The Mounties

The Mounties

Canada’s federal police force did not receive its current title until 1920.  It was originally called the Northwest Mounted Rifles.  However, the United States’ adverse reaction to what it felt was an “armed force” patrolling the United States-Canadian border precipitated the title being changed to the Northwest Mounted Police.

At the turn of the century the Mounted Police had been using dog teams in excess of twenty-five years to patrol three hundred thousand square miles of wilderness.  The first

dog team patrolled the vast region in 1873, searching for men who were illegally trading whiskey to the natives on the west shore of Lake Michigan.  The patrol was successful, with six men arrested, and an undisclosed amount of whiskey confiscated.

The stage was now set for a romanticism that would follow the “Mounties” for decades.  The excitement of danger and mystery would lead to what was to become a romantic exploitation of what was often a brutal job that these brave officers carried out.  Inspector Rivett-Carnac wrote the following article in 1938 for the RCMP Quarterly, which quelled most of the imagined romance associated with a patrol.

“I remember very well, some years ago, seeing a somewhat dramatic film about the North, in which the hero, riding on a sleigh, set off across the Barren Lands towards the Arctic Ocean, where he gallantly rescued a damsel in distress who was held captive by certain villainous characters.  Every time they appeared on the screen, the hero and his dogs were seen to be skimming over the snow at full gallop.  Despite the fact that the journey was one of some hundreds of miles…the sled carried no food for man or dog.  One could only assume that the driver in this instance was so confident of his dogs that he considered a few sandwiches in his hip pocket would be sufficient to sustain life until his objective was reached!”

As any musher knows, dog driving is not nearly as easy as that; a fact in which the good Inspector would certainly agree. The romance is certainly not apparent while traveling considerable distances.  Inspector Rivett-Carnac spoke of the hardships of long distance arctic travel in his article.  “Night after night in the snow at temperatures ranging to 60 degrees below zero…one’s feet having been cut or chafed by the snowshoe strings…bloodstained moccasins…the next day’s travels.”  He also noted that “Modern methods of transportation have penetrated the northern regions of late years. It is unlikely that the dog team as a means of transportation over the northern snows will ever become entirely obsolete, because, although it is a slow means of locomotion, it is one which will get the traveler to his destination–provided that his own powers are equal to those of his dogs.”

A mere thirty years later, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police “forsook” their dog teams.  In 1969, the last official patrol of any distance by sled dog was taken; it was a regular, everyday trip in which Special Constable Peter Benjamin traveled for four weeks, with twenty-one dogs, the 500-miles from Old Crow to Fort McPherson and back.

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