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Contact - Making the West Canadian

Federal Administration

One of the first items of business undertaken by the federal government after settling the Red River Rebellion was the physical demarcation of the international border with the United States, which up to now had existed only on paper. Over a three-year period (1872-1875), the International Boundary Commission marked the 1,600 kilometres of border stretching between Lake of the Woods and the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. For the first time, the international boundary separated Canada's Prairie West from its American counterpart.

The second administrative task that the government set for itself was to establish some means of policing and protecting the border. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald considered very carefully how such a police force should be organized, and following the Cypress Hills Massacre, put together the North-West Mounted Police. It was unlike any other police force in the world, with perhaps the exception of the Royal Irish Constabulary. The North-West Mounted Police retained a unique blend of elements that were characteristic of both police and military forces of the nineteenth century. Its gruelling march west along the international border in 1873 forever etched the police force in the Canadian psyche.

The third task was to begin a systematic inventory of the region's natural resources. The Geological Survey of Canada was given most of this responsibility and, continuing in the tradition of Palliser and Hind, proceeded to leave a legacy that went beyond a mere inventory of rocks and strata. All aspects of the environment and its cultures became the Survey's laboratory.

The final task was to put together a survey program which would see the region divided into the unique checkerboard pattern of townships that has become synonymous with prairie agriculture. The survey system eventually covered 200 million acres and was the world's largest survey grid laid down under a single integrated system. It led to the creation of more than 1.25 million homesteads.

While undertaking these preparations, the government found itself yet again fighting with the Métis and First Nations, but this time on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River at Batoche. The event was closely monitored by easterners through a budding media industry. Once the North West Rebellion was over, there was no clemency; the leaders of the rebellion were systematically rounded up and imprisoned or executed.

Further Readings

See also

The Canadian West: An Archival Odyssey through the Records of the Department of the Interior

The Siftons

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Sappers building a boundary mound, ca. 1873
Sappers building a boundary
mound, ca. 1873

Pyramid and surrounding country showing Captain Featherstonhaugh's camp, ca. 1873
Pyramid and surrounding
country showing Captain
Featherstonhaugh's camp,
ca. 1873

Fort Garry, ca. 1872
Fort Garry, ca. 1872


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