The Queen's Commission
William Winder, served 1873-1881
The government of Sir John A. Macdonald decided to create the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in the fall of 1873. The force's organization was based in part on the Royal Irish Constabulary and on military organization and administration in general. The new force was basically paramilitary, with the customs, traditions and practices of a military regiment.
The first men appointed to the Mounted Police in the fall of 1873 were officers, most of whom had extensive military experience. Their first task was to recruit rank-and-file members in specific regions of the country. Charles F. Young, a veteran of the British Army, was responsible for recruiting in the Maritime provinces. Ephrem Brisebois and William Winder divided Quebec. Brisebois hoped to recruit members amongst the French-speaking population, whereas Winder recruited in the Eastern Townships.
First order-in-council for the recommendation of the appointment of officers to the NWMP, September 23, 1873
Order-in-council number: 1873-1230
Close to 140 men were commissioned as officers in the NWMP from 1873 to 1904, including 21 medical doctors and two veterinarians. The majority were Canadian born. Until 1885, when the number of mounted policemen was increased, the establishment called for 25 officers, including medical practitioners. By the mid-1890s, the number had risen to about 50 officers for a force of 850. In 1885, another 17 officers were commissioned, and another dozen were added in 1886.
It Helped to Have Connections
The rank of officer was always highly sought after. All officers were appointed by the federal government by Order in Council and received the Queen's Commission. Since all appointments were made by the government of the day, it helped to have political or personal connections with those in power. Regional and religious considerations, always important in 19th-century government appointments, also influenced the choice of one man over another.
Edmund Dalrymple Clark, served 1873-1880
According to historian Rod Macleod, no NWMP officer received his first commission or subsequent promotion without some political influence or consideration, although some military experience was an asset. Edward Dalrymple Clark, the force's first Paymaster and Quartermaster, was related by marriage to Sir John A. Macdonald and owed his appointment to him.
Romeo Prévost, a militia officer with the Victoria Rifles of Montréal, lobbied the government for a commission for two years. Prévost himself wrote to the Prime Minister in February 1880 and to such prominent Conservatives as Hector Langevin. J.A. Chapleau approached Macdonald on his behalf. On January 24, 1882, Prévost and A.B. Perry, a graduate of RMC (and a future commissioner) were commissioned inspectors at $1,000 per annum.
Richard Burton Deane, served 1883-1915
Richard Burton Deane, a one-time member of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, had connections through family with Sir John A. Macdonald. He was appointed in 1883 and enjoyed a successful career with the Mounted Police for over 30 years. In retirement, he wrote one of the best memoirs by a member of the NWMP, Mounted Police Life in Canada: A Record of Thirty-one Years' Service (1916).
While connections were important, most officers appointed between 1873 and 1904 had some real qualification for the position, usually experience with the Canadian militia. Several were graduates of the Royal Military College (RMC) at Kingston, Ontario. Others had served with the British Army, the Royal Marines and in at least two cases, the American Army.
Many officers of the Mounted Police had fathers and grandfathers who had fought together during the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the 1837 Rebellion and the Fenian Raids. For the most part, the early officers of the Mounted Police saw themselves serving as military rather than police officers.
When the force was expanded in 1885-86, only those officers promoted from within the Mounted Police had any practical police experience. The exception was Charles Constantine, chief of the Manitoba Provincial Police when he was commissioned in October 1886.
Jacob Carvell, served 1873-1875; former officer in Confederate Army, American Civil War
P.C.H. Primrose and Zachary Taylor Wood were recent RMC graduates when they were commissioned in August 1885, and fellow graduate Victor Williams was only 19 when he received his commission in October 1886. Williams served only three years with the force, but Primrose and Wood had successful careers. Wood had exceptional historical connections, counting U.S. President Zachary Taylor and Confederate President Jefferson Davis as family. He was also the father of future Commissioner Stuart Taylor Wood. Another 1885 appointee, Henry S. Casey, had some militia experience, but he was better known as an insurance broker and a fervent supporter of Sir John A. Macdonald
John B. Allan brought extensive military experience to bear, although he was also a Conservative member of the Manitoba Legislature when he was commissioned in August 1885. He had fought with the Union Army in the American Civil War, return home to Quebec, joined the militia and helped to turned back the Fenians in 1866. In 1870, Allan came west with the Red River Expeditionary Force and remained in Manitoba. In 1884, he took part in the unsuccessful effort to rescue General Gordon at Khartoum in the Sudan. Allan was wounded in 1897 and retired from the NWMP soon after, only to offer his services to the Canadian contingents fighting in South Africa.
Sévère Gagnon, served 1874-1901
From the time it was first organized, the NWMP tried to recruit officers who were proficient in either English or French. Several French-Canadians were among the first officers commissioned. They included Ephrem Brisebois, who had military experience as a Papal Zouave, Theodore Richer, Joseph Forget, Charles Nicholle, E. Frechette and Sévère Gagnon, a lawyer by training.
Gagnon was commissioned in March 1874 and took part in the "March West" in the summer of 1874. He left an interesting first-hand account of his experiences. Outlasting the other French-Canadian officers in the NWMP, Gagnon had a long career and only retired in 1901 because of ill health.
Letters of application, in English and French, for a commission in the NWMP, from Ephrem Brisebois, 1873