RCMP badge and motto

The badge

The story of our badge and motto is one of legend and mystery, dating back to the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). A fire in the West Block of the Parliament Buildings in 1897 destroyed most of the NWMP's 19th century records.

This leaves us with no official record of how or when our badge and motto were chosen. Despite the uncertainty, we do have some leads.

The badge

We know the original buffalo head badge first appeared on an officer's pouch (sabretache) in 1877. This means the badge was likely selected while Commissioner George Arthur French was in command (1873 to 1876).

Did you know

Coat of Arms of Canada

Our buffalo head emblem is considered a badge, rather than a crest.

A badge, like our buffalo head, is a distinctive symbol worn as a sign of allegiance or membership. Our badge is also registered in the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada. That means it can only be referred to as a badge.

Whereas a crest is an emblem placed on a helmet, which is above the shield in an illustration of a coat of arms. For example, the lion at the top of the Coat of Arms of Canada is considered a crest.

The buffalo head

The origin of the North American bison as the symbol of the NWMP is unknown. One historical account notes a possible connection to the March West in 1874 and Assistant Commissioner James Macleod.

Assistant Commissioner Macleod was said to have been impressed with the great herds of prairie buffalo. So much so, he thought it was a "splendid" idea to have the buffalo head on the buttons of the members' tunics. That suggestion was later adopted.

Assistant Commissioner Macleod's influence

Assistant Commissioner Macleod was a former chieftain of the Scottish Clan Macleod of Dunvegan. This had a very clear, though unconfirmed, influence on the original NWMP badge.

The Scottish Clan Macleod of Dunvegan's badge included a bull's head, similar to the buffalo head. The oval surrounding the head in the NWMP badge also had a belt buckle at the bottom. This was a device of the badges of the Highland clans.

Badge design

The first official description of the badge with our motto appeared in the dress regulations for officers. It was published in Order-in-Council 1890-0192, dated January 24, 1890.

The badge was described as "a maple wreath with a ribbon bearing the word "Canada" surmounted by a crown above; and the words "North West Mounted Police" below; within the wreath an oval bearing the words "Maintien le droit", encircling a buffalo head in silver."

This remains the basic design of our badge today, though it did undergo some changes in 1953. Most notably, the belt buckle was removed. This was due to the mistaken belief that the oval was a "garter" (symbol of the English Order of the Garter).

The motto

Our motto, Maintiens le Droit, translates from French to "maintain the right" or "uphold the right" in English.

Grammar controversy

Who selected this motto is unknown. However, on the badges of both the NWMP and, after 1904, the Royal North-West Mounted Police, the motto was Maintien le Droit. But the use of "maintien" was later proven incorrect.

In 1914, a French-speaking officer, Inspector Charles Auguste Rheault, first wrote to Commissioner A. B. Perry to point out the issue. He noted that maintiens was the correct conjugation of maintenir in the second person singular.

After checking with language experts, Commissioner Perry confirmed maintiens was the correct conjugation. He later sent out a General Order the organization to confirm the change of motto to Maintiens le Droit.

The story of Fred White

Recent research suggests the original spelling, although incorrect, was deliberate.

Maintien Le Droit was the ancestral motto of Charles John Brydges, the managing director of the Grand Trunk Railway. Brydges was also a personal friend of Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald.

In 1866, Brydges organized a militia unit called the Grand Trunk Railway Regiment. The motto Maintien le Droit appeared on the militia's badge.

The story takes an interesting turn with a young immigrant from England named Fred White. He was a clerk under Brydges at the railroad company's head office in Montreal from 1862 to 1869.

In 1869, White became a clerk in the Department of Justice under the Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. He was also directly involved in the organization of the NWMP in 1873. In 1878, he was appointed the Comptroller of the NWMP, a position he held until 1913.

It's possible Fred White borrowed the ancestral motto of his former boss to be the motto of the NWMP.

But due to the 1897 fire that destroyed his records, we can never know for sure and the true origins remain a mystery.

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