1903 The North West Mounted Police

Even though the North West Mounted Police (they became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920) had been in the Canadian west since 1874 they didn’t establish their first post in the North until 1903. Creating a permanent presence in the north was meant to remove any doubts of Canadian sovereignty over the western Arctic.

American whalers, from their base on Herschel Island (Yukon) (map), had been hunting whales in Canadian waters since 1889 and had been trading, sometimes unscrupulously, with the Inuvialuit and the Gwich’in. Lessons from the Klondike Gold Rush had shown how effective the NWMP could be in controlling trade between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. It was also felt that the north needed a greater Canadian government presence.

On May 30, 1903 six NWMP officers departed Fort Saskatchewan (Alberta) on a journey that would take them as far north as the Arctic Ocean. These officers traveled down the Mackenzie River, detailing the state of the territory as they went. They set up a NWMP post at Fort McPherson and later that same year established a second post further north in a sod house on Herschel Island.

From 1903 to 1919 the only government presence in the NWT consisted of eight NWMP officers based at Fort McPherson and Herschel Island. Even though this force was small, they conducted all the administrative business of the government including mail service, customs, and vital statistics along with their usual police duties. What made them so valuable to Ottawa was their “flexibility, their Espirit de corps, their obedience to central authority, and the fact that they worked harder and for less money than did the regular civil service”.