A little over one hundred years ago, when the West was more untamed, whiskey traders sold their wares and devastated the Indian population; bands of lawless men traveled the mountain passes and robbed and killed many a settler who were heading West trying to ?open up the land.? And all around dirty-rotten scoundrels were causing general havoc in the area. While this was going on, in that yet unsettled and unclaimed wilderness, another problem arose. Once you got West of Manitoba (formerly known as the Northwest Territories), nobody knew for sure where Canada ended and where the United States began. In those days, the land grab was in full swing, and the relatively new country of Canada was in full competition with the States to see who could expand their borders the quickest. To complicate matters, the Yukon Gold Rush was occurring and there was a steady stream of travelers heading North from California to the Yukon and points north.
Ottawa decided that they would send a police force West, and in doing so would lay claim to the land. There were only two problems, Ottawa didn?t have a national police force nor did they have any money (or at least they said they didn?t have any money) to hire and equip that police force. If Canada was going to acquire a lot of land, they would have to do it on the cheap. This is where the Right Honorable Sir John A. Macdonald came into the picture. Johnny was an avid reader of nickel westerns. He read lots of stories how one cowboy could ride into an Indian village and make the women swoon. Oh yeah, the cowboy could also settle an uprising of a hundred or more by staring down the biggest trouble makers. In fact (fact according to the novel) the cowboy almost never fired a shot. Thus a plan was hatched, all that was needed was a bunch of guys who would not blink. Don?t forget now, Ottawa was doing this on the cheap. Well, a classified ad was placed in the paper asking for strong men, wanting an adventure, to join a new police force and head West. What Johnny didn?t realize was that there was a whole bunch of avid readers of nickel westerns, and most of them applied for the job. One skill that was not mentioned in the ads, but seemed important, was the ability to ride a horse. Just because you read about horseback riding doesn?t necessarily mean that you can perform the task.
On the appointed day, the ?applicants? gathered around the corral and were tested on their stated ability. (The ?applicants? never stated their ability and the government never asked, however, both sides were hoping that the other wouldn?t make a big deal out of it.) The morning was spent trying to get the bridles and saddles on a bunch of wild horses. Ottawa bought these ponies because they were not broken, and you guessed it, they were cheap. Most riders lasted for 2 or 3 seconds or ten feet of vertical air, or which ever came first. The rest of the afternoon consisted of chasing these horses around the riding ring in an attempt to get the saddles and bridles back.
During this time, Parliament received a report that the States were mobilizing a force of their own in an attempt to settle the same land that Canada had her eye on. It was decided that they, Ottawa, would send whomever could ride a horse, and make sure that the flag was firmly planted in the West and that sovereignty be established. Ottawa asked for an update from the corral on the number of men who could immediately set out on this critical mission. The boys down at the corral got to a cipherin? and a figurin?, crunched the numbers and came up with the grand total…. one. The rest of the new hires were doing fine, it was just that they needed a little more time to work out the kinks.
Having received the report, Parliament closed for the day. The parliamentarians, as per their usual custom, were having ?tea? in the back room. At first they were concerned about the numbers, but after some more ?tea? they became a whole lot braver, and each claimed that they would have ridden West themselves if it wasn?t for their age, their back or their numerous duties and/or responsibilities. Eventually they decided that one was a goodly number. Besides, if he ran into problems, he could probably deputize the slowest runner or at least, the slowest thinker. At that point, a national police force for Canada was born, and this force would be sent to the wilds of what later became known as the Yukon. Not only did Canada get a national police force, but it didn?t cost the parliamentarians nearly as much as they anticipated.
Sam Steele mounted up and headed West for a long time. He then turned North for a little while longer. A month or two into the journey, Sam had a startling revelation… there were no laws in this untamed land. Well, not to worry because in his saddlebag he found a Bible conveniently hidden under some supplies. Reading the Bible as he bounced along the trails, he finally found what he was looking for, the Ten Commandments. Sam felt that if he could enforce 5 or 6 of them(the people?s choice), that he would be off to a pretty good start. And that?s what he did. He set up a check point at Dawson City, and made sure that most people agreed to 5 or 6 commandments before he would let them pass. For you see, people at that time were a pretty obliging bunch, especially if they had visions of a pocket full of gold. As it turned out, it was not long before a few problems arose that the 5 or 6 commandments did not cover, and this is where Sam became famous. He created a committee of one (himself) and made up some new rules and/or laws. These rules were very ?fluid? but seemed to avert most disasters.
Over the years, law enforcement burnt a lot of gunpowder trying to establish some semblance of order. Unfortunately, many lawmen gave their lives responding to duty. As a result, on September 24, 1998, the Government of Canada officially proclaimed that the last Sunday of September of every year as Police and Peace Officers? National Memorial Day.
In Regina, the ?Home of the RCMP? a memorial parade will be held on Sunday September 26, 2004. On the Parade Square will be 12 marching troops, with each wearing their scarlet tunic. There will also be one troop of RCMP veterans who will lead the procession. Lined around the Square will be hundreds of RCMP cadets, all standing at attention. A lone piper will play Amazing Grace, and the names of 203 fallen RCMP officers will be read. Every year this list grows longer and longer. In Ottawa, they will read the names of over 600 officers who made the supreme sacrifice.
Canada is a nation of laws and as a society, these are the rules that we have agreed to live by. When these laws are transgressed, the police are called in to re-establish order. Sometimes in the chaos, heroic actions are taken, and one more name is chiseled in stone. It is no small thing for the police to stand in harm?s way, however, it?s our duty as sworn officers to ensure that we all live in a safe community. You have my commitment that we will stand face-to-face with evil, and we will not blink. So in the next few days, take some time to remember the men and women who gave their all so that we could live in a such a great country. Wave to them as they drive by, and say a prayer for them as they head out to confront those who would try and tear down that which was bought with a great price.
We?ll talk again next week, the Good Lord willing.
Until then, keep it between the ditches.
Cpl. Kurt Peats