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Scope of the Collection
These files form part of Record Group 18 and relate to men who joined the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) between 1873 and 1904. The personnel files in this database were digitized from the microfiche in RG 18, volumes 10037-10047, and RG 18 1997-98/386/box 33.
In June 1904, the name of the force was changed to Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP). The service files of those who joined the RNWMP are not included in this database. Only a sample of historically significant RNWMP files has been retained, and those records are now in the custody of Library and Archives Canada.
In February 1920, the RNWMP and the Dominion Police amalgamated to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Service files for those who joined the RCMP remain in the custody of the RCMP. Requests for service information can be made directly to the RCMP under the provisions of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
Researching a Member of the NWMP
Researchers will find the files of the men of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) a rich source of information for studies of the police and their responsibilities, for the evolution and development of western Canada and the Yukon, and for family history and genealogy. The files often contain personal correspondence, clippings and other information about the individual long after he took his discharge from the Mounted Police. Together, they offer insight into the workings of a frontier police force as well as 19th century government. Collectively, these files provide us with unparalleled insight into the lives of more than 4,000 men who served with the NWMP.
The officer cadre in the NWMP was never very large. From 1873-74 to 1904, about 140 men were commissioned officers, including five commissioners and more than 20 medical doctors and veterinarians. When the Mounted Police was first organized in 1873, there was no administrative need to assign a service number to each officer. It was not done in the military and there were only 23 officers. As time went by, however, the number of officers increased. In the aftermath of the 1885 Rebellion, for instance, the NWMP was increased from 608 to 1,039 men of all ranks, including 50 officers. Only in 1900 were officers given numbers, starting with the first officers appointed in 1873. For instance, the first permanent commissioner of the Mounted Police, Sir George French, long retired by 1900, was Officer 1 or O.1.
It was not a perfect system, nor were records (or memories) complete. As a result, some officers were overlooked when numbers were assigned. Lieutenant Colonel William Osborne Smith, interim commissioner in the fall of 1873, is number O.2½ and Charles Nicolle, who served briefly as Quartermaster in 1874-75, has marched into history as officer number O.23½. James M. Walsh, one of the first officers, was allotted number O.7; he resigned in 1883, but in 1897, he was reappointed by the government to take charge of the Mounted Police in the Yukon. For some reason, he was assigned another number, O.109. With or without numbers, service records exist for all officers of the NWMP from 1873 to 1904, including medical doctors and veterinarians.
All officers were appointed by the government of the day by order-in-council, including those who were commissioned from the ranks. Most officers' files are rich in detail, usually more than those of the men in the ranks. Many include extensive documentation on individual careers, and some also contain information about marriages and children.
Men of the Mounted Police
Following military practice at the time, recruits were assigned a regimental number at the time of engagement. For example, the first contingent to arrive at Lower Fort Garry in the fall of 1873 were assigned numbers beginning with 1; the numbers continued, in consecutive order, when the second contingent arrived in the spring of 1874. Within a few years, however, members of the Mounted Police were scattered throughout the Northwest Territories at Fort Walsh, Fort Calgary, Fort Edmonton and elsewhere. Quick and easy means of communication were lacking and with men joining and leaving on a continual basis, the numbering system was soon in disarray.
Each troop or division assigned numbers to its own members and to avoid confusion with identical numbers, "A" Troop at Fort Edmonton would assign a new recruit regimental number 345A, while "B" Troop at Fort Walsh might have a member with the number 345B.
To add to the confusion, personnel records were not maintained at a central location. Officials in Ottawa maintained a file, but so did officers at Headquarters in Fort Walsh and, after 1882, at Regina. In the late 1870s, some recruits had been issued numbers formerly allotted to men who had taken their discharge. To further complicate matters, in the early years, members were permitted to leave the Mounted Police by finding a suitable replacement. The replacements assumed the number of the original member thus creating a situation where one number may refer to two (and even three) individuals.
To rectify the situation, it was decided in August 1878 to renumber all members of the Mounted Police then serving, starting again at regimental number 1. This consecutive series of numbers is still is use today and now exceeds 50,000. The issuance of unique regimental numbers facilitates the identification of individuals and this is particularly helpful for research purposes.
Lost in the shuffle, however, are some who joined and left the Mounted Police before the consecutive numbering system was adopted. These are often referred to as "Old Series" or OS numbers. While some of these files have been preserved, many others have not. That aside, nearly every member of the NWMP is represented in the database.
In June 1904, the NWMP were granted use of the prefix "Royal"; the last NWMP regimental number assigned was 4231.
Personnel or service files, as we know them today, were not common in Canada in the 19th century. Information about soldiers, for example, was maintained in large register books. Fortunately, officials of the NWMP did things differently. From the very beginning in 1873, dockets or files were created for each individual officer or member. While the quantity and nature of the documentation varies from one file to another and over time, the average NWMP file contains a series of completed forms, correspondence and in some cases, clippings, as described below:
Application for Engagement (Form 72)
The following information is recorded on this form: name and address of the potential recruit; by whom recommended; occupation during previous five years; the "horse question" (care, management and riding); military experience, if any; age; height; weight; chest measurement; marital status; date and signature.
Medical Examination (Form 65)
Every recruit had to pass a medical examination. The medical report, which changed little between 1873 and 1904, contains a wealth of personal information: date and place of examination; age; height, weight and chest girth; muscular development; previous occupation; intelligence; temperament; complexion; colour of eyes and hair; sight; feet; heart; lungs; hernia; haemorrhoids and varix (blood vessel distension); vaccine or body marks; and comments by the medical examiner.
NWMP Description Summary (Form 59)
This form, narrow and horizontal, is found on most files and is a summary of personal information on each recruit, including his name, where engaged and the date. The following facts are also recorded: height; age; weight; chest measurement; colour of eyes, hair and complexion; marks; occupation; former residence; previous service, if any; denomination; name and address, and relationship of next-of-kin.
Discharge Board Report (Form 54)
When a member took his discharge, a Board of Officers was convened to verify and record his service. This one-page form includes a summary of the member's career: when he engaged and for how long, divisional postings, promotions, and his conduct while a member. The reverse side of the form contains a physical description of the discharged member, his intended place of residence, and notes on where and when the discharge board met.
Discharge Certificate (Form 84a)
Every member who left the force received a discharge certificate containing his full name, ranks held, dates of service, the nature of his leaving (discharged, dismissed, time expired, purchased, deserted), his conduct during service, and the date the certificate was issued.
If a member re-engaged for a further term of service, all of these forms were completed (and updated) again.
Other Information in Service Files
In addition, NWMP files often contain correspondence. This might include letters from the member (seeking a promotion, requesting leave, inquiring about discharge), or correspondence about a member, especially with respect to disciplinary matters. It is not uncommon to find relevant clippings on file, especially obituaries from local newspapers or the RCMP Quarterly. Some documentation may postdate the man's career by decades. In 1933, for example, the federal government awarded a grant of $300 to surviving members of the NWMP who took part in the 1885 Rebellion. Dozens of men completed the necessary forms and submitted them to RCMP headquarters in Ottawa. These were put into their service files. The file does not, however, document the detachments at which a member may have served, nor are his pay records on file.
Discharge Board forms indicate the division in which a man served, but detachments are not noted, although internal evidence in a file may be useful in this regard. Census records, especially those for 1881, 1891, 1901 and even 1906 may be helpful in placing a member in a particular location. Except in rare instances, the members' files are not as detailed or as extensive as those of officers, but in almost every case, the documentation proves valuable for anyone interested in family history, genealogy, or community history.