The NWMP: Development of Early Canadian Law Enforcement

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The NWMP: Development of Early Canadian Law Enforcement

The creation of the North-West Mounted Police in 1873 was the "ultimate expression of the federal government’s control over policing" (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991, 29). The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), predecessors of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were created by the government of John A. MacDonald to police the prairies. Prior to the development of the NWMP, the only form of law enforcement came from employees of the Hudson Bay Company who had established their own penal code. The purpose of the NWMP was "to protect the ‘Indians’ from Americans and to bring the Queen’s justice to a lawless, dangerous territory" (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991, 30). However, some people contend that the NWMP was created not to aide the Natives but to assimilate them once the fur trade declined (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991). Whatever its purpose, 300 men set out from Manitoba in the summer of 1874 on the "Long March" to stop the "American lawlessness" from spreading (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991).

During the "Long March" the NWMP travelled along the U.S. border "to the den of the American whiskey traders and the source of most of their concern: Fort Hamilton", otherwise known as Fort Whoop-up (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991). Along the way to Fort Whoop-up, groups of Mounties stayed on at pre-designated locations to set up detachments. The final group that arrived at Fort Whoop-up found it deserted except for a small group of Natives. Many claimed that the Americans left out of fear of the Mounties. According to Johnson and Griffiths "the ability of Canada’s Mounted Police to maintain law and order on a vast frontier has become legendary, the quintessential Canadian image" (1991, 30)...

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...ed for murder and Big Bear was given an incarceration term of three years.

The North-West Rebellion in 1885 "merely excaberated the already-deteriorating relationship between the NWMP and the aboriginal peoples of the area" (Johnson & Griffiths: 1991, 35). The mutual respect between the Mounties and Natives diminished with the creation of the Department of Indian Affairs in the early 1880s. The Department’s goals were assimilation and segregation of Natives on reserves, as well as the pass system. The NWMP were the enforcers of these policies and it was only at the end of the Nineteenth Century that the Mounties were given a new mandate with the advent of the Klondike Gold Rush.


Johnson, M., & Griffiths, C. (1991). Canadian Criminology. Toronto: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

RCMP Home Page January, 2000 [].

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