Celebrating 100 Years of the RCMP Part 1- A Brief History and the RCMP Website

http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en

February 1st marked the 100th anniversary of our National Police force, the RCMP, in it\’s present form. The institution itself is almost 150 years old. In 1920, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police absorbed the Dominion Police and become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In celebration of this milestone in our history, I\’m going to look at the records of our national police force. But first some background.

The Dominion Police
The Dominion Police force was established in 1868, in response to the assassination of Thomas D\’Arcy Magee. The original mandate was to protect the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. This authority was then extended to the Naval Shipyards in Halifax and Esquimalt, and providing bodyguards to politicians.

Because of the Fenian Raids, the scope of the Dominion Police was extended even further, to enforce federal laws across a young Canada. They became our first Secret Service. They were the ones to start a fingerprint and criminal records database. By the early 1900\’s they had earned and garnered respect for their role, bringing arrests in many high profile cases. Once the Northwest Mounted Police was established, the Dominion Police\’s focus was focused solely on Eastern Canada. Their area covered Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Ontario (with the exception of the northwest of the province).

However, the 1916 fire that destroyed Center Block of the Parliament Buildings was the beginning of the end for the Dominion Police. To this day, the cause of the fire has not been determined. Back in 1916, there was a strong suspicion that it was deliberate sabotage by the Germans. The Dominion police force were not only the protectors of the Parliament buildings but Canada\’s Secret Police. If it was indeed sabotage, as was generally thought, then they had failed spectacularly.

On February 1, 1920 they were absorbed into the Northwest Mounted Police. 152 Dominion police officers chose to become part of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and became the \”A\” Division. In 2013, \”A\” Division was renamed to the National Division. This division\’s mandate is special investigations and protection.

Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP)
Created in 1873, the NWMP were originally sent to Manitoba. In 1874 they expanded to Saskatchewan and Alberta to combat American whisky traders conducting business with the Indigenous peoples. Their reach extended further west thanks to the Yukon Gold Rush. By 1912 they had extended north to the Arctic and also covered northern Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Their duties were to:

  • establish law and order
  • collect customs dues
  • enforce prohibition
  • supervise the treaties between First Nations and the federal government
  • assist in the settlement process
  • ensure the welfare of immigrants
  • fight prairie fires, disease and destitution

In 1904, King Edward VII gave Royal honors to the unit, and they then became the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP). Thanks to such high profile events as the hunt for the Mad Trapper, and to individuals such as Sir Sam Steele, the RNWMP became an iconic symbol of the Canadian West.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The national police force of today came into effect on February 1 1920. The Dominion Police were disbanded and absorbed into the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. The newly named RCMP now had jurisdiction of the whole of Canada from coast to coast. Over the years, provincial police forces were established, but then absorbed into the RCMP. Today the RCMP has main jurisdiction in most our provinces and all 3 territories. The only exceptions are Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland/Labrador, which still have their own provincial police forces. In these provinces, the RCMP maintain jurisdiction over federal matters. They have also been intertwined with Canada\’s military. There have been RCMP units serving overseas as part of Canada\’s military for many years.

Researching Your Ancestor
So, where to find records? Over the next few blog posts I\’m going to look at a few different record sets. This post I\’ll look at the RCMP website.This website is a very good starting point in your research of RCMP ancestors. I found a great deal of information by using the A-Z Site Index. For this blog post though, I\’m going to focus on two sections.

http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/en/history-rcmp

History of the RCMP
This page gives a great overview of the RCMP\’s history. Even if you don\’t have an ancestor who served, the history buff in every genealogist will find it interesting. In particular check out the Historically relevant dates to the RCMP. This can really help you fit your ancestor into RCMP history.

http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/hon/index-eng.htm

Honors and Recognition Programs
If your ancestor died in the course of their duties, then you\’ll want to check this section out. Each link gives you information on the several different ways fallen RCMP members are remembered. Of particular interest is the RCMP Honor Roll. This searchable index lists 243 officers from 1873 to 2017. The index has the following headings:

  • Name
  • Reg #
  • Start of Service
  • End of Service
  • Description of cause of death
Some of the descriptions are ones that you would normally find in respect to what an RCMP\’s duties are. Some have made the list while serving overseas during Canada\’s war efforts. Some however, are more unusual. For instance:
  • Entry 17, Reg#2086, Cst. William Tyrrell Reading, Start of Service 1888-04-10 End of Service 1890-12-14, Died from injuries received at Calgary, when Supt. J.H. McIllre’s horse, which he was exercising, fell on him.
  • Entry 33, Reg#3566, Sgt. Ralph Morton L. Donaldson, Start of Service 1900-04-04 End of Service 1908-08-14, Drowned when his Police boat was attacked by a herd of walruses, off Marble Island, Hudson Bay, N.W.T.

According to their genealogy section, RCMP service files post 1920 are still held by the RCMP. The files are protected under the Privacy Act. You may be able to get a redacted file if your ancestor has been deceased less than 20 years through an Access to Information Request. If they have been deceased more than 20 years, it appears you might be able to get an non redacted file, Information on how to obtain a post 1920 service file is available here.

Pre 1920 service files are in the custody of Library and Archives Canada. Next post, I\’m going to look at what you can find at the LAC.

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