Happy 140th North West Mounted Police .. when dropping “Royal” from Canadian names may return

May 23rd, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

Kudos to Google Canada for including a “Mountie in the iconic bright red uniform and broad-brimmed hat … in front of mountains, forest and water” on its home page today, in commemoration of the “140th anniversary of the North West Mounted Police.”

In case you have forgotten, the North West Mounted Police were established by the Canadian federal government on May 23, 1873, to maintain law and order in the old Northwest Territories, which then included what are now northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Yukon.  According to one apparently half-true legend: “In 1873, a gang of American wolf hunters murdered 23 Assiniboine in the Cypress Hills [in present-day Saskatchewan and Alberta] after an argument about stolen horses. In response, Canada established the North West Mounted Police.”

The original Canadian Mounties went on to establish their legendary prowess in always getting their man (or at least sometimes woman too, it would seem) in what is now Western (and northern) Canada. By the late 19th century the legend was reaching beyond Canada’s borders. As explained on the relevant Wikipedia site:  “During the Second Boer War [1899–1902], members of the North-West Mounted Police were given leaves of absence to fight with the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles (CMR) and Lord Strathcona’s Horse. The force raised the Canadian Mounted Rifles, mostly from NWMP members, for service in South Africa. For the CMR’s distinguished service there, King Edward VII honoured the NWMP.” And so the Mounties’ official name became Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP) on June 24, 1904.

North West Mounted Police at Dawson in the Yukon, 1898. Stuart Taylor Wood Collection / National Archives of Canada / C-042755.

From here, as they say, the rest is history. Or more exactly (and officially) : “In February 1920, the Mounted Police absorbed the Dominion Police, which had carried out federal policing in eastern Canada. Headquarters was moved from Regina to Ottawa and the Force became responsible for enforcement of federal laws from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In keeping with its new role, it was renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.”

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Twenty years after the original Mountie name had faded into the past,  it was revived by Hollywood, in a Cecil B. DeMille 1940 movie  North West Mounted Police, “starring Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll and Paulette Goddard …  the picture was filmed on location in the Canadian Rockies.” It “tells the story of a Texas Ranger who joins forces with the North West Mounted Police to put down a rebellion [Canada’s North West or Second Riel Rebellion of 1885, in fact, in the suppression of which the real-world NWMP actually did play some part]. The supporting cast features Preston Foster, Robert Preston, George Bancroft, Akim Tamiroff, Lon Chaney, Jr. and Robert Ryan.”

More recently, of course, the Mounties have become a more controversial organization in Canada, although official steps have been taken to try to address the various controversies involved. (The counterweights editors looked into this story some four years ago now, in “Are the Mounties getting too many men who don’t need to be got?”)

North West Mounted Police Band at Fort MacLeod in what is now Alberta. 1890.

I for one am nonetheless happy to join Google Canada in commemorating the first-generation Canadian prairie romance of the original North West Mounted Police, from 1873 to 1904. And, having just this morning received an email which began: “We interrupt all the excitement of watching Stephen Harper self-destruct” (assuming this is not just a little too much wishful thinking, of course), I have a proposal for any and/or all of the current opposition parties in the Canadian House of Commons of 2013. (And btw, let me just say in passing, kudos as well to the author of “Hugh Segal: An elected Senate is the only answer” in today’s National Post, which is not a newspaper I usually consult, or otherwise pay attention to.)

Officers of the "B" Division, July 1900.Photographer: Goetzman. Library and Archives Canada, PA-202188.

In the coming great race to succeed the current self-destructing prime minister and his new but still just far too old-fashioned Conservative Party of Canada (again, assuming that this actually is what has begun with the bizarre Canadian Senate scandal apparently haunting Ottawa right now), I promise that, in the still rather far away Canadian federal election of 2015, I will vote for any party which includes in its written platform a promise to restore the original 1873 name of the Canadian Mounties — as the first step in a real present-day thorough-going reform of this once cherished Canadian institution.

Paulette Goddard in North West Mounted Police movie, 1940.

Some will say, of course, that “North West Mounted Police” does not fit a police force whose mandate nowadays stretches from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific oceans. I have two quick answers here. First, Canada itself, from coast to coast to coast, is a country in the North West of the global village, that we all live in today, like it or not. Second, if you absolutely cannot get your head around this thought, I will settle for just dropping the prefix “Royal” from the present name of the organization (to give, that is, the at least much more free and democratic name of Canadian Mounted Police — paid for, after all, by the hard-earned tax dollars of the Canadian people, and not by any member of the offshore royal family, in the United Kingdom across the seas).

Finally I should note that I live in the rest of Canada outside Quebec, and the Bloc Quebecois does not usually run candidates in the riding where my house is located. Yet if the Bloc both does run a candidate in my riding in 2015, and puts a proposal as outlined above in its written platform (and, I should add I guess, if no other opposition party does the same), I will even vote for such a new pan-Canadian Bloc Quebecois. (Even if it includes in its platform another proposal — to make the ghost of M. Louis Riel an honourary colonel of the North West [and/or Canadian] Mounted Police at last.)

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