Why The Canadian Mounties Were Originally Formed

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), affectionately known as the Mounties, have been policing the North-West Territories of Canada since the 1870s. The force is tasked with policing and patrolling the northern frontier, which contains what is now northern Quebec and Ontario, Manitoba, parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the northern territories, but which was formerly known as Rupert's Land, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. Rupert's Land was a vast expanse of northern territory that was largely occupied by fur traders and Indigenous people, until it was surrendered to the newly formed Government of Canada following the formal creation of the Dominion of Canada in 1867.

Sir John A. Macdonald, the father of the Mounties, led the first expedition up north to explore these new lands, which were renamed the North-West Territories . He returned from North Saskatchewan with the recommendation that a well-equipped, mounted police force would be necessary to police the northern wilderness, according to the British Empire. But he wasn't worried about murderers, trespassers, or even infighting between the Natives and the large influx of new settlers. The Mounties were first formed to deal with the problem of the illegal whiskey trade.

The Royal Candian Mounted Police were established to abolish the whiskey trade

In the late 1800s, whiskey was heavily taxed in America, so many whiskey traders, hoping to avoid these hefty fees, began trading their wares over the northern border. American hooch merchants had posted up in the sparse wilderness of the North-West Territories, where they could conduct their business in relative secrecy. They established a base at a trading post called Fort Whoop-Up, where they could run liquor from Lethbridge, Alberta into Montana over a natural gap in the Milk River Ridge that was nicknamed "Whiskey Gap," according to Glass With A Twist.

All of that was about to change. On May 23, 1873, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were officially established by the Canadian Parliament. Fearing that the Canadian Northwest would soon become just like America's lawless wild west, the Mounties' first assignment was to work with local Indigenous leaders to crack down on the illegal whiskey trade. The Mounties were largely successful, and the whiskey trade soon slowed to a halt — that is, until the 1920s, when the passage of Prohibition in the States once again drove American moonshine-makers into the cold arms of the Canadian wilderness.

The Canadian Encyclopedia describes today's RCMP as "Canada's national police force," engaged in everything from municipal law-and-order to "national security intelligence gathering."