Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The North-West Mounted Police, later known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was formed as the national law enforcement agency of Canada, charged with keeping the peace, serving as a border patrol and customs agency, and supervising treaties with indigenous peoples. The agency was instrumental in the development and westward expansion of Canada.

Summary of Event

The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) were created in 1873 to establish Canadian authority, law, and order in the Northwest Territories (present-day Saskatchewan Saskatchewan and Alberta Alberta ). The agency’s initial duties were to control the illegal whiskey trade, serve as border patrol, and supervise and enforce agreements with First Nations (indigenous) peoples. During Canada’s nineteenth century westward expansion, the NWMP evolved into a national and federal law enforcement agency. Among its additional responsibilities were customs services, federal law enforcement, and contracting to serve as municipal and provincial police in Canada’s western territories and provinces. North-West Mounted Police[NorthWest Mounted Police] Canada;North-West Mounted Police[NorthWest Mounted Police] [kw]Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police (May 23, 1873) [kw]Forms the North-West Mounted Police, Canada (May 23, 1873) [kw]North-West Mounted Police, Canada Forms the (May 23, 1873) [kw]Mounted Police, Canada Forms the North-West (May 23, 1873) [kw]Police, Canada Forms the North-West Mounted (May 23, 1873) North-West Mounted Police[NorthWest Mounted Police] Canada;North-West Mounted Police[NorthWest Mounted Police] [g]Canada;May 23, 1873: Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police[4700] [c]Organizations and institutions;May 23, 1873: Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police[4700] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;May 23, 1873: Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police[4700] [c]Government and politics;May 23, 1873: Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police[4700] [c]Military history;May 23, 1873: Canada Forms the North-West Mounted Police[4700] French, Sir George Arthur Riel, Louis Steele, Samuel Benfield Walsh, James Morrow

Sir John Alexander Macdonald, Macdonald, Sir John Alexander [p]Macdonald, Sir John Alexander[Macdonald, John Alexander];and North-West Mounted Police[NorthWest Mounted Police] the first prime minister of Canada, initiated the formation of the North-West Mounted Police by an act of Parliament on May 23, 1873. The primary purpose of the NWMP was to assert Canadian sovereignty and ensure law and order. Magisterial authority was conferred on the NWMP by having the commanding officer sworn in as justice of the peace in the territory under his jurisdiction. Sir George Arthur French was appointed to organize the NWMP in September, 1873, and began selecting officers and recruiting members. On July 8, 1874, Commissioner French French, Sir George Arthur , with 275 mounted officers and men, left Dufferin, Manitoba, for the historic March West to present-day southern Alberta Alberta , where they arrived in October, 1874.

The NWMP struck first at the illegal whiskey traders who had settled at Fort Whoop-Up (officially Fort Hamilton) near Lethbridge, Alberta. Acting on a native’s complaint about the high-priced, outlawed Whoop-Up Bug Juice (alcohol spiked with ginger, molasses, and red pepper, then boiled with black chewing tobacco to make “firewater”), the NWMP rounded up and punished the perpetrators, thus establishing Canadian authority in the Alberta-U.S. borderlands.

The Mounties, as the NWMP troops came to be known, were successful in establishing good relations with the First Nations peoples in the Northwest Territories. In 1876, the Sioux chief Sitting Bull Sitting Bull [p]Sitting Bull;flight to Canada and thousands of his followers escaped the U.S. military by fleeing across the U.S.-Canada border into southern Saskatchewan Saskatchewan , settling in the area of Wood Mountain. Officer James M. Walsh and his unit were assigned to watch over the encamped Sioux and keep the peace. Walsh earned Sitting Bull’s trust and friendship and was able to maintain peaceful relations, though he could never persuade Sitting Bull to return to the United States.

The NWMP established a patrol system and assigned law enforcement detachments throughout the region. In 1870, the force helped to put down the First Riel Riel Rebellion, First (1869-1870) Rebellion of 1869-1870, led by Louis Riel, leader of the Metis people, a multiracial First Nations tribe made up of descendants of French and British trappers and traders who married Indian women. In 1870, when the British parliament merged the Hudson’s Bay Company Hudson’s Bay Company[Hudsons Bay Company];and Rupert’s Land[Ruperts Land] (HBC) land holdings of Rupert’s Land with the Canadian colony in Ontario, Riel led the Metis into battle against the NWMP, declared a provisional government, and ultimately set the terms under which the province of Manitoba Manitoba joined the Canadian Confederation. Because he executed Thomas Scott during the First Riel Rebellion, Riel was forced into exile in the United States. While in exile, he was elected three times to the Canadian House of Commons, but he never assumed his seat.

In 1884, Riel returned to Canada’s Saskatchewan Saskatchewan province and led the Metis in another resistance movement. This resistance escalated into the Second Riel Riel Rebellion, Second (1885) Rebellion (also called the Northwest Rebellion) of 1885, in which the NWMP, under the command of Superintendent Samuel Benfield Steele and aided by Canadian army troops sent in by railroad, defeated the Metis. The last battle was fought when Steele’s group of Mounties engaged Big Bear’s rebels on the shores of Loon Lake. The Metis’s leader, Riel, was convicted of treason and hanged on November 16, 1885, ending the rebellion and the Metis provisional government.

Member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during the early twentieth century.

(Library of Congress)

In 1895, the Yukon Territory Yukon Territory was added to the NWMP’s jurisdiction. In 1896, the discovery of gold along the Klondike Klondike gold rush River brought thousands of miners into the area that extended from present-day Dawson City into Alaska. Alaska;gold rush Steele became commanding officer in the Yukon and served from July, 1898, to September, 1899. Under his leadership, the Mounties maintained law and order during the Klondike gold rush, ran the mails, organized firefighters, installed drainage and sanitary systems, and ensured a pure water supply for Dawson City. The NWMP’s success made possible Canada’s dominion over the Yukon Territory, which was established officially by the Yukon Act of June 13, 1898.

In 1896, the Canadian government began encouraging settlement of the Western prairies by offering free land and cost of passage to Europeans. By the end of the nineteenth century, a flood of new settlers had arrived. Among them were Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Hungarians, Germans, Mennonites, Mennonites and Icelanders. Additional settlers from Ontario Ontario;emigration from and the western United States added to the growing population of the Western prairies. The NWMP assisted this development by ensuring the safety and welfare of the settlers, fighting disease, poverty, and prairie fires Fires;prairie that threatened the early settlements.

The Mounties on horseback in their colorful uniforms became the dominant image associated with Canada all over the world. The NWMP uniforms featured red serge tunics in the standard British military style. At first, the NWMP wore buff trousers, but later they adopted dark blue trousers with yellow-gold stripes in the British cavalry tradition. The British foreign service helmet (pith helmet) proved to be impractical in the Canadian west, and frontier Mounties preferred the wide flat brim Stetson hat for camp and patrol wear. The NWMP contingent that paraded at Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee also wore the Stetson, although it was not adopted officially until 1904. Black riding boots were later changed to brown, and black cross belts were changed to the still-worn Sam Brown belts. Weapons, though not used often in the early years, soon became standard gear. The Mounties would come to call their organization “the Force” and to refer to one another as “members of the Force.”

The Musical Ride, a ceremonial tradition developed by the NWMP members to display their riding skills, began in 1886. The maneuvers to music were drawn from the cavalry’s precision drills. The first officially recorded Musical Ride was performed in Regina in 1887, under Inspector William George Matthews. Musical Ride performances have attracted large audiences throughout Canada. After the NWMP’s name was changed to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP) in June, 1904, the Musical Ride was performed in many international arenas.


The North-West Mounted Police was instrumental in Canada’s westward expansion during the nineteenth century. By providing law and order, border security, assistance to immigrants, and supervision of First Nations’ treaties with the Canadian government, the NWMP provided the peace that was essential to Canada’s successful development and expansion to the west. By operating as both a law enforcement agency and a military force, the NWMP was able to assert Canadian authority over the Canadian territories and maintain the peace necessary for growth and stability in the Northwest Territories.

As the Northwest Territories grew in population, Canada was able to establish in 1905 two new provinces, Alberta Alberta;provincial status Saskatchewan;provincial status and Saskatchewan. The NWMP, having been renamed the Royal Northwest Mounted Police in 1904 by British king Edward VII (r. 1901-1910), was given responsibility for law enforcement in the new provinces. In the reorganization of federal police in 1920, the RNWMP absorbed the Dominion Police and became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The RCMP was assigned responsibility for federal law enforcement in all provinces and territories of Canada. The Canadian regions policed by the RCMP were the Atlantic (Newfoundland, Newfoundland;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] New Brunswick;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Labrador Quebec;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Ontario;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Manitoba;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Saskatchewan;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] British Columbia;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Alberta;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Yukon Territory Nova Scotia;and Royal Canadian Mounted Police[Royal Canadian Mounted Police] Labrador, Prince Edward Island Prince Edward Island , Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick), central (Quebec and Ontario), Northwestern region (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nunavit, and Northwest Territories), and Pacific (British Columbia and Yukon Territory). The RCMP, successor to the NWMP, eventually became the largest police force in Canada, with more than twenty-two thousand members.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beahan, William, and Stanley Horrall. Red Coats on the Prairies: The North-West Mounted Police, 1886-1900. Regina, Sask.: Centax Books, 1998. Relates activities of the NWMP in the new settlements and among the First Nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cruise, David, and Alison Griffiths. The Great Adventure: How the Mounties Conquered the West. Toronto: Viking Press, 1996. Comprehensive account of the creation of the NWMP in 1873 and of the March West in 1874.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dobrowolsky, Helene. Law of the Yukon: A Pictorial History of the Mounted Police in the Yukon. Whitehorse, Y.T.: Lost Moose, 1995. Describes the NWMP role in policing the Klondike gold rush.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Macleod, Rod. The North-West Mounted Police and Law Enforcement, 1873-1905. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976. Recounts the story of the NWMP in the context of the early development and settlement of western Canada.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, Jim. A Trying Time. Winnipeg, Man.: Bunker to Bunker Books, 1998. Describes the NWMP’s role in the Northwest Rebellion of 1884-1885.

Fraser River Gold Rush Begins

First Riel Rebellion

Dominion Lands Act Fosters Canadian Settlement

Canada’s Mackenzie Era

Canada’s Indian Act

Macdonald Returns as Canada’s Prime Minister

Second Riel Rebellion Begins

Klondike Gold Rush Begins

Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Nineteenth Century, 1801-1900</i>

Sir John Alexander Macdonald; Alexander Mackenzie; Louis Riel; Sitting Bull. North-West Mounted Police[NorthWest Mounted Police] Canada;North-West Mounted Police[NorthWest Mounted Police]

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