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Sam Benfield Steele

Sam Steele

Sam Steele is perhaps the best known member of the North West Mounted Police. His fame stems from his huge role in the establishment of the Force in the Canadian west.

Born in Purbrook, near Orillia, Ontario, on January 5, 1849, Samuel Benfield Steele came from a military background. He was educated at Toronto’s Royal Military School, served as a Sergeant in the Canadian Militia, and then joined the 1st Ontario Rifles. He joined the Force in 1873 as a Troop Sergeant Major and was one of the officers to lead the new recruits of the NWMP on the March West in 1874.

During the 1880s, as the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built across the prairies to the Pacific coast, Sam Steele was in charge of policing the land and people along the rail line, a very difficult task. Then, during the Rebellion of 1885, Steele formed the Alberta Field Force and commanded many of the Force members whose actions put an end to the uprising.

In 1887, Steele was promoted to Superintendent, and charged with the task of restoring order in the Kootenay, where there were a great number of problems due to tensions between the native and white people. He was then ordered to do the same thing in the Macleod district, where there were not only problems between native and white people, but there was also a high level of crime with rustlers, horse thieves, outlaws and smugglers. In 1898, Steele was ordered to go north to the Yukon, to be in charge of maintaining law and order among the thousands of people who came to the area as part of the gold rush. He was policeman, magistrate and controller of rations under the very trying times of people seeking their fortunes and unprepared for the weather conditions.

In 1900, the year after the outbreak of the Boer War in South Africa, Steele was responsible for the raising and training of the group of mounted riflemen named the Strathcona Horse. Later that year, Steele left Canada to go to South Africa, where he was instrumental in the creation of the South African Constabulary.

It is easy to see why the name Sam Steele is so well recognized today. With all of the work he did, he was not only important to the history of the North West Mounted Police, but he also played a very important role in the history of Canada. Superintendent Steele died in London, England, in 1919.

The following sources are suggested for further information:

  • Steele, Samuel., Forty Years in Canada, (McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 1972)
  • Robert Stewart., Sam Steele, Lion of the Frontier, (Centax Books, Publishing Solutions, Print West Group, 1999)
  • Sam Steele’s service file is in the custody of the National Archives of Canada at 395 Wellington St., Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0N3; see website www.archives.ca, section entitled genealogy.