Saskatchewan River: Unwild West
Mounties keep order on the Prairies
The first fear of the young government of Canada was that it would lose
control of the newly-acquired West. The anger of aboriginal and Métis leaders, and the
call by many American politicians for a military takeover of the Canadian West, led the government
to create a federal police force organized in military style.
The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was created in 1873 with all the trappings of a cavalry
regiment: horses, lances, carbines, and even a few artillery guns. Its uniform scarlet tunic
and blue trousers were chosen to impress aboriginal leaders whose own ceremonial dress was
colourful and dramatic.
The first job of the NWMP was to stop American whisky traders from selling liquor to the
Blackfoot of southern Alberta. This action earned the respect and co-operation of their leader,
Meanwhile, just to the south, the cavalry of the United States Army attacked Native American
tribes in a determined effort to eliminate as many of them as possible. The American attempt
to destroy Native Americans helped Canada to secure the military support of aboriginal groups
against the threat of invasion.
Gradually, the number of officers and posts throughout the West increased. In the early
years, establishing close relations with aboriginal groups remained the main goal of the
NWMP. The force actually warned the federal government that it should act to avoid rebellion
brewing in the Northwest in 1885, but the warnings were ignored.
In 1920, the NWMP became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Since that time, the “Mounties” have
endured as a symbol of deep, national pride. Recently, many Canadians expressed regret when
the Mounties sold commercial rights to their image to the Walt Disney Corporation of the
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