The “Great March,” 1874

NWMP-march-1v7xxnpOn May 3, 1873, Prime Minister Macdonald introduced a Bill in the House of Commons, which called for the creation of a 300-member mounted force to police the N.W.T. and legitimize Canada’s claim to sovereignty over the region. The Bill passed on May 23, 1873.

Police responsibilities were outlined as three basic priorities. They were to suppress the whiskey trade, collect customs duties on goods moving into Canadian Territory from the U.S. and calm the unrest among the Native peoples. This unrest had only escalated with the appearance of the American-Canadian survey parties and their escorts who together made up the International Boundary Commission. By focusing on these three priorities, the N.W.M.P. would bring sovereignty to the West.

The Mounties first commissioner, George A. French, gathered 275 policemen (the youngest of which was 16 year old Fred Bagley), 339 horses, 142 oxen, 114 Red River carts, 73 wagons, and two cannons weighing a ton each. From Fort Dufferin, near Winnipeg, they headed 800 miles west toward the Rocky Mountains, to restore order in the North West. They had to be self-sufficient and carried an enormous amount of supplies. They endured terrible hardships: lack of water, insect plaques, lack of fire wood. Most of the horses died, and the equipment soon proved to be inadequate. The tents blew down in the prairie winds and the pillbox hats were of little use. Their Fate changes, when the force meets up with Jerry Potts, an extraordinary guide, who leads them to the hub of the illegal whiskey trade at Fort Whoop-up.

American Whiskey Traders from Fort Benton, Montana had established a fort near what is now Lethbridge Alberta some years earlier. The fort, called Fort Whoop-up, traded with the natives for hides in exchange for guns and whisky. The fort was well armed and even had a cannon. However, when the traders heard the Mounties were coming, they abandoned the fort. Thus allowing the Mounties to take the fort without a shot fired. Thus began the Mounties reputation thru the epic March West and the successful expulsion of the American Whisky Traders.

In that same year, the NWMP established their base at Fort MacLeod on an island on the Oldman River (located south of Calgary near the town of Fort MacLeod).

For a full account, see:


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