On the Job
Christmas dinner, Bonanza Detachment, Yukon Territory, 1903
Crime was never rampant on the Prairies, and patrols to outlying settlements or First Nations reserves were often routine. For long periods of time, especially in winter, there was little to do. While the men of the NWMP faced many challenges, especially in the force's first decade, monotony sapped the strength and interest of the most dedicated policeman. Daily life in barracks was rarely exciting.
The men needed healthy and educational distractions. As early as the fall of 1874, expenditure was approved for the purchase of board games such as chess, backgammon, and dominoes, and for various magazines, including the Canadian Monthly, the Scientific American and Le Courier de Montréal, for the use and enlightenment of the men.
Memorandum from Robert Wilkes, Toronto, regarding materials for the recreation room at Fort Pelly, Saskatchewan, October 22, 1874
List of magazine subscriptions for recreation room at Fort Pelly, Saskatchewan, 1874
NWMP Band and Personnel, Victoria Day Parade, May 24th, 1902, Dawson, Yukon Territory
In 1879, Dr. John Kittson pleaded that proper canteen facilities for the men would enhance "the comforts, morals and efficiency of the force." Perhaps in response, the force decided in 1880 to establish formal recreation rooms at divisional headquarters. After 1886, recreation rooms at the larger detachments allowed the men to relax in a home-like atmosphere, play billiards or other games, sample a selection of books and magazines, tend to paperwork, or simply socialize with their fellows.
By the 1890s, mounted policemen on the Prairies led restricted but not uncomfortable lives. Marriage was allowed under certain circumstances. With the growth of towns and cities, opportunities for recreation increased. The men quickly embraced football, baseball, cricket and other sports. In October 1876, men at Fort Walsh held a cricket match and concert organized by Staff Constable Dunne; Sub-Constable Needham composed the "Fort Walsh Gallop" for the occasion.
Sports and music would quickly become features of life in the Mounted Police. From the earliest days, the Mounted Police were involved in horse racing, often against First Nations competitors. Horse racing was a passion in First Nations culture, and the Police happily joined in. Cricket and rugby teams were especially popular. Baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter provided an outlet and physical exercise for the men.
Sports also encouraged police and civilian interaction in small prairie towns and villages and even further afield. In September 1896, Comptroller Fred White asked Prime Minister Laurier for permission to send NWMP cricket and rugby teams, consisting of 17 men, from Regina to Winnipeg where they were scheduled to play a series of exhibition games. The trip would last five days. White was worried that "uncharitable people" might argue that if 17 men can be spared for five days, "they cannot have much work to do and their services might be dispensed with altogether." White wanted to encourage athletics amongst the men; Laurier agreed.
Early version of the Musical Ride, date unknown, but probably after 1904 (Royal North West Mounted Police)
NWMP Cricket Team, probably Calgary, prior to 1900
As population increased and transportation improved, sporting events were easier to organize and Mounted Police bands often provided music for entertainment, dances, theatricals and social events such as New Year's Eve and the May 24 and July 1 holidays. By 1886, bands were an important feature at several divisions, including Battleford and Calgary. At Depot in Regina, Bandmaster Sergeant J.T. Farmer teamed up with the Riding Master, Inspector William G. Matthews, to create the Musical Ride which held five performances in the winter of 1887.