challenge was to develop relations with the natives. The NWMP offered to help the Blackfoot with the whiskey traders. A Methodist minister, Rev. John Macdougal, was sent to the area to assure the natives that the police came as friends.
The NWMP - later renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - had exceptional powers. The constables caught the criminals and the officers tried them. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)
The NWMP - later renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - had exceptional powers. The constables caught the criminals and the officers tried them. (As portrayed in Canada: A People's History)

"Tribal war was to be suppressed, and whiskey trading, horse stealing and all crimes were to be done away with," Macdougal promised. "I exalted British justice and made much of the equality of men in the eyes of the law."

Though weakened by alcohol and disease, the Blackfoot were still a powerful military force. But the Blackfoot chief Crowfoot decided that he needed an ally, not a war. He accepted the hand of friendship.

"My brother your words make me glad ... We want peace," said Crowfoot. "What you tell us about this strong power which will govern with good law and treat the Indian the same as the Whiteman makes us glad to hear. My brother I believe you and am thankful."

The NWMP quickly imposed law and order in the area. Many of the traders had already fled to the United States after an altercation with the Blackfoot Indians a year earlier. The NWMP chased the rest of the traders back across the border.

The NWMP were proving their worth on Canadas frontier. For the next few years, the NWMP enforced prohibition. They established a network of forts throughout the prairies and urged the natives to sign treaties with the Canadian government.

The early success of the fledgling police force fortified Canadian authority on the western frontier.

The NWMP earned a reputation for developing good relations with the local natives. But they also paved the way for the displacement of the plains Indians by preparing the frontier for the onslaught of white immigration.

top of page



Current Topic:
Mounties Saddle Up

Next Topic:
Marketing the Frontier
Marketing the Frontier
A misleading advertising campaign convinces thousands to head west
read more ...

Tales on the Trails
Following their dreams, pioneers travel a nightmare journey across the Praires.
read more ...

Quebecers in New England
French Canadians flee to the U.S. for work and ignore pleas to settle Canada's West
read more ...

Winnipeg Boomtown
The little prairie town enter a golden age as it becomes the gateway to the West
read more ...

history home | explore the episodes | biographies | teacher resources | bibliography | games and puzzles | sitemap | contact us
cbc home | tv episode summaries | merchandise | press releases | behind the scenes | audio/video

copyright � 2001 CBC