History of the RCMP
The great march to 150
Did you know the RCMP is almost 150 years old? We're looking forward to our 150th anniversary in 2023. Join us as we commemorate the many milestones of our history and celebrate our future as a modern, effective, healthy and inclusive police organization.
Our story began as a 300-person corps in the west that has grown into a world-renowned organization of more than 28,000 people.
The early days of the North-West Mounted Police
The origin story of today's RCMP followed shortly after, and shares deep ties to, Canada's Confederation in 1867 and the Dominion Police.
As each new province joined Canada, it took on policing duties within its borders. But the Northwest Territories, without provincial status, had to rely on the federal government for policing.
The federal policing body at the time was the Dominion Police, whose main role was to guard the parliament buildings. As such a small organization, it didn't have the size and structure to police the Northwest Territories.
To fill this gap, Parliament passed an act that allowed for the creation of the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) on May 23, 1873. Today, we consider this the official birthdate of the RCMP.
But the Order-in-Council to establish the NWMP wasn't signed until August 30, 1873. This was in response to an attack on First Nations peoples in the Cypress Hills by American whiskey traders and wolf-hunters. Later that year, on November 3, the first 150 recruits gathered at Lower Fort Garry, near Winnipeg, Manitoba, to start training.
The next summer, the NWMP set out on the Great March West. Along the way it set up posts, now known as divisions, each with smaller outposts, now known as detachments.
The NWMP later faced uncertainty from Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier, who wanted to reduce and someday disband the police. Support for the NWMP in the west won out in the end, though it shrunk from 1,000 to 774 members.
Transitioning to the Royal North-West Mounted Police
In 1904, King Edward VII awarded the title of Royal to the NWMP, officially creating the Royal North-West Mounted Police (RNWMP). This was to recognize its 30-year policing role in the Northwest and Yukon Territories.
In 1905, Saskatchewan and Alberta joined Canada as provinces and contracted the RNWMP as their provincial police forces. But just 12 years later, during WWI, the federal government cancelled the contracts. As a result, both provinces formed their own provincial police forces.
From this decision came a new role for the RNWMP: Enforcing federal statutes and national security. During WWI, the Dominion Police paid the RNWMP to conduct federal policing in western Canada. On December 12, 1918, the government split federal policing duties between the Dominion Police and the RNWMP.
The Dominion Police kept its federal policing duties in eastern and central Canada. The RNWMP kept its general policing duties in the territories, while also adding federal policing duties in:
- Northwestern Ontario
- British Columbia
Following this shift, the RNWMP created a new Criminal Investigation Branch in February 1919 at its headquarters in Regina.
Also during this time, the RNWMP set up a security and intelligence office. This later became the Security Service, which evolved into the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) in 1984.
Creating the modern-day RCMP
Concerned with Canada's federal policing system in 1919, Prime Minister Robert Borden met with RNWMP Commissioner A. B. Perry. In this meeting, Commissioner Perry proposed a new policing system where the RNWMP would conduct federal policing across Canada.
Based on this proposal, legislation came into effect in 1920 that:
- changed the RNWMP's name to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- absorbed the Dominion Police into the RCMP
- added federal policing in eastern Canada to the RCMP's duties
- moved RCMP headquarters to Ottawa from Regina
With the RCMP's role in the northern territories now reduced only to police work, there were calls to dismiss us. But in 1928, Saskatchewan contracted the RCMP to become its provincial police, absorbing the Saskatchewan Provincial Police.
Later, during the Great Depression, provinces suffering financially sought contracts similar to Saskatchewan's. In 1932, we took over provincial policing in:
- Prince Edward Island
- Nova Scotia
- New Brunswick
In August 1950, we added provincial policing duties in British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador. This left only Ontario and Quebec with their own provincial police forces, which still exist today.
Our mandate now includes national, federal, provincial, and municipal policing from coast to coast to coast.
Read more about our role.
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