This Week in History


The Mounties at Lower Fort Garry

For the week of Monday November 2, 1998

On November 3, 1873, the first 150 North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) recruits were sworn in at Lower Fort Garry, Manitoba. The Force arrived here in October to be trained through the winter. In summer, they would make a long march into the North-West Territories, present-day Saskatchewan and Alberta, the first law officers in this vast region newly acquired by the Dominion of Canada.

The Territories of the 1870s were a troubled place. The aboriginal inhabitants of the prairies faced increasing competition for the diminishing animal resources. First Nations and Métis peoples feared that European settlers would push them out of their prairie homelands. The most disruptive force in the region was the American whisky trade, which sometimes led to violence. The federal cabinet of Prime Minister John A. Macdonald wanted to assert Canadian authority and stabilize the situation.

North West Mounted Police at Lower Fort Garry

North West Mounted Police
at Lower Fort Garry

© Hudson Bay Co. Archives,
Provincial Archives of Manitoba / P-438;
© Parks Canada

The Bill creating the NWMP received royal assent on May 23, 1873. In August, recruitment began for the first contingent of 150 men. Macdonald relied on the militia to organize the enlistment of men from the four eastern provinces. These men were mostly young and healthy. Some had been soldiers, but most came from farms and shops in the East. After an arduous journey west, they reached Lower Fort Garry on October 31 to face many months of learning new skills and disciplines so they could work together on the rugged plains.

Over the winter, a second group trained in Toronto. The two contingents met in June 1874 at Fort Dufferin on the Red River near the United States border. On July 8, a force of 275 under Commissioner George French began its famous march west, establishing posts along the way. From these little forts, the NWMP carried out the task of enforcing Canadian law.

National Archives of Canada

© Library and Archives Canada

In 1920, the RNWMP (the "Royal" was added in 1904) and the Dominion Police combined to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which remains Canada's federal force and provides local policing in most provinces. The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has recognized the importance of the Mounted Police in the development of Canada. Sir Sam Steele and James Morrow Walsh, members of the first contingent, are persons of national historic significance. NWMP forts such as Fort Walsh and Fort Battleford tell the story of the NWMP. The original training base, Lower Fort Garry, is also a national historic site. In 1998, the force is celebrating its 125th Anniversary.

For more information on Lower Fort Garry, visit the Parks Canada Web Page.

Date Modified: