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Regimental badges first appeared on uniforms of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) as early as 1876, although they were not commonplace until the turn of the century.
The principal elements on the early badges can still be seen today – a buffalo or bison head facing frontwise; the motto; maple leaves; a scroll with the name of the Force; and a crown at the top of the badge over the name “Canada”.
The name of the Force changed from North-West Mounted Police to Royal Northwest Mounted Police in June 1904 and to Royal Canadian Mounted Police in February 1920. The crown on the badge has also changed from time to time to respect the wishes of the reigning monarch. The St. Edward’s crown was adopted for use on NWMP badges, primarily those worn by officers. Through the reigns of Edward VII to George VI (1903-1952), the Tudor crown adorned Mounted Police badges. Upon the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the badge was redesigned to include the St. Edward’s crown once again.
The precise reason why the bison head was chosen for the badge has never been determined. It is believed that a bull’s head was first utilized because it was a feature on the crest of the Macleods of Dunvegan, the clan of Commissioner James F. Macleod. Artistic license and the passage of time may have served to alter the image from that of a bull to a bison. This is entirely appropriate because of the close association of the Mounted Police with the grasslands of the western prairies where early members depended on the buffalo for food, fuel and clothing.
The motto, “Maintiens le Droit”, is English in origin and dates from the 14th century. It first appeared in Canada as the motto for the Grand Trunk Railway Regiment, a militia unit, in the 1860s. Speculation continues, however, as to how this motto was chosen for the NWMP; the answer is elusive because many of the earliest records of the NWMP were destroyed by fire in 1897. Initially, “Maintiens” was spelled without the “s”, but this was rectified by General Order in September 1915 and confirmed by order-in-council in 1954 following submission of the badge to the College of Arms (England) for redesign according to heraldic procedures.