February 1 is a busy day, historically speaking. For instance, February is now Black History Month (read more at Citizenship and Immigration Canada).
1663 – Quebec City was rocked by an earthquake. (see U.S. Geological site).
1796 – Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe transferred the capital of Upper Canada from Niagara to York (now Toronto); he wanted greater security in case of an American invasion. (For more about Simcoe, look at Dictionary of Canadian Biography)
1849 – William Lyon Mackenzie returned to Canada from his exile in the United States.( see the Canadian Encyclopedia)
1854 – Fire destroyed the Parliament Buildings in Quebec. (see Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America)
1878 – Quebecer Cyrille Duquet patents an improvement version of the telephone. (see Library of Archives Canada)
1893 – Prince Albert, Saskatchewan records a temperature at 56.7 C (that’s -70 F). ( see Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan)
… and oh so many more events.
But today, I want to concentrate on February 1, 1920. That’s when the RCMP was founded.
If people around the world were asked what they knew about Canada, chances are that the Mounties would get the most mention. On February 1, 1920 the original force, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, was amalgamated with the Dominion Police, and its name was changed to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — RCMP. The official motto is Maintiens le Droit, meaning Uphold the Right; but most people are more familiar with the saying, “the Mounties always get their man.”
Some form of protection was needed for the settlers moving onto the prairies, and for the Indians, who were being victimized by illicit whiskey peddlers from the United States. The federal government formed a civil organization under military discipline and planned to call it the Northwest Mounted Rifles. The United States objected to having what appeared to be an armed force along the border, so Sir John A. Macdonald changed the name to Northwest Mounted Police to prevent any misunderstanding. The men were recruited in Eastern Canada and assembled at Collingwood on Lake Huron in July 1874. They trekked 800 miles west, and set up their headquarters in the heart of the Blackfoot country, with detachments at Forts Walsh, Calgary, McLeod, Saskatchewan, and Carlton, covering what are now Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The Mounties’ control of the Indians attracted world-wide attention in 1877 when Sitting Bull and his Sioux poured into Saskatchewan after annihilating the U.S. Seventh Calvary under General Custer at Little Big Horn River, Montana. The Indians set up camp at Wood Mountain near Cypress Hills, and refused to return to the United States.
Later in the year, a conference was arranged between Sitting Bull and General Terry, a representative of the American Government, who was accompanied by newspaper correspondents from Washington and New York. They were amazed to see how Commissioner McLeod and 150 Mounties controlled Sitting Bull and his 4,000 highly-excited followers, many of whom were armed with rifles.
Sitting Bull rejected the American proposals and stayed in Canada until 1881, when starvation compelled the Sioux to return to their reservations in the United States.
The Mounties kept control over many other equally dangerous situations, including the Klondike gold rush.
For more information, I highly suggest visiting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police site.
- Oh, Canada! (mohighlibrary.wordpress.com)