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1. Introduction2. Birth of a Police Force3. The March West4. Establishment of the Force5. The Railroad and the Rebellion6. The Growth of the Force7. Establishment of a National Police Force8. Biographies
 
The Gold Rush and the Policing of the Yukon
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While we were concentrating on the settlers, Native people and criminals in the West, events were happening in the North that would change the NWMP forever.

Miners are hardy men who have one goal in mind - to find the mother lode. They look for riches in the most difficult and remote places. By 1894, almost 1000 miners had found their way to the Yukon. Missionaries and whisky traders joined them. The local Anglican bishop became concerned for the welfare of the Native people there, and wrote many letters to the government. Finally, our Commissioner sent two officers, Inspector Constantine and Staff Sergeant Brown to investigate.

The two had orders to take a look around and decide what policing was needed. And if they had the opportunity to collect Customs duties for the government, they were to do so too.

Now getting to the Yukon was not a simple trip. After two and a half months, the two men arrived at Fortymile, a town near the Yukon River. They took a train, steamship, walked, rafted and boated to get there. They travelled to the mining camps, spoke with the townspeople and Natives and observed the goings on. Oh yes, they also collected $3,248.82 in Customs duties for the government. In the fall, Constantine returned south to make his report. Brown remained through the winter to represent the government and continue to collect duties and royalties on gold production.

Constantine expected trouble. About half of the miners were Americans and the boundary between Canada and Alaska was only just being established. The miners had ruled themselves to this point; they saw the government as an interference. The gambling houses and saloons also answered to no one. Constantine asked for 50 men. He wanted large, strong men who didn't drink and who had at least 2 years of experience. He was sent back to the Yukon in the summer of 1895 with 19 men to police the entire territory.

The men established the first northern mounted police post at Fort Constantine. They soon realized that policing in the north involved a lot of wood chopping! Keeping warm through the long winter required frequent trips into the forest for more trees. Prisoners in the guard house worked off their fines and sentences at the chopping block.

The other main concern for the men was food. Most supplies arrived during the summer months by steamship up the Yukon River. Once the river froze up, the men had to be content with the supplies they had purchased and put by for the winter and any meat they could obtain by hunting. In years when the river ice came early, the men were on short rations by the end of the winter. For Inspector Constantine, this also meant that prisoners were best fined, shipped out, pardoned or merely reprimanded rather than placed in the guard house where they too would have to be fed.

Luckily the NWMP were well established when the big strike happened. In August 1896, three partners struck gold on Bonanza Creek, 50 miles downriver of Fortymile. The Yukon Gold Rush was about to start!

Constantine finally got the men he needed. Within two years, almost 300 mounted police were stationed in the Yukon, myself included. Our role was to keep the peace, collect Customs duties and provide a strong Canadian presence.

Gold, greed and liquor are a powerful mix. We had our hands full. We investigated arguments over claims, mining partners who disappeared with sacks of gold dust, theft of food from cabins and caches, assaults and murders, liquor smuggling and gambling. We built Fort Herchmer near Dawson City and Bonanza Creek and set up detachments at places like Lake Bennett, White Pass and Chilkoot Pass.

We were worried about the gold-crazed Southerners arriving at Skagway and Dyea, ready to launch themselves into the wilderness without any idea of the challenges ahead. We stationed ourselves at the passes on the Chilkoot Trail and made sure that everyone travelling to the gold fields had at least one ton of supplies for every person in their party. We, of course, collected customs duties on everything they brought into Canada, but we also made sure that they had what they needed to live out one full year in the territory.

In spite of the dispute between the United States and Canada about the exact location of the international boundary, the NWMP went ahead and built custom houses at White and Chilkoot passes. Almost all gold seekers passed this way to the Klondike.

The Americans took a dim view of this. They believed that the boundary was further east, even past Lake Lindemann and Lake Bennett. 200 US Army troops arrived in Skagway to protect American interests. Canada believed that Skagway and Dyea would prove to be Canadian territory. Finally, the two governments agreed to leave things as they were, and to assume, at least temporarily, that the boundary rested at the two passes. The rapid movement of the NWMP to occupy the passes definitely helped to establish the official boundary a year or so later.

As the gold seekers descended from the summit, they arrived at a huge tent city at Lake Lindemann. The sound of axes and whipsaws filled the air - to continue to the goldfields you needed a boat. A detachment of two policemen kept the 4000 people in line. The policemen registered each boat as it was finished, in order to keep track of its owners - in the race to the Klondike, people drowned running the many rapids, overturned in high winds, or sunk when their boats sprang leaks. The policemen also dealt with arguments, thefts, deaths and illness.

Once we were settled in on the Chilkoot Trail, some of our men were sent to establish detachments on the less heavily used routes into the Yukon. One was on the Stikine River to the south, another on the Dalton Trail to the north.

Gradually, we moved into other areas of the Yukon. We had posts about every 30 miles along the Yukon River, one to three men who could relay mail, check the traffic on the river, and make sure that everyone had passed through Customs. Fourteen men were posted in Dawson, and they kept busy with all kinds of police work. Other men were posted on the creeks where the miners were working.

By the summer of 1898, the Klondike Gold Rush was over. Anyone still arriving found the best stakes already taken. Some adventurers stayed to work for the miners, in sawmills or at any other work they could find. Others cut their losses and returned home.

We were well established by now. For a few years, we delivered the mail, making the trip from Dawson to Skagway and back in under two weeks. In winter we used dog teams and in summer, the railway and boats.

Our concern was now to make the Yukon a law-abiding territory. Dawson was our biggest challenge as we battled to stop gambling and prostitution. We also provided guards for prisoners being sent out of the country, for gold shipments, and in banks. Smugglers found more and more creative ways of shipping liquor to Dawson and the goldfields - we even established a police post on Herschel Island in the Arctic Ocean to check the whaling ships as they came in to land.

Gradually, the miners moved away. In 1904, a gold strike in Alaska saw many miners ship out. Dawson became a much tamer place and we settled into our policing duties more and more.

The Yukon had been a proving ground for our men. They had to work independently and often rely upon only themselves. They adapted well to a northern lifestyle and learned to build log buildings, drive dog teams, shoot rapids, track criminals through some of the wildest country in Canada and carry out their duties with honour and pride.

A mining camp in the Yukon.
A mining camp in the Yukon.


The road to the gold fields was a difficult one.
The road to the gold fields was a difficult one.


The men experienced much harsher winters than they ever had on the prairies.
The men experienced much harsher winters than they ever had on the prairies.


Fort Constantine
Fort Constantine


NWMP at their camp at the Chilkoot Pass.
NWMP at their camp at the Chilkoot Pass.


Gambling and drinking took place in the mining camps and in the saloons of Dawson City.
Gambling and drinking took place in the mining camps and in the saloons of Dawson City.


The NWMP detachment at the summit of the Chilkoot Trail.
The NWMP detachment at the summit of the Chilkoot Trail.


The NWMP kept track of everyone who sailed from Lake Lindemann.
The NWMP kept track of everyone who sailed from Lake Lindemann.

Winter travel depended upon dog teams.
Winter travel depended upon dog teams.


Liquor smugglers on whaling ships attracted the NWMP to Herschel Island.
Liquor smugglers on whaling ships attracted the NWMP to Herschel Island.


Detachments in the Yukon were small and dispersed.
Detachments in the Yukon were small and dispersed.

 
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6. The Growth of the Force