On the Job
"Healthier Than When I Left"
Harry P.E. Francis, served 1892-1897
When Sergeant John Fitzpatrick returned to Montreal in 1885 after six years service, he later observed that he was "a hundred times healthier than when I left." But the Prairies were not a very hospitable environment at the time. Severe weather, in winter and summer created difficult and even dangerous conditions for the force. In winter, travel was especially dangerous with blizzards and cold temperatures. In 1879 at Battleford, the water froze regularly, and the cold and damp conditions contributed to an outbreak of pneumonia.
In 1879, Dr. John Kittson reported that the health of the Mounted Police was "anything but satisfactory." A number of men had come down with mountain fever; William Walsh, nephew of Supt. James Walsh and a one-time member, died of the disease. The following year, Constables Devlin and Zwick were invalided out of the NWMP because of asthma, their condition aggravated by the environment in which they lived and worked.
NWMP Hockey Team, 1902 (original caption reads: "All tight in Champagne after winning the hockey game")
Disease was an unfortunate reality. Malaria was a frequent visitor and had devastating effects on the NWMP. At Fort Walsh in 1882, several men were seriously ill, and Constable A.E.C.Tonkin died of the disease. On June 17, Constables J. Hughes, J. Carruthers and J. Colford were discharged because of malaria. In 1884, typhoid carried off Constable Armstrong, and 26 others were discharged as invalids. Four men succumbed to malaria while serving with Sam Steele in British Columbia in the fall of 1887: Constables A.W. Fisher, James Mason, H.O. Lasenby and H. Mitchell. As late as 1898, the disease struck again, killing two members at Calgary, Corporal St. George Walker and Constable F. Maguire. Common afflictions such as heart disease, pneumonia, cancer and other diseases also took their toll on the Mounted Police.
Dr. George Kennedy complained in 1881 that the medical examination, done in eastern Canada, was simply not thorough enough. Of the men enlisted in 1880, 13 were soon discharged as invalids; Dr. Kennedy claimed that five of them should never have been engaged, including one man who entered hospital upon arrival at Fort Walsh and remained there until he departed for the east again. Dr. Kennedy called for stricter medical examinations and a minimum age of 21.
Increases in the number of men, especially in 1882 and again in 1885, created crowded and unhealthy conditions in barracks. Officials responded by drawing up plans for larger and better buildings, purchasing bedsteads for the men, and investing in recreation rooms.
When the NWMP was first organized in 1873, recruits were promised medical care. The medical practitioners employed by the Mounted Police between 1873 and 1904 were devoted to the men's health and well-being. Their yearly reports appear in the published annual reports of the Mounted Police, with details on individual cases, and a statistical summary of the various diseases and conditions that afflicted mounted policemen.