Life as an Officer
Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, 1894. Inspector Zachary Taylor Wood (standing in centre, with son). Seated: Surgeon S.M. Fraser (with dogs), Sheriff Duncan Campbell. Mounted: Mrs. Z.T. Wood (left), Mrs. White-Fraser (right).
Officers were responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Mounted Police, ensuring that divisions and detachments operated efficiently, that discipline was enforced, that men were trained and drilled, and that investigations were undertaken when required. They had dozens of other duties, some unrelated to law enforcement.
As in the military, officers were expected to purchase their own dress uniforms and accoutrements, but they enjoyed a lifestyle very different from the non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and men. They could marry, unlike the men they commanded, and live in their own homes with their families. They were, at times, allowed additional rations for their family, living quarters, fuel and other privileges, including servants, at public expense. But an officer's life could be expensive. Romeo Prévost, commissioned with a salary of $1000, left the NWMP after 15 months for financial reasons.
They enjoyed a certain position in pioneer society and were often leaders in the communities in which they resided. Officers were often regarded as the cream of western society. Retired NWMP officers could take on prestigious positions. George E. Sanders became a provincial court judge. After a 30-year career as a NWMP officer, Philip C.H. Primrose was later appointed Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.
Domestic life at Fort MacLeod, Alberta, 1899. Standing left to right: Mrs. C.E.D. Wood, Inspector J.O. Wilson, unidentified relative of Inspector Wilson, Mr. John Cowdry (first banker in N.W.T.), Mr. C.E.D. Wood (ex-Constable, owner and publisher of the MacLeod Gazette). Seated left to right: Inspector Zachary Taylor Wood, Mrs. Z.T. Wood, Mrs. J.O. Wilson, Maid Emily Horan seated on the step.
While many officers had long careers with the Mounted Police, others did not fare as well and remained with the NWMP for only a short time. Still others found police life difficult. Five of the first officers appointed -- Charles F. Young, John Breden, Albert Shurtliff, Joseph Forget and Duncan B. McLennan -- parted company with the NWMP mere months after their appointments.
Midnight in the Yukon, June 1899. Left to right: Superintendent S.B. "Sam" Steele, Miss Scott, Inspector Courtlandt Starnes, Mrs. Starnes, Captain Burstall (Yukon Field Force)
Others parted company with the NWMP, especially in the 1870s, because of incompetence or because they found western policing less glamorous than they had expected. Of the first 31 officers, 14 had resigned their commission or been dismissed by the end of the 1870s.
Francis Dickens, son of the famous British novelist Charles Dickens, received his commission in November 1874, to replace one of the first five officers who had left. Young Dickens found that living in his father's shadow was almost impossible. He had served with the British Army in India, then came out to Canada for a fresh start in 1874, joined the Mounted Police and had a modest career until 1886. Increasingly deaf and disheartened at his future prospects in the NWMP, he resigned his commission and was about to embark on a speaking tour in the United States when he died suddenly at Moline, Illinois.
In spite of the political overtones and casual interference from Ottawa, the commissioned officers of the NWMP were generally competent and provided the necessary leadership. As a group, they performed their duties in a professional manner and learned to adapt to western and (later) northern conditions.
There were exceptions, of course. Some men were clearly not suited to the demands of police work on the Prairies or in the Yukon. But most officers had long and productive careers. They contributed to the settlement and development of the West and the opening up of the Yukon. More importantly, they built up the reputation, professionalism, and image of the Mounted Police in Canada and abroad.