Canada Day July 1st: A Brief History Of The Royal Canadian Mounted Police & Their Iconic Uniform

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July 1st is Canada Day, and every year the village of Whistler hosts a huge parade filled with music and street performances. From 12ft tall ladies on stilts draped in the Canadian flag, to a free performance on The Great Lawn by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra; but nothing make our hearts glow quite like seeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marching in their iconic red uniform.

The RCMP is one of the most recognizable law enforcement divisions in the world, but few know the history of how the force got started, and why it adopted its blazing red uniform. As a special Canada Day blog post, here is a brief history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The North West Mounted Rifles

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Commonly known as “Mounties”, the RCMP used to be known as The North West Mounted Rifles – a force of 100-150 mounted riflemen who maintained law and order along the North West Territories after the land was purchased from the Hudson Bay Company by the Dominion of Canada in the mid-1800s.

In 1873, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald declared that the Canadian prairies needed a strong police presence to strengthen Canada’s claim of the west, improve relations with First Nations people, and to eliminate the illegal whisky trade. The force then became the North West Mounted Police.

The First Dog Sled Police Patrol

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In the late-1800’s this force of fewer than 300 men traveled westward towards what is now Alberta, covering 1500 miles in 3-months by dog-sled. On their arrival they set up camp and started building Fort Macleod in the southwest corner of the province. The fort was named in honour of the North West Mounted Police’s Colonel James Macleod.

In the 1800’s the North West Mounted Police uniform was very similar to that of the British Army. Their scarlet red Norfolk jacket was simple, practical and without trimmings. The scarlet colour was chosen so that the North West Mounted Police would not be mistaken for the American Army, who wore blue. This was a strategic move so that they would be identified with the reputation of their British predecessors, thereby gaining the confidence of the First Nations.

The Creation Of The RCMP

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“Royal” was added to the name in 1904 when the North West Mounted Police were merged with the Dominion Police, and then officially changed to Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920. The new organization was charged with federal law enforcement in all the provinces and territories, and immediately set about establishing its modern role as protector of Canadian national security, as well as assuming responsibility for national counterintelligence.

RCMP Facts

    • The last dog sled patrol was in March 1969. The patrol was from Old Crow, Yukon Territory to Fort McPherson, North West Territories and Arctic Red River and back, and covered over 500 miles. There were two teams with a total of 21 dogs.
    • Stuart Zachary Taylor Wood, the 8th commissioner of the Force was the great-grandson of Zachary Taylor the 12th president of the United States.
    • Women first started being regular members of the R.C.M.P. in 1974.
    • When you see a star sewn on the left upper sleeve of the red serge it denotes 5 years of service.
    • The principal elements on the R.C.M.P. regimental badge are the bison head, maple leaves, scroll, and crown.

Please leave a comment below if you have any interesting facts that we missed out of our post. We’d love to hear them.

Happy Canada Day!