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Progress of the Territories

Back to The Riders of the Plains.

The following is an excerpt from The Riders of the Plains: A Reminiscence of the Early and Exciting Days in the North West (1905), by Cecil Edward Denny. This work is in the public domain.

Continued from Chapter XXXIII – Some Advice to Settlers.


Chapter XXXIV


IN ADDING THE LAST chapter to a history I commenced to write nearly thirty years ago, and have at odd times carried on, and then let long intervals pass without a word being written, I wish to draw the attention of my readers to the following points:

I have not tried to write a novel, but only the dry facts of the original opening of the Northwest Territories of Canada in the days of 1874, and on to the year 1887, which thirteen years really take in the hard work done by the police in opening up that section.

As immigration brought bore people into the country, of course things changed, and that very rapidly, as I stated in the last chapter. For eight or nine years up to 1895, the progress was slow, but today, that is in the year 1905, a jump of another ten years, the changes are more astonishing, and in a few pages I will show what these changes have been.

So far as I am concerned, my life since leaving the Indian department in 1887 has been a varied one. In British Columbia, prospecting and mining; in the State of Montana as United States Forest Ranger; and in many western states and territories, in all sorts of capacities, I still have been in touch with my old friends in western Canada, and have watched the advancement of that country with the greatest interest. Large towns have sprung up at Calgary, Edmonton and Macleod, and nearly all points where our first police forts were built; cattle are on the prairie by tens of thousands; farms are flourishing where the buffalo used to graze; and, recently taking a trip through western Alberta, I was unable to recognize the country. Railroads now run where our cart roads used to be, towns have sprung up where we used to camp, and all is changed.

Just think of it. Calgary, which I left twenty years ago, had then about 200 inhabitants; today it has 12,000, electric lights, fine stone and brick buildings; and Macleod and Edmonton are not behind. The immigration is increasing by leaps and bounds, and that from the western States of America is, I think, the best element obtainable for the settlement of western Canada that can be got.

Doukhobor women.

Much has recently been said regarding the influx of Americans, and the idea that the American element coming into the country is liable to Americanize Canada. I find that these western Americans settling in western Canada become good law-abiding British subjects; they like our laws, and are all thoroughly practical men, nearly all with means and great push. They will make this western country, as they are doing in the mining sections of British Columbia. For some reason our people of Canada are slower in taking hold of an opportunity in the way of opening up a section of country than our neighbors of the south. I do not like the idea of bringing in large numbers of pauper emigrants from Europe, such as Doukhobors. These uneducated people are a detriment to any country, and their emigration to western Canada should be discouraged, and that of hardy intelligent western American settlers cannot be too much encouraged.

Nearly all of the police officers mentioned in this book have passed to the great beyond, and I know only today of five besides myself of the old police officers of 1874 who are still living. The hardships endured in those old days, in a great measure caused them to die off at really not a great age, and even the men who came out west in the ‘70’s, although not remaining as long as most of the officers, are few and far between.

        Many of the old police constables settled in the country, and went in for cattle ranching; these men married and raised families, and nearly all did well, but only a few of them are alive today. Different government parties have come into power and gone out, but the great work has steadily gone ahead, and the time is fast coming when that great country which we found a wilderness, and only inhabited by Indians in 1874, will have the say, and the whole say, in the directing of the policy of the Canadian Government, and the Government cannot learn that too soon for the benefit of the whole of Canada. The west is the coming country for farming, mining, and cattle raising, and these industries are the ones that bring wealth to a country, and populate it with hardy, intelligent and enterprising people, who go to make a great nation.

Manitoba is fast filling up, and since the early days of the police railroads have been built in many directions, and branches constructed north and south, thereby opening up to settlement a vast country that in our days was wholly unoccupied.

        The railroads in Alberta are now running right through the heart of the farming and cattle grazing country. A road now runs from the boundary on the south, through Lethbridge (which is a prosperous mining town), Macleod and Calgary, northward over 300 miles to Edmonton, and all along this road prosperous towns are springing up, being feeders to the agricultural and stock country behind. The Northwest Mounted Police are everywhere stationed all through this section, with central posts in Edmonton, Calgary, and Macleod, and outposts all through the west. They are most efficient in their work, giving information regarding customs duties, or any information a settler may require, recovering stolen stock, and in all cases seeing that life and property are safe, and a more efficient force is not to be found in the world. The force is now over 1,000 strong, and they are scattered from Alaska to the American boundary line, and detachments are even stationed on the shores of Hudson’s Bay.

Major General Sir George Arthur French, the first Commissioner of the North West Mounted Police.

The force which was led out to the far west in 1874 by Lieut.-Colonel French, now General Sir G.A. French, K.C.M.G., and were the first to open the Northwest Territories, are still as efficient as ever, and it would indeed be hard to get on without them.

Not only have the police continued until the present day to do good work and valuable service all through the Northwest, but detachments are stationed on Hudson’s Bay, at the mouth of the Mackenzie river, with 300 men permanently stationed in the Yukon Territory, in which country they carry out the laws, oversee mining settlements, carry mails, and, in fact, do both civil and military work during the hard winters and short summers, just as well as they did the work in the old days of the opening of the Territories.

I cannot close without mentioning the work of this force during the South African War, and although they were not known as a corp in South Africa, still the Northwest Mounited Police contributed largely to the force sent by Canada. They sent enough men to have formed a regiment, but yet, although they did the very best of service, little was heard of them. While other Canadian corps have had their merits extolled to the skies, you hear little of the work done by the police, both officers and men, who did so much to make for thorough efficiency, bravery and everything that goes to comprise a strong, hardy, and soldierly body of men.

The police never trumpeted their deeds, but, through hardships and trials of all kinds, ever went forward on the path of duty, regardless of fear or favor. As an instance of their work in South Africa, I might mention that the Canadian Mounted Rifles of 1899 and 1900, and the Strathcona Horse of 1900, were officered and organized by the police, and contained a large number of police non-commissioned officers and men on leave, and ex-members of the force were to be found in the ranks. It was the same with the Second and Fifth Regiments of the C.M.R., the last being commanded by Inspector McDonnell.

Northwest Mounted Police officers stationed in South Africa during the Second Boer War.

The contingent commanded by Lieut-Colonel Herchmer, 400 strong, were, you might say, all Northwest Mounted Police, only two officers not belonging to that corps. The splendid service they did is well remembered. Lieutenant-Colonel Sanders was second in command

Captain Thomas Wellington Chalmers.

of the Second Regiment of Canadian Mounted Rifles, and served a year of stern duty, under General Hutten, and General Smith-Dorrien.

Lord Roberts, in a despatch, dated Johannesburg, Nov. 5, 1900, reports to the War Office as follows:

         “Smith-Dorrien states that Major Sanders and Captain Chalmers (of the Canadian Mounted Rifles) behaved with great gallantry in the action of Nov 2. Sanders rode out under a heavy fire to bring in a horseless non-commissioned officer (Tryon, nephew of Admiral Tryon, who went down in the Victoria). Sanders was wounded, and his horse killed, and Chalmers went to his assistance. Sanders implored him to leave, but was refused, and the gallant Chalmers was killed.”

The above is one of the many brave acts done by police officers and men. The officer mentioned above was recommended for the Victoria Cross, which he well deserved but never received. Major Sanders was thrice wounded, as also was Captain McDonnell; both received the D.S.O.

Colonel Gilbert E. Sanders of the Northwest Mounted Police.

Major, now Colonel, Sanders received his commission in the police in 1882, and went through hard service in the west. Since his return from South Africa he has been in command of the Calgary district, and the manner in which law is enforced, and settlers protected and helped, shows that the police officers of today are fully equal to those of the old days. Many other individual acts of bravery were done by members of the police force, enough to fill a volume, but they have been but little heard of, except through the dry records of the official blue books. This is not as it should be, and I hope the time is not far distant when the work done by the police in South Africa will be brought before the world in its true light, and the people of Canada will then realize what a splendid force they have in the Northwest Mounted Police.

I may at some future tie go more fully into the progress made in the Northwest Territories since 1887, but many books have been written already on the subject, and my idea has been only to give a brief history of the early work of the Northwest Mounted Police, and the opening of the Northwest Territories from 1873 until the present time. There is a rumor abroad that the Northwest Mounted Police force will be removed from Edmonton, Calgary, Macleod and central points, where the towns are to be formed to do the work now done by the police. This will be found to e a mistake, as it has taken the police force thirty-one years to come to their present state of efficiency, to learn the country thoroughly, and understand the handling of the thousands of Indians still in the Territories. Not only that, but the knowledge gained in all these years as to how to handle and help the settler recover stolen stock, and make the Canadian law so respected in the west that you never hear of railroad hold-ups, or other depredations committed that are so prevalent in the Western States of America, will be to some extent lost. The first thing an American settler remarks when he comes into Alberta is the wonderful way the law is upheld, and the rights of all settlers protected. I have, therefore, added this last chapter to show this western country has gone ahead since I closed the early history in 1887, and also to show that without this grand force of Mounted Police this could not have taken place; and I have written this book so that some record (and that authentic) should remain of those early days of hardships and adventure, undergone altogether by that force to which I had the honor to belong, so that the new generation growing up in the Western Territories of Canada will have some idea as to how their country was first opened up, and that they may give unstinted praise to those grand men of the original Northwest Mounted Police, who made it possible for them to live I peace and quietness, in a law abiding country.



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I'm a Western Canadian writer, carver, and fiddler who has a special place in his heart for history and the unexplained.

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