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" SAM STEELE - RCMP "
Superintendent Sam Steele of the North West Mounted Police was no stranger to action. The big, burly Mountie had helped rid the west of whisky traders, policed the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and averted war between natives and white settlers in British Columbia. At last, as commanding officer at Fort Macleod, married, with three children, he thought he might settle into peaceful retirement.
But the discovery of gold in the Klondike changed that prospect. Canada needed someone to control the thousands of miners [mostly American] who flooded the Yukon. They also needed someone to hold the territory for Canada. The man for the job was Sam Steele.
Steele arrived in the American port of Skagway, Alaska in February 1898. Skagway was a wide-open town, dominated by a suave killer named Soapy Smith. Smith controlled the saloons and dance halls, where gamblers and prostitutes parted miners from their gold. Steele was determined to keep Smith and his type of corruption out of Canadian territory.
He scaled the passes of the St. Elias Mountain that terrible winter. With parties of Mounted Policemen, he set up border posts flying the Union Jack. The Mounties collected custom duties, confiscated handguns, and arrested men who mistreated their pack animals. It was clear that Steele was in charge. Soapy Smith's desperadoes were met at the border by Winchester rifles and Canadian law.
In the spring, Steele moved down to Lake Bennett, a tent city of more than 10,000 people. Here, prospectors saw two sides of Steele. He was known to lend his own money to men down on their luck, and to write personal letters to the families of those who died in the territory. But he could also be tough. One American caught with marked cards protested that he had rights as a U.S. citizen. Steele confiscated all of his goods and had a Mountie escort him on the 50 km. climb to the border.
Once the ice cleared, Steele and the other stampeders of Lake Bennett rode the wild Yukon River down to Dawson, with many hazards and fatalities on the way. Dawson was a chaotic boomtown of saloons, gambling dens, dance halls and a population of 14,000, including a number of veterans from Soapy Smith's gang. With a force of only 13 men, Steele cleaned up the town. He knew that he could not prevent the gambling and other vices, but he made sure that the games were honest, and he dealt swiftly with those who disturbed the public order. He also formed a board of health that stemmed a raging typhoid epidemic.
Unfortunately, it was political corruption that ended Steele's posting. Politicians in Ottawa wanted their friends to get a share of the Yukon gold, and Steele stood in their way. The crooked minister in charge of the Mounted Police relieved Steele of his command, despite the pleas of the citizenry of Dawson.
When Steele tried to leave quietly in September 1899, the prospectors, gamblers, ragtime piano-players, and dancehall girls of Dawson poured down to the wharf to give Steele "such an ovation and send-off as no man has ever received from the Klondike gold-seekers," in the words of a local newspaper. They cheered Sam Steele until his steamboat was out of sight.
The North-west Mounted Police was established in 1873 by the Canadian Government to police the vast area of western Canada that today comprises the provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Reports reaching the government indicated that some form of control was urgently needed as free traders roamed almost at will plying the Indians with a fiery concoction, loosely termed whisky, in exchange for valuable furs, robes and horses, in fact almost anything the Indian possessed. News from Cypress Hills that a gang of white wolf hunters had massacred a camp of Assiniboine Indians precipitated the formation of the North-West Mounted Police.
Assembling at Dufferin, Manitoba, in the summer of 1874, the force, some 300 strong, set out on a long march to the Rocky Mountain foothills in search of the whisky forts and traders. In October of that year, Fort Macleod was built on the banks of the Oldman River, in present day Alberta. By 1875, additional posts at Fort Saskatchewan, Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh had been established. In 1882, the Force's Headquarters were transferred from Fort Walsh to Regina where it remained for 38 years.
By patient negotiation the NWMP established friendly relations with the Indians, wiped out the illicit whisky traffic and supressed the lawlessness that had flourished in the region. The North-West Mounted Police assisted the militia in quelling the 1885 North West Rebellion, and shouldered countless new duties brought about by the vast influx of settlers that had flocked to the plains after the cessation of hostilities.
In 1898, word of gold discoveries in the Yukon brought hordes of largely ill-equipped fortune hunters to the region and to the North-West Mounted Police fell the task of maintaining law and order.
In 1904, King Edward VII granted the force use of the prefix " Royal" and it became the Royal North-West Mounted Police. The year 1920 saw the force absorb the Dominion Police, Headquarters transfer from Regina to Ottawa and its title changed to Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In the same year the force was charged with enforcing Federal legislation through-out the entire country. In 1928, by means of a contract between the RCMP, the Federal Government and the province of Saskatchewan, the Force undertook provincial duties in that province. Similar contracts were made in 1932 with the remailing prairie provinces band the Maratimes. In that year the RCMP also absorbed the Preventitive Service of the Department of National Revenue.
During World War II the Force was responsible for maintaining Canada's internal security, and from its ranks recruited No. 1 Provost Company, Canadian Army, which saw service on the battlefields of Europe. During this period, the Force's small Arctic supply vessel "St. Roch" was adding a chapter to Canadian history. Between 1940 and 1942 St. Roch successfully completed a voyage through the fabled Northwest Passage from Vancouver to Halifax, becoming the first ship to traverse the Passage from west to east. The ship made a return voyage in 1944 and later, in 1950, sailed from Vancouver to Halifax via the Panama Canal to become the first vessel to circumnavigate the North American continent. In the same year the RCMP assumed provincial policing duties in British Columbia and undertook enforcement of Federal and Provincial legislation in the newly formed province of Newfoundland.
The Force headed by a commissioner, is organized under the authority of the RCMP act. Under the Solicitor General of Canada's direction, the commissioner controls and manages the Force's operations from it's headquarters in Ottawa.
The Force consists of 16 divisions and a security service. Thirteen are operational divisions, alphabetically designated, with headquarters for each generally located in provincial or territorial capitals. The operational divisions are further divided into 46 sub-divisions and 723 detachments. Air and Marine services within the Force support the operational divisions.
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