The North West Mounted Police

On May 30, 1903, six North West Mounted Police (NWMP) officers departed Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, on a journey to the Arctic Ocean. They headed to the whaling communities of the Beaufort Delta, trying to control the effects of the American whalers on the local Inuvialuit and Gwich’in populations. These officers travelled down the Mackenzie River, reporting on the state of the territory as they went. The first permanent post was erected at Fort McPherson. Later that same year, a second post was constructed further north in a sod house on Herschel Island Yukon, establishing Canadian authority in the region. Lessons from the Klondike Gold Rush had shown how effective the NWMP could be in controlling trade between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples. Herschel Island was a base for American whalers hunting whales in Canadian waters since 1889. The whalers were trading, sometimes unscrupulously, with the Inuvialuit and the Gwich’in. The NWMP intended to oversee these relations.

From 1903 to 1919, the Canadian government presence in the North West Territories consisted of the eight NWMP officers based at Fort McPherson. Even though this force was small, they conducted all the Canadian government’s administrative business, including mail service, customs, vital statistics, and 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.” The North West Mounted Police became the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) in 1904 and then the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in 1920. The “Mounties” became symbols of Canadian government authority in the North.

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