On the Job
More Than a Policeman
John Henry McIllree, served 1873-1911
While the popular impression of the mounted policemen in the 19th century -- riding across the open prairie, enforcing the law with a steady hand, ensuring the orderly development of the land -- has a certain degree of truth to it, life as a mounted policeman was much more.
The Mounted Police were keen observers, watching over and reporting on all kinds of activities not usually associated with law enforcement. While their presence on patrol served to deter crime, they also collected all sorts of information that found its way into the detailed, almost encyclopedic, descriptions of western development in the NWMP's published annual reports. They reported on crop yields, the size of ranches, and the arrival of settlers and immigrants. They assessed settlers' progress from year to year, taking special care to help non-English speaking immigrants.
Constables Fitzgerald and Mathews (blacksmiths), date unknown
John Fitzpatrick, who served in the NWMP from 1879 to 1884, captured this sense of being all things to all people in his 1921 memoirs. Mounted policemen, Fitzpatrick observed, "acted as magistrates, sheriffs, constables, collectors of customs, postmasters, undertakers, issuers of licenses. We married people and we buried people. We acted as health inspectors, weather bureau officials, Indian Treaty makers; but above all, as diplomats."
Other responsibilities could be added to his list, but none was more important than the patrols undertaken by the police.