Secret Life of Canada

How Mountie mythology helped create a romantic vision of Canada

The Secret Life of Canada explores how Canadian Mounties became cultural heroes. They explore the image of the Mountie in early Hollywood, what Irish and Indian resistance to British rule has to do with it, and why young Canada felt a greater need for policing in the West.

"The Mounties Always Get Their Land (Part 1)" now available

North-West Mounted Police officers of the "B" Division, circa 1900. (Library and Archives Canada)

The Mountie is one of Canada's most enduring symbols. Found on souvenirs from key chains to clothing, our national police force are icons to the rest of the world — which makes The Secret Life of Canada wonder: how did that happen?

In part one of The Mounties Always Get Their Land, Leah and Falen look for the roots of a romanticized story and dive into early Hollywood to find the answer. 
 
Then, with the help of Dr. Winona Wheeler, they investigate the foundations of the North-West Mounted Police, the deep history of law enforcement in the Canadian West and how early policing days created a complex relationship with Indigenous people that, for better or worse, continues on to this day.

Part one. 

The Mountie is one Canada’s most enduring symbols. Found on souvenirs from keychains to dish towels, our national police force are icons to the rest of the world. Weird, right? In this episode, we try to figure out how this happened and talk about: the image of the Mountie in early Hollywood, what Irish and Indian resistance to British rule has to do with it, and why young Canada felt a greater need for policing in the West. With the help of Dr. Winona Wheeler, we dive into the early years of the North-West Mounted Police (precursor to the RCMP) and look at their complex relationship with Indigenous people that, for better or worse, continues to this day. *Warning, strong language and content. 44:18


Listen for:
  • An interview with Dr. Winona Wheeler, an associate professor of Indigenous Studies from the University of Saskatchewan, on the early history of the North-West Mounted Police.
  • How Canada's first police force, The Dominion Police got started.
  • Why Canada used the policing model from Ireland, and how Great Britain's use of India's police force also inspired young Canada as a prototype.
  • A very brief history of Cypress Hill and how the massacre that happened there became catalyst in the solidifying the North-West Mounted police.
  • How John A. Macdonald wanted to use the North-West Mounted police as law enforcers, and treaty negotiators — which meant dispossessing Indigenous people of their land.
  • Why the vast Canadian West, or modern day Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, became a focus for the police and Canadian government and how genocidal tactics were used to debilitate First Nations and Métis people.
  • The role of Cree leaders like Chief Big Bear, Poundmaker, Little Pine, Lucky Man and the signing of Treaty Six.
  • The police role in banning Indigenous meetings, feasts and ceremonies like the Sun Dance and Potlatch.
  • Why early novels and Hollywood movies adopted the Canadian Mountie as a protagonist, and what Victorian nostalgia had to do with it. 

Key References

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