This Week in History


The Establishment of a National Police Force

For the week of Monday January 31, 2000

On February 1, 1920, Canada's national police force was created. That day, the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP) absorbed the Dominion Police to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada's first federal law enforcement agency.

© Courtesy of Bob Whyte

When Canada acquired the vast territory between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains in 1870, federal officials were convinced of the need for a police force to establish Canadian authority and maintain order in the region. By an Act of Parliament, the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) was created on May 23, 1873 to secure control of the territories and to ensure that settlement of the western prairies was both peaceful and orderly.

Although the NWMP was to be disbanded once the land was peacefully settled, by the turn of the century, the agency had become legendary. Mounties were known to "always get their man" and were ingrained in western Canadian and Yukon culture.

In 1920, the RNWMP (the"Royal" was added in 1904) merged with the Dominion Police, which was responsible for security in Ottawa. The resulting RCMP became a national force responsible for federal law enforcement in every province, save Ontario and Quebec, and regulated Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Indian reserves and national parks. It eventually became responsible for everything from "counting migratory birds to uncovering foreign espionage."

RCMP supply vessel <I>St. Roch</I>

RCMP supply vessel St. Roch
© LAC / PA-202182

In 1932, the RCMP Marine Section was created to combat smuggling on Canada's coasts. An Air Section was established five years later and, by the end of the 1930s, the RCMP was using a wide range of scientific and technical means to fight crime. During the Second World War, these sections were transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force for wartime services. On the home front, the RCMP was responsible for the enforcement of wartime regulations, in addition to its regular duties.

The RCMP is a highly respected force, and is a worldwide symbol of Canada and Canadian sovereignty. Its role in Canada's development has been recognized in a number of national commemorations, including St. Roch National Historic Site. This RCMP supply vessel was the first ship to complete a round-trip voyage through the Northwest Passage (1940-42 and 1944) and to circumnavigate North America through the Panama Canal (1950). Fort Walsh National Historic Site, a NWMP post reconstructed by the RCMP in the 1940s, preserves the heritage of the NWMP and, until 1968, doubled as the RCMP horse-breeding ranch.

Date Modified: