Fort Constantine Detachment (now Forty Mile) on the Yukon River, 1895, first Mounted Police group in the Yukon
The police were also expected to enforce morality on the Prairies, in keeping with the law and with prevailing attitudes of a majority of the population. With a large number of single men in the population, especially at the time of the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), prostitution was rampant in major centres, such as Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Moosejaw, and (after 1896) in the Yukon. In general, the NWMP tended to be lenient, regarding the practice as a necessary evil in a frontier society. Only when the local population objected did the police enforce the laws more strictly.
The Mounted Police also brought to the Territories both prohibition and strict laws related to carrying handguns, especially in towns. They continued the policy of keeping liquor away from First Nations people that had been instituted at the amalgamation of the North West Company and the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821. Liquor was, in some respects, the biggest challenge faced by the Mounted Police.
Although beer with an alcohol content of four percent was acceptable, liquor could only be brought into the Territories by permit from the Lieutenant Governor, for "medicinal purposes." Enforcing the four-percent beer regulation was difficult enough, but preventing the smuggling of liquor was almost impossible. Goods brought into the Territories marked as sugar, salt, or oats often contained hidden surprises. Completion of the CPR only increased the problem.
The NWMP was serious about liquor convictions. The penalty for selling liquor was a fine of $300, jail time, and the confiscation of wagons and horses. The police also confiscated the whisky. They did this with particular zeal in the winter, pouring the liquor onto the snow -- and then returning to eat the snow.
Report from Constable Richard C. Wyld, on the seizure of liquor, September 9, 1875
In July 1888, restrictions on the alcohol content and sale of beer were removed and prohibition itself was repealed in January 1892. It was welcome relief to the NWMP who were amongst the largest legal importers of liquor in the Territories. In the American West, the combination of liquor and handguns accounted for most of the serious violence. The NWMP's strict control of both goes far to explaining the lack of violence in the Canadian prairies.
"Crime" could be pretty mundane. In December 1886, some citizens of Banff, Alberta, complained to the police that hockey was being played on a Sunday in contravention of the Lord's Day Act. The sergeant on the scene apparently took action, but his superiors suggested a light-handed approach. (Read the series of letters, from complaint to resolution).
Horse and Cattle Theft
The NWMP paid particular attention to criminal activity considered particularly serious in a frontier community: horse and cattle theft, armed robbery, and especially murder. Horse stealing was common, particularly amongst First Nations. As the sole means of day-to-day transportation, horses were a highly valued commodity, and the police took every case of theft as a serious breach of the law.
Cattle theft was an equally serious crime and often reached epidemic proportions. As large ranches were established, especially in southern Alberta, the Mounted Police were called upon regularly to protect the interests of the ranchers. The open border with the United States created numerous problems for law enforcement on both sides.
The use of arms in the committing of a crime was, fortunately, not common in the Territories, although in the early summer of 1886, several stage coach robberies at gun point forced the NWMP to provide escorts for a time. Fearful that American-style gangs were on the loose on the Prairies, the Mounted Police kept a watchful eye on coach and mail routes and (after 1885) on CPR trains, keeping this type of crime to a minimum.
Murder was, again, uncommon. Between 1886 and 1891, seven murders were committed in the Territories; the Mounted Police solved three cases. In 1892 to 1900, 15 murders were committed, 10 as a direct result of family violence and five involving robbery.
Report of investigation into rumour of a beheading in Beaver Lake, Saskatchewan, June 21, 1902
Although the Mounted Police did not have a specialized detective service, several of its members were particularly adept at solving violent crime. The conviction of Bud Bullock is a case in point. On a spring day in 1902, the body of a young man was found near Morningside, Alberta. The murder was reported to Sergeant Harry Hetherington of the Innisfail Detachment. There was nothing on the body to identify the victim, except for his suspenders which included the word "Kalamazoo" (as in Kalamazoo, Michigan).
By chance, Hetherington mentioned this fact to a local doctor who recalled a newspaper ad in which a woman in Kalamazoo was asking for news of her son who had left some weeks before for Alberta. Hetherington left for Michigan on August 31, 1902. He met the mother who told him that her son, Leon Stainton, had gone west with a man named Charles "Bud" Bullock. Taking a sample of Bullock's signature from a local hotel register, Hetherington then worked his way west under an assumed name, checking hotel registers and the pay rolls of mining companies, examining and comparing handwritten signatures as he went.
"Wanted" poster for Ernest Cashel, 1903
Finally, after nearly three months, Hetherington found Bullock in a mining camp at Great Falls, Montana on November 23, arrested him and brought him back to Alberta where Bullock was tried, convicted and hanged for the murder of Leon Stainton, the man from Kalamazoo. Commissioner Perry was impressed, stating that "No better detective work has been done in the Force."
Alick Pennycuick was another noteworthy Mounted Police detective. He was posted in the Yukon when three men were ambushed, robbed and brutally murdered on Christmas Day 1899. Pennycuick, then a constable with seven years' service, made a painstaking search of the area surrounding a camp near where the murders had taken place. He sifted through the soil, searched the nearby river bank and put together a circumstantial case against George O'Brien. Pennycuick's research was successful. O'Brien was arrested, convicted and hanged at Dawson on August 23, 1901. Pennycuick was involved in other murder investigations, the most famous being that perpetrated by an American drifter, Ernest Cashel, in 1902-1903, near Red Deer, Alberta.