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With the purchase of the North-Western Territory and Rupert's Land, the federal government began to feel the need to establish a police force to maintain law and order in that region.
Great Britain already had experience, in Ireland and India, with the establishment of a centralized police force. John A. Macdonald used these as models for the creation of a police force for the new Northwest Territories.
This police force was initially only meant to be temporary; it was to see the Northwest Territories through its transition period and then be disbanded. Circumstances would have it otherwise -- the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is very much still alive and well today.
The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) was created in 1873, with its headquarters at Fort Garry. It started out with 150 men; another 150 were added the following spring. It was similar to a cavalry regiment armed with pistols, rifles and some small artillery.
The North West Mounted Police had its first real test in 1874, when it was called to respond to a massacre in the Cypress Hills. Following this bloody confrontation 150 men were stationed permanently at Fort Macleod. Others were sent to Fort Edmonton and Fort Ellice, and, the following year, to Fort Calgary and Fort Walsh. Men were stationed at Battleford in 1876.
Growing instability in the Northwest Territories, brought about by the disappearance of the buffalo and the construction of the Canadian Pacific, contributed to the expansion of the police force to 500 men in 1882. This number would still prove insufficient. Ottawa ignored the warnings of its police officers in the West, leading in part to the 1885 rebellion. Following that confrontation, Ottawa increased the police force to 1,000 men.
The North West Mounted Police extended its jurisdiction northward in the 1890s. As rumours of gold in the Yukon increased, the NWMP sent 20 men to the territory in 1895. By 1899, this number had grown to 250.
After 1900, when the gold rush was over, the NWMP pushed farther north, towards the Arctic, opening detachments at Fort McPherson, near the Beaufort Sea, and at Cape Fullerton.
The North West Mounted Police changed its name to the Royal North West Mounted Police in 1904, and to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920.