Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP or Mounties; French, Gendarmerie royale du Canada, GRC) is both the federal police force and the national police of Canada. The RCMP acts as the federal (national) police for all of Canada, enforcing certain federal laws. It also has contracts with Canada's three territories and eight of its provinces to serve as their provincial/territorial police force. Most of Canada's provinces, while constitutionally responsible for law and order, prefer to sub-contract policing to this professional national force that consequently operates under their direction in regard to provincial and municipal law enforcement. The exceptions are Ontario, Quebec, and parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, which have their own provincial police forces. Additionally, many towns and cities throughout Canada also contract the RCMP to serve as their municipal police force. The RCMP is the largest police force in Canada; as of April 2005, the RCMP had an on-strength establishment of 22,557 personnel1.

The RCMP was created as the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1873, given the "Royal" title in 1904, becoming the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP), and renamed to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force in 1920 when the RNWMP was merged with the Dominion Police. Among themselves, the Mounties universally refer to their organization as "The Force" and members of the force are referred to as "Members."

It has been theorized that the international popularity of the force lies in it being representative of a symbol of the balance of civilization and the frontier. That is, the RCMP is a police force that operates in the seemingly wild frontier, but operates under the behest of a central, if somewhat removed, bureaucratic authority back in the settled regions. In addition, the existence of the RCMP in Canada and the complete lack of any analogous organization in the Western United States during the frontier period has often been cited as both a cause and effect of cultural differences between Canada and the United States.

A typical Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer on patrol.
A typical Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer on patrol.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer dressed in the Red Serge ceremonial uniform.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer dressed in the Red Serge ceremonial uniform.



NWMP Lancer, 1875.
NWMP Lancer, 1875.

The RCMP was created as the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) on May 23, 1873 by Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, with the intent of bringing law and order to (and asserting Canadian sovereignty over) the North-West Territories (which then included modern day Alberta and Saskatchewan). This need was particularly urgent with reports of American whisky traders, in particular those of Fort Whoop-Up, causing trouble in the region, culminating in the Cypress Hills Massacre. The force was initially to be called the North West Mounted Rifles, but that was rejected as too military in nature, Macdonald fearing that this could antagonize both the First Nations and the Americans. Acting on a suggestion in his cabinet, Macdonald had the force wear red uniforms. The force was organized like a British cavalry regiment and still maintains some of the traditions of those units, like the Musical Ride, to this day.

Initial Activities

The initial force, commanded by Colonel George Arthur French, set out from Fort Dufferin Manitoba on July 8th 1874 on a march to what is now Alberta. The group comprised of 22 officers, 287 men-called Constables and Sub-Constables - 310 horses, 67 wagons, 114 ox-carts, 18 yoke of oxen, 50 cows and 40 calves. 2 An account of the journey was recorded in diary of Henri Julien, an artist from the Canadian Illustrated News, who accompanied the expedition 3.

The NWMP's early activities included containing the whisky trade and enforcing agreements with the First Nations peoples. To that end, the commanding officer of the force arranged to be sworn in as a justice of the peace, which allowed for magisterial authority in the Mounties' jurisdiction. In the early years, the force's dedication to enforcing the law on the First Nations peoples' behalf impressed them enough to encourage good relations. In the Summer of 1876 Sitting Bull and thousands of Sioux were fleeing the US Military to southern Saskatchewan, and James Morrow Walsh of the NWMP was charged with maintaining control in the large Sioux settlement at Wood Mountain. Walsh and Sitting Bull became good friends, and the peace at Wood Mountain was maintained. In 1885, the NWMP helped to quell the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel.

Klondike Gold Rush and after

NWMP Officers, Yukon, 1900.
NWMP Officers, Yukon, 1900.

In 1894, concerned about the influx of American miners and the liquor trade, the Canadian government sent inspector Charles Constantine to report on conditions in the Yukon. Constantine correctly forecast a coming gold rush and urgently recommended sending of a force to enforce Canadian sovereignty and collect customs duties. He returned the following year with a force of 20 men. The force distinguished itself during the Klondike gold rush (started in 1896) under the command of Constantine and his successor in 1898, the more famous Sam Steele. The NWMP made the Klondike gold rush one of the most peaceful and orderly such affairs in history. The NWMP not only enforced criminal law, but also collected customs duties, established a number of rules such as the "ton of goods" requirement for prospectors to enter the Yukon to avoid another famine, mandatory boat inspections for those wanting to travel the Yukon River, and created the "Blue ticket" used to expel undesirables from the Klondike. The Mounties did tolerate certain illegal activities such as gambling and prostitution, which they would have been unable to control in any case. Also, the force did not succeed in its attempt to establish order and Canadian sovereignty in Skagway, Alaska at the head of the Lynn Canal, and instead created the customs post at the summit of the Chilkoot Pass. Ironically, the force's dissolution was being discussed around that time in Parliament, but the Mounties' conduct so impressed the prospectors during the gold rush that the force became famous around the world and its survival was ensured.

In 1903 jurisdiction was extended to the Arctic coast, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905, and in 1912 to northern Manitoba.

During the Boer War, the force raised the Canadian Mounted Rifles, mostly from NWMP members, for service in South Africa. For the CMR's distinguished service there, Edward VII honoured the NWMP by changing the name to the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) on June 24, 1904.

In 1919 the RNWMP was used to repress the Winnipeg General Strike, when officers fired into a crowd of strikers, killing two and causing injuries to thirty others.

Creation of the RCMP

RCMP patrolling with sled dogs, 1957.
RCMP patrolling with sled dogs, 1957.

On February 1, 1920 the RNWMP was merged with the Dominion Police and was renamed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with responsibility for federal law enforcement in all provinces and territories.

In 1935 the RCMP, collaborating with the Regina city police, crushed the On-to-Ottawa Trek, which had been organized to call attention to the need for decent treatment of the unemployed men in the relief camps.

Evolving responsibilities

In the 1920s, the RCMP assumed responsibility for national counter-intelligence, which they retained for decades. However, by the late 1970s, it was discovered the force had in the course of their intelligence duties engaged in crimes such as burning a barn and stealing documents from the separatist Parti Québécois, among other abuses. This led to the McDonald Commission - Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP, better known as the "McDonald Commission", named after the presiding judge, Mr Justice David Cargill McDonald (died 1996). The Commission recommended that the force's intelligences duties be removed in favour of the creation of a separate intelligence agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

In 1932 men and vessels of the Preventive Service, National Revenue, are absorbed , creating the RCMP Marine Section The acquisition of the RCMP schooner St. Roch facilitated the first effective patrol of Canada's Arctic territory. It was the first vessel to navigate the Northwest Passage from west to east (1940-1942), the first to navigate the Passage in one season (1944), and the first to circumnavigate North America (1950).

In 1993 the RCMP's counter-terrorism duties, performed by the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT), were transferred to the Canadian Armed Forces, creating a new unit called Joint Task Force Two (JTF2). JTF2 inherited some equipment and SERT's former training base near Ottawa.

Modern Era

RCMP car
RCMP car
RCMP helicopter
RCMP helicopter
Main article: Rochfort Bridge massacre

On March 3, 2005, four RCMP officers were shot dead during an operation to recover stolen property and investigate a possible marijuana grow-op in Rochfort Bridge, Alberta. Shooter Jim Roszko, 46, then shot and killed himself. It was the single worst multiple killing of RCMP officers since the Northwest Rebellion. One of the four Mounties killed had been on the job for only seventeen days. The victims were:

  • Const. Lionide (Leo) Nicholas Johnston, 34 - Mayerthorpe Detachment
  • Const. Anthony Fitzgerald Orion Gordon, 28 - Whitecourt Town Detachment General Policing and Highway Patrol
  • Const. Brock Warren Myrol, 29 - Mayerthorpe Detachment
  • Const. Peter Christopher Schiemann, 25 - Mayerthorpe Detachment General Policing and Highway Patrol

See CBC.

The RCMP in wartime

The Boer War

During the Boer War, members of the North West Mounted Police were given leaves of absence to fight with the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles and the Lord Strathcona's Horse.

World War I

During the First World War the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP) conducted border patrols, surveillance of enemy aliens, and enforcement of national security regulations within Canada. However, RNWMP officers also served overseas. On 6 August 1914, a squadron of volunteers from the RNWMP was formed to serve with the Canadian Light Horse in France. In 1918, two more squadrons were raised, A Squadron for service in France and Flanders and B Squadron for service in Siberia

World War II

In 1939, No. 1 Provost Company (RCMP), Canadian Provost Corps, was raised for service in Europe. The unit served with distinction throughout the Second World War.


Guidon of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)
Guidon of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

Although it is a police force, the RCMP has the status of a regiment of dragoons, and as such is entitled to wear battle honours for its war service as well as carry a guidon. It was awarded this status in 1921, with its first guidon presented in 1935. As a regiment, the RCMP mounted the King's Life Guard at Horse Guards Parade in 1937 leading up to the coronation of King George VI.

  • Battle Honours
    • Early Honours: Northwest Canada 1885, South Africa 1900-02
    • The Great War: France and Flanders 1918, Siberia 1918-19
    • The Second World War: Europe, 1939-45
  • Honorary Distinction
    • The badge of the Canadian Provost Corps1

1. Presented 21 Sep. 1957 at a Parliament Hill ceremony for contributions to the Corps during the Second World War.

History of the Uniform

The RCMP are famous for their distinctive Red Serge, a scarlet ceremonial uniform with a stetson hat with a wide flat brim which is worn on special occasions, and the Musical Ride (a ceremony in which officers showcase their horse riding skills and uniform in the execution of a variety of intricate figures and cavalry drills with music). On normal duties, the RCMP uses standard police methods, equipment, and uniforms. Horses are no longer used operationally by any unit.

NWMP K Troop (reenactors).
NWMP K Troop (reenactors).

The Red Serge tunic that identified initially the NWMP, and later the RNWMP and RCMP, is of the standard British military pattern. The NWMP was originally kitted out from militia stores, resulting initially in several different styles of tunic, although the style later became standardized. This style was used to both to emphasize the British nature of the force and to differentiate it from the blue American military uniforms. The blue shoulder epaulets were added in the 1920's after it was granted its "Royal" status from the British Soverign for its service in World War I, replacing gold-trimmed scarlet straps from the earlier uniforms. Currently, RCMP personnel under the rank of Inspector wear blue "gorget" patches on the collar, while officers from Inspector to Commissioner have solid blue collars, along with blue pointed sleeve cuffs.

Initially the NWMP wore buff trousers. Later dark blue trousers with yellow-gold strapping (stripes) were adopted. Members of the NWMP were known to exchange kit with US cavalry units along the border and it is suggested that this was the initial source for the trousers; however, blue trousers were considered early on, although with a white strap. Dark blue with yellow-gold strapping is another British cavalry tradition, and Canadian city police forces frequently wear dark blue trousers with a narrow red strap of infantry tradition.

The wide flat brim stetson hat was not adopted officially until about 1904. Although the NWMP contingent at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee wore the stetson, it was an unofficial item of dress. The primary official head dress at the time was the white British foreign service helmet, also known as a pith helmet. This was not particularly practical as headdress in the Canadian west, and members wore a stetson type hat on patrol and around camp. Sam Steele is often credited with introducing the stetson-type hat, and when he left the force to command Lord Strathcona's Horse and took the regiment to South Africa he also adopted the stetson for this unit.

Black riding boots were later changed to the modern brown style. The original crossbelts were later changed to the brown Sam Browne type currently worn. Sidearms are standard now, but were often not worn in the early years.

The everyday uniform consists of a tan shirt with dark blue tie, dark blue trousers with gold strapping, regular patrol shoes, regular duty equipment, and a regular policeman's style cap. A brown open-collar jacket is worn by Constables, Corporals, Sergeants, and Staff Sergeants while a dark blue jacket, with a white shirt in place of the tan shirt, is worn by Sergeants Major, and all officers from Inspector to Commissioner.


The RCMP divides the country into divisions for command purposes. In general, each division is coterminous with a province (e.g. C Division is Quebec). The province of Ontario, however, is divided into two divisions, A Division (Ottawa) and O Division (rest of the province). There is one additional division - Depot Division, which is the RCMP Training Academy. The RCMP headquarters are located in Ottawa, Ontario.

During 1960s and 1970s, the RCMP had Special Constables in its ranks. Unlike regular members, their duties were to police the airports and, in certain Canadian provinces, the court houses. This program was abolished in the 1980s or 1990s.


The rank system of the RCMP illustrates their origin as a paramilitary force. The insigina was based upon the Canadian army of the time, which is almost identical to that of the current British Army. Higher ranks have been increased over the years since the formation of the force, whereas the rank of inspector, which was initally a subaltern, is now a field officer level, the lower officer ranks having been dropped. With the military introducing the warrant officer, the RCMP non-commissioned officers were maintained using the older military style. The ranks of the RCMP, in English and French with their insignia, are:

Name of rank in English / French Insignia

Commissioner / commissaire (1)

Deputy Commissioner / sous-commissaire (7) Image:Rcmp-depcommissioner.jpg
Assistant Commissioner / commissaire adjoint (24) Image:Rcmp-asstcommissioner.jpg
Chief Superintendent / surintendant principal (52) Image:Rcmp-chiefsuperintendent.jpg
Superintendent / surintendant (143) Image:Rcmp-superintendent.jpg
Inspector / inspecteur (346) Image:Rcmp-inspector.jpg
Corps Sergeant-Major / sergent-major du corps (1) Image:Rcmp-corpssergeantmajor.jpg
Sergeant-Major / sergent-major (6) Image:Rcmp-sergeantmajor.jpg
Staff Sergeant-Major / sergent-major d'état major (1) Image:Rcmp-staffsergeantmajor.jpg
Staff Sergeant / sergent d'état-major (742) Image:Rcmp-staffsergeant.jpg
Sergeant / sergent (1,616) Image:Rcmp-sergeant.jpg
Corporal / caporal (2,928) Image:Rcmp-corporal.jpg
Constable / gendarme (10,136)  

The ranks of Inspector and higher are commissioned ranks and are appointed by the House of Commons. Depending on the dress, badges are worn on the shoulder as slip-ons, on shoulder boards, or directly on the epaulettes. The lower ranks are non-commissioned officers and the insignia continues to be based on British army patterns. Since 1990, the non-commissioned officers’ rank insignia has been embroidered on the epaulette slip-ons. Non-commissioned rank badges are worn on the right sleeve of the scarlet/blue tunic and blue jacket. The Constables wear no rank insignia. There are also Special Constables, Auxiliary Constables, and Students who wear identifying insignia. The current number in each rank is identified in brackets. Several provinces have indicated increasing the numbers. Number of others are listed below:

  • Special Constables 82
  • Civilian Members 2,605
  • Public Servants 3,867
  • Total 22,557 1

The RCMP in popular culture

The Mounties on parade in Iqaluit, Canada Day 1999.
The Mounties on parade in Iqaluit, Canada Day 1999.

The Mounties have been immortalized as symbols of Canadian culture in numerous Hollywood movies, which often feature the image of the Mountie as square-jawed, stoic, and polite, and with the motto that the Mountie "always gets his man." (In actual fact, the RCMP's motto is Maintiens le droit, French for "Uphold the Law". The Hollywood motto dervies from a comment by the Montana newspaper, the Fort Benton Record: "They fetch their man every time." 4.) A famous example is the radio and television series, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Dudley Do-Right (of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) is a 1960s example of the comic aspect of the Mountie myth. The Broadway musical and Hollywood movie Rose Marie is a 1930s example of its romantic side. Canadians also poke fun at the RCMP with Sergeant Renfrew and his faithful dog Cuddles in various sketches produced by the Royal Canadian Air Farce comedy troupe. The British have also exploited the myth: the BBC television series Monty Python's Flying Circus featured a group of mounties singing the chorus in The Lumberjack Song in the famous lumberjack sketch. Ren and Stimpy also parodied the Mounties in the episode Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen. More recently, the 1994-98 TV series Due South paired a Mountie with a streetwise American detective cleaning up the streets of Chicago, Illinois, mainly deriving its entertainment from the perceived differences in attitude between these two countries' police forces.

See also

Provicial Police Forces fulfilling the duties of the RCMP in their respective provinces:

External links


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