British Columbia

'This is not, in fact, an RCMP uniform': Historian weighs in on Mounties' trademark dispute with pot shop

The owner of a Cranbrook cannabis store is sticking to his guns in a trademark dispute with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as a historian specializing in the story of famous Mountie Sam Steele weighs in on the issue.

Police asked owner of Jimmy's Cannabis store to remove image of famous Mountie Sam Steele

The RCMP has claimed this image of Sam Steele violates its trademark on the Mounties' uniform, but a historian is now arguing the image doesn't even show Steele as a Mountie. (Jeff Weaver)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police say an image of famous Mountie Sam Steele used as a B.C. pot shop window covering violates its trademark, but an owner of Jimmy's Cannabis store plans to keep the image up, and a historian says Steele isn't even wearing the Mounties' uniform.

The trouble started for Jimmy's owner Jeff Weaver on Thursday — the day the new Cranbrook store opened — when a local RCMP officer paid a visit and asked Weaver to remove the image of Steele.

Weaver said he initially planned to do as he was asked, as he meant no disrespect and intended the image, in part, as a tribute to the RCMP and their history in the area.

But he soon had second thoughts, as he balked at the cost of a replacement — about $1,000, by Weaver's estimate — and he reconsidered the RCMP's claim.

Now, a University of Alberta professor emeritus of history and classics who has written a recent biography of the legendary Mountie is weighing in on the issue, claiming the image in question does not even depict the trademarked uniform.

Sam Steele of the North-West Mounted Police, in Dawson City, Yukon, 1898. (Bruce Peel Special Collections Library, University of Alberta)

According to Rod Macleod, author of Sam Steele: A Biography, the uniform the mustachioed Steele is wearing on the Cannabis Store window could not have been that of the North-West Mounted Police (a precursor to the the RCMP), as Steele is sporting multiple medals on his chest that were earned during his work in South Africa, after he left the NWMP.

The RCMP kept the iconic red serge uniform — replete with blue pants with the yellow stripe and tan Stetson hat — that was developed by the NWMP in the late 19th century.

Steele left the NWMP after 1899, according to Macleod, and became commander of the new Lord Strathcona's Horse which fought in the Second Boer War in Southern Africa. Macleod said the former Mountie personally designed the regiment's uniform, which largely drew on that of the NWMP.

They both use a red tunic, which aside from the colour doesn't stand out as unusual for a traditional military uniform. They both include blue pants with a yellow stripe, and members of Lord Strathcona's Horse also donned the Stetson hat.

Rod Macleod, professor emeritus of history and classics at the University of Alberta, says the image of Sam Steele used by Jimmy's Cannabis was not taken during Steele's service in the NWMP. (Submitted by Rod Macleod)

But in the photo on Jimmy's Cannabis store, which is stylized as an etching, Steele isn't wearing a hat, his pants aren't visible, and it's black and white, so colour of the tunic isn't apparent. Furthermore, as Macleod observed, the telltale decorations on Steele's chest reveal that the original photo could not have been taken while the subject was serving as a Mountie.

"I realized that this is not, in fact, an RCMP uniform," said Macleod after taking a look at the image. "The cross Steele is wearing in the photo is the Royal Victorian Order, which he was awarded in 1901 when Lord Strathcona's Horse left South Africa."

Macleod said the only medal Steele would have worn as a Mountie was awarded after his participation in the 1885 North-West Rebellion. In the image he's decorated with six medals.

On Monday, a national spokesperson for the RCMP responded to CBC News' questions about the issue, saying the force still has a problem with the use of Steele's image at Jimmy's.

"The name, image and marks of the RCMP are protected under the intellectual property laws of Canada. Permission must be obtained for any use of our protected marks. In this case no request was submitted," read the RCMP statement.

"The RCMP is prohibited from engaging in or being portrayed in any way that could give the impression that we are advertising or endorsing a private individual or business," it continued.

Weaver hasn't been told the RCMP request has anything to do with the nature of his cannabis business, but he suspects it does.

Macleod pointed out that cannabis wouldn't have been subject to any law enforcement during Steele's career with the Mounties, as it wasn't made illegal until 1923.

"Frankly, I think the RCMP should lighten up a little bit on this one," said Macleod.


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About the Author

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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