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ARCHIVED - " Without Fear, Favour or Affection:" The Men of the North West Mounted Police

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Officers' Ranks

The officers' rank structure was straightforward: one commissioner, an assistant commissioner, superintendents, and inspectors.

Photograph of Donald Macdonald Maclean-Howard, served 1890-1920


Donald Macdonald Maclean-Howard, served 1890-1920


Between 1873 and 1904, five men served as commissioner -- George Arthur French, James F. Macleod, Acheson G. Irvine, Lawrence Herchmer, and Aylesworth B. Perry. Each in his own way contributed to the ultimate success of the NWMP.

French brought the Mounted Police up to strength and set its military tone. He soon ran afoul of the government and was replaced by James F. Macleod. Macleod was particularly good at dealing with the First Nations at a critical time in the history of the Prairies, as the government signed treaties with First Nations and established the reserve system.

Acheson G. Irvine recognized the need for more professional training for the rank and file. He was not a strong leader during the 1885 Rebellion and was replaced in 1886 with Lawrence Herchmer (whose family had close ties to Macdonald). Herchmer reorganized the operations of the Mounted Police to meet new demands created by the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway and increased settlement. He was never popular with his fellow officers. In 1900, the Laurier government replaced him with A.B. Perry, who would command the Mounted Police for the next 23 years.


Sir Cecil Denny

At the next level were superintendents who, for most of the period under study, commanded the force's divisions. They were in charge of their divisions' administrative and operational needs. Commissioners Macleod, Irvine, and Perry were superintendents before their elevation to the top rank.

Before 1886, divisional appointments were regarded as permanent, but when Lawrence Herchmer assumed the commissionership, he decided that it was in the force's best interests to rotate superintendents from one division to another on a fairly regular basis, and this soon became the norm. Superintendents received an annual salary of $1,400 in the 1880s.


The entry level for most officers was inspector. Inspectors assisted superintendents with operational matters within a division and often took on special duties. Promotion to a higher rank was never guaranteed, since superintendents were few in number. Of the 20 inspectors appointed between 1886 and 1891, only 5 reached the rank of superintendent. Inspector Donald M. Howard, commissioned in November 1890, served as an inspector for his entire 35-year career.

Photograph of Arthur H. Griesbach, served 1873-1903


Arthur H. Griesbach, served 1873-1903

In 1886, in response to an increase in the number of rank and file, several new inspectors were appointed, including Cortlandt Starnes, a militia officer who had served in the 1885 Rebellion with the 65th Mount Royal Rifles. He remained in the Mounted Police for 45 years, completing his career as commissioner from 1923 to 1931. Charles Constantine was appointed at the same time and had an adventurous career spanning 26 years. He would be the first Mounted Police officer to set foot in the Yukon.

Letter from S.B. “Sam” Steele to NWMP Commissioner, requesting permission to take his family with him to the Yukon, May 12, 1898


Letter from S.B. "Sam" Steele to NWMP Commissioner, requesting permission to take his family with him to the Yukon, May 12, 1898

Throughout the history of the NWMP, it was possible, but not easy, for a member to be promoted through the ranks up to a commission, despite the fact that experienced rankers could take on officers' duties more easily than inexperienced militia or former army officers. There were exceptions: John H. McIlree joined the Mounted Police as a sergeant in 1873, but was commissioned the following year. "Original" rankers such as A.H. Griesbach, Lawrence Fortescue, Perry Neale, and Sam Steele received commissions as officers.

Medical Practitioners

Medical practitioners (physicians and veterinarians) who served with the NWMP were primarily concerned with the health and well-being of the men and horses, but they also served the communities in which they lived and worked, including First Nations people and the local white population. They were appointed by the government and commissioned as officers.

Photograph of J.A. Kittson, MD, served 1874-1882


J.A. Kittson, MD, served 1874-1882

Dr. John Kittson, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, and a graduate of McGill University, was the first commissioned medical practitioner in the Mounted Police. He was appointed in 1874 and retired eight years later in 1882.

Dr. R.B. Nevitt, a native of Savannah, Georgia, whose family had fled to Montréal during the Civil War, was also appointed in 1874, and served four years before returning to Toronto to pursue a distinguished medical career. Dr. Nevitt was a keen observer of the world around him and left a wonderful collection of pen and ink sketches of life in the Mounted Police and in the North West in the 1870s (see Further Research).

Dr. Augustus Jukes served during the Northwest Rebellion and was one of the physicians asked to interview Louis Riel after the Rebellion, to determine his mental state. Dr. Jukes was surprisingly sympathetic toward Riel, finding him both compelling and sane, when not in trying conditions.