History of the Canadian Mounted Police

History of the Canadian Mounted Police Blog Header
History of the Canadian Mounted Police Blog Header

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are unique because they encompass national, federal, provincial and municipal responsibilities. From its founding in 1873 with 150 officers, it's grown to over 28,000 today.

It began as a central police service, called the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), with the task of preserving order and maintaining safety. One year later, 275 recruits headed to Cypress Hills in southern Alberta to restore peace after violent attacks and the burgeoning whiskey trade. After accomplishing this, they begin treaty negotiations with the First Nations.  

A post was established at Fort Macleod, and the service was distributed there, among Fort Edmonton, and the headquarters in Fort Pelly, Saskatchewan. Two more posts, Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh, were set up the following summer.

Things went well for the next ten years and the service became instrumental at the Klondike Gold Rush and helped homesteaders find their land while smoothing relations between First Nations and settlers. The job of the Mounties was diverse, as they served as magistrates, collected information on soil conditions, delivered mail and even put out prairie fires.

In 1920 the service merged with the Dominion Police and became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, headquartered at Regina, Saskatchewan. By 1932 the RCMP had 2,350 officers and the area they policed included Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The provincial policing service expanded in 1950 to include Newfoundland and British Columbia.

Thirty-two women joined the service in 1974 as RCMP constables. While they began in skirts and high heels, in 1989 the uniform for women became the same as that for men. The basic Stetson hat, distinctive red tunic, navy breeches, high boots and Sam Browne belt make the members of the RCMP recognizable anywhere.

The uniform was, from its inception, designed in a simple, no-frills style. Sir John A. MacDonald, the first prime minister of Canada, wanted the uniform to reflect the efficiency and professionalism of the service. The design evolved over the years, with cumbersome unpopular elements like the helmet gradually discarded, replaced by the more serviceable Stetson. The distinguishing scarlet tunic has remained the same, however.

Horses have always played a major role in the RCMP, and the Musical Ride is known all over the world. It is performed with 32 riders and horses, following an intricate drill of movements set to music. The horses are all black and undergo training for over two years before they are ready for the show. RCMP members have to have at least two years of service experience to apply for a position in the Musical Ride. The first female participated in 1981, and 32 years later 18 out of 32 were women.

The riders perform in May and October, raising money for non-profits while preserving the history of the mounted police and their equine companions. The Musical Ride was first performed in the winter of 1887, then resumed in 1901 and continued until the beginning of the first World War in 1914. The Rides began again in 1920 and expanded to England and the United States by 1934. The Second World War halted the performances until 1948, then they began again.

Currently, the Musical Ride performs at 40 locations every year, touring throughout Canada and internationally.

Today’s RCMP has responsibilities in eight provinces and three territories, working with other Canadian law enforcement agencies to offer resources and ensure the safety of communities.

This versatile Canadian police service has 150 specializations that make this career unique and challenging. The RCMP employs men and women to handle a variety of tasks that serve today’s complex society and keep the peace. They are not only active in Canada; the RCMP have served in the South African War, as well as the First and Second World Wars.

Three of the main areas of responsibility are police officers, civilian employees and community constables.

Police Officers

Police officers begin with general duties to get a comprehensive understanding of the community and its needs, preparing them for a variety of specialties. As officers they handle complaints, investigate crimes, collect evidence, conduct patrols, carry out drug enforcement, assist with airport security, maintain peace and enforce laws. They respond to emergencies and provide protection and support for the community.

Non-police or civilian employees

These jobs include administrative support, forensics, information technology, dispatcher and human resources.

Community Constable

A Community Constable is ranked as a Special Constable, and builds community relations, understands the culture and language, and works in crime prevention and reduction.

The history of the RCMP is long and distinguished, and today’s service continues the fine tradition and reputation of Canada’s best.