Go North, Sir!

In 1894, the Canadian government’s interest turned towards the Yukon. There were concerns about the influx of American citizens into the region as the new border was disputed in certain areas. In addition, there were mounting concerns over law and order, and the liquor trade among the resident miners.

Inspector Charles Constantine of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was dispatched to the Yukon to carry out law enforcement, border and tariff control, and to assess the policing needs of the territory. After four weeks of duty, Constantine returned south and submitted his report to the government recommending that a larger force of seasoned, robust and non-drinking constables between the ages of 22 and 32 years be sent to the Yukon to carry out border and law enforcement. It wasn’t until 1895 that a contingent of 20 constables under Inspector Constantine’s command finally set out from Regina towards the Alaskan border. They reached the town of Forty Mile and established Fort Constantine in July 1895. The year was marked by logging, enduring the elements and insects, and constructing their detachment building. Remarkably, crime during this time was rare.

Two black-and-white photos mounted on an album page depicting two groups of North West Mounted Police personnel outside in the snow

Fort Constantine detachment (now Forty Mile) on the Yukon River, 1895, the first North West Mounted Police group in the Yukon (MIKAN 3715394)

Things changed drastically in 1896. Gold was discovered near the Klondike River and news spread quickly. From a population of about 1,600 in the area, it swelled by tens of thousands by the summer of 1897 with prospectors, gamblers, speculators and those with criminal intent. A majority of these miners came from the United States. The NWMP commanded by Inspector Charles Constantine faced a challenge in policing the influx of miners streaming into the region from all directions. Customs posts were set up at the Chilkoot and White Pass summits and the collection of duties and tariffs began. Those miners with insufficient provisions to make it to Dawson City and survive the winter were turned back. By 1898, outnumbered, under-supplied and under-staffed, 51 NWMP members and 50 members of the Canadian militia maintained Canada’s sovereignty, and law and order at the border passes and in the mining areas in the Yukon.

Three North West Mounted Police constables in uniform standing at ease with clasped hands over the muzzles of their rifles.

North West Mounted Police in the Yukon, 1898–1899 (MIKAN 3379433)

The Klondike gold rush lasted into 1899 until gold was discovered in Alaska. The migration of fortune seekers turned their attention and travelled towards that state’s Nome region. However, the Klondike gold rush left an infrastructure of supply, support and governance that led to the continued development of the territory to such a great extent that the Yukon was made into a Canadian territory on June 13, 1898. The North West Mounted Police also stayed to maintain peace and order under their steady hands.

Black-and-white photograph of two men in North West Mounted Police uniform sitting on cots in a tent

North West Mounted Police in the Yukon, 1898–1910 (MIKAN 3407658)

A wide variety of documentation is available at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) related to the North West Mounted Police, the Klondike gold rush, and their time in the territory. You may start your initial research in Charles Constantine‘s fond using Archives Search. A general search using his name will provide further records from the Department of Justice.

Try searching with some of these keywords to get more records from the era:

Bennett Lake / Lake Bennett
Chilkoot Pass
Dawson City Yukon
Dyea
Forty Mile
Gold rush
Klondike River
Skagway
White Pass
Yukon River

Related sites

140 Years Strong: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

The year 2013 marks the 140th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The Act allowing for the provision of a police force for the Canadian North-West was given Royal Assent by Queen Victoria on May 23, 1873 (to view, select page 110 on the drop down menu from the link). The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was formally established by a Dominion Order in Council on August 30th of the same year (RG 2, Privy Council Office, Series A-1-a, volume 314, Order in Council 1873–1134). The Canadian Parliament voted to merge the NWMP and the Dominion Police, a federal police force with jurisdiction in eastern Canada in 1919. On February 1, 1920, when the legislation came into effect, this combined police force became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Black-and-white image of an officer in uniform sporting a western-style Stetson, seated on a horse, with the Canadian Rockies in the background.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (silhouette) Source

Colour photograph of an officer posing with a dog in a field.

RCMP officer posing with dog Source

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds many records that document the numerous challenges the RCMP faced in maintaining law and order in the vast regions of Canada.

Available online at LAC:

  • NWMP Personnel Records, 1873–1904 (archived)
    The files of Samuel (Sam) Benfield Steele (RG18, Volume 10037, File: O.40) and Arthur Murray Jarvis (RG18, Volume 10037, File O.104) make for particularly interesting reading.

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