North-West Mounted Police - A Tradition in Scarlet   Francais Home Sitemap Links Feedback Credits
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1. Introduction2. Birth of a Police Force3. The March West4. Establishment of the Force5. The Railroad and the Rebellion6. The Growth of the Force7. Establishment of a National Police Force8. Biographies
 
Policing the Railroad
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Between 1882 and 1885, 4000 workers poured into the west to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. They usually worked until winter arrived, then most returned home. Our job was to keep their camps free of liquor, horse thefts and other crimes.

"They were a rough bunch of men, I can tell you. They worked hard all day, and played hard well into the night. Even though we were in times of prohibition, when bringing alcohol into the area was against the law, the bootleggers kept us on our toes. They would smuggle in bottles or cans of liquor in barrels of turpentine, even eggs were emptied and liquor poured in! There was no end to their sly ways. We managed to find most of the liquor or we would really have had problems!"

Gambling was another sport the men enjoyed. Some days as magistrate, I would have men appearing before me from dawn until well after dark. Most received a fine and lost any money they had won.

Where there were camps of men, usually there were prostitutes as well. At first we treated prostitution as a necessary evil - at least the railway workers left the respectable ladies alone. If someone complained then we would raid the house and charge the women within. They had the choice of a fine, or to leave town. Most found traveling very appealing when given this choice!

In 1884, I was promoted to Inspector and given the policing of the entire railway line through the Rocky Mountains. I was to select a strong party to accompany me, but since the entire division volunteered to come along, I chose the men who were best shots. We arrived in Laggan (Lake Louise) in the spring and I posted my men where they were needed most.

Part of our job was to escort the paymaster when he went to pay the men. Men were sent ahead to check for anyone hiding with thoughts of trying a hold up. Two men traveled with the paymaster and the pack ponies carrying the money. Two other men brought up the rear to thwart an attack from behind.

We followed the camps as they pushed deeper into the mountains, from Laggan to Golden, then on to Donald and Beaver River. Saloons, dance halls and other houses parted the workers from their money. There was much petty theft as well as drunkenness, assault and even a murder! The camps were awake all night, and so were we.

Bu 1885, the CPR was having money troubles, and the men hadn't been paid. They were ready to riot. I was laid up with typhoid, and could barely move. Nevertheless, I wired the Prime Minister about the danger of the situation, and had my men counsel patience to the workers. Ottawa didn't respond, the pay didn't arrive and the men went on strike. At the same time, the Mayor of Calgary wired me about the uprising in Saskatchewan. The Metis were in revolt, the Cree on the verge of joining them and the Blackfoot were camped on the edge of Calgary. "For God's sake, come!" he begged. I couldn't - I was too sick, and had to deal with the rioting strikers on my doorstep.

I sent Sergeant Fury to arrest one of the strikers, but the drunken mob of 200 armed strikers drove him off. I sent him back with three constables and the order to shoot anyone who interfered with the arrest. Watching through the window I decided that enough was enough. Grabbing a copy of the Riot Act and a rifle, I confronted the mob. After chastising them for their behaviour I told them: "If I find more than 12 of you standing together, or any large crowd assembled, I will open fire upon you and mow you down! Now disperse at once and behave yourselves." The next day the workers all up and down the line were as quiet as a country village on Sunday.

After putting down the strike and riot in the mountains, I went to Calgary with the arrested ringleaders. I was promptly ordered to organize a cavalry detachment and set off in pursuit of Big Bear, a rebel Cree chief.
Sam Steele and his men at a railway camp.
Sam Steele and his men at a railway camp.



Railway workers at their camp in the mountains.
Railway workers at their camp in the mountains.



The police station at Donald.
The police station at Donald.



Patrolling the camps required patience and diplomacy.
Patrolling the camps required patience and diplomacy.










Big Bear, at right, and other Cree chiefs.
Big Bear, at right, and other Cree chiefs.
 
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5. The Railroad and the Rebellion



Duck Lake
Battleford