OTD: North-West Mounted Police established

On today’s date in 1873, the North-West Mount Police (NWMP)—a predecessor of today’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)—was established following an Order in Council signed by Canada’s third Governor General Lord Dufferin.

Earlier, in March of that year, the government of prime minister John A. Macdonald proposed an act to establish a mounted police force for the North-Western Territory, which was a major region of British North America until 1870. The North-Western Territory included present-day Yukon; the mainland Northwest Territories; northwestern mainland Nunavut; northwestern Saskatchewan; northern Alberta; and northern British Columbia.

The new force was unveiled as the “North West Mounted Rifles”; however, there were concerns about antagonizing both the U.S. population to the south and Aboriginal population at home, so the force was renamed the NWMP when it was officially established in 1873.

According to Library and Archives Canada, the general duties of the NWMP included:

  • establishing law and order;
  • collecting customs dues;
  • enforcing prohibition;
  • supervising the treaties between First Nations and the federal government;
  • assisting in the settlement process;
  • ensuring the welfare of immigrants; and
  • fighting prairie fires, disease and destitution.

A 1973 eight-cent stamp commemorates the NWMP’s ‘march west’ alongside commissioner G.A. French.


In 1935, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) issued a 10-cent stamp depicting an RCMP officer on horseback. The horse and landscape were engraved by Harold Osborn, and the officer was engraved by Sydney F. Smith. The stamp was designed by Herman Herbert Schwartz.

In 1973, the Post Office Department issued another stamp, this with a face value of eight cents, featuring the NWMP’s “march west” alongside commissioner G.A. French.

It was the NWMP’s task to police about 777,000 square kilometres of wilderness in the Canadian north-west in an attempt to suppress the whiskey trade; calm the growing unrest among the Aboriginal population; and stamp out lawlessness in that vast territory.

“Fear of the Fenian raids from the south and the possibility of losing the West by default made it imperative that Canada quickly take official possession of the area. July 1874 saw three hundred raw recruits under G.A. French, the first commissioner, set out from Dufferin, Manitoba, across the plains to Old Man’s River in what is now southern Alberta. There they constructed Fort Macleod, named for the Assistant Commissioner,” reads a press release issued by the department in 1973.

“The rigorous trek … revealed in the men a stamina that augured will. Within a very few months the Indians came to sense the meaning of the scarlet tunic and the motto it represented: ‘Maintiens le Droit,’ ‘Uphold the Right.’”

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