The RCMP are famous for its distinctive scarlet ceremonial dress uniform, and the Musical Ride. The Musical Ride is a ceremony in which 32 RCMP officers (Mounties) show off their horse riding skills and uniform in the execution of a variety of intricate figures and cavalry drills with music.
The Mounties were immortalized as symbols of Canadian culture in numerous Hollywood movies, often featuring the image of the Mountie as square-jawed, stoic, and polite and with the motto that the Mountie "always gets his man". Dudley Do-Right (of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show) is an example of the Mountie myth.
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The RCMP were created on May 23, 1873 by Sir John A. Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, under the name the North West Mounted Police with the intent of bringing law and order (and asserting Canadian sovereignty) over the North-West Territories (which then included modern day Alberta and Saskatchewan). This need was particularly urgent with reports of American whiskey traders causing trouble in the region, culminating in the Cypress Hills Massacre. The force was initially going to be called the North West Mounted Rifles, but that was rejected as too military in nature, which Macdonald feared could antagonize both the First Nations and the Americans. Acting on a suggestion in his cabinet, Macdonald had the force wear red uniforms both to emphasize the British nature of the force and to differentiate it from the blue American military uniforms. The force was organized like a British cavalry regiment and carries on some of the traditions of those units,
like the Musical Ride, to this day.
The NWMP's early activities included containing the whisky trade, and enforcing agreements with the First Nations peoples. To that end, the commanding officer of the force arranged to be sworn in as a justice of the peace, which allowed for a judiciary in the Mounties' jurisdiction. In the early years, the force's dedication to enforcing the law on the First Nations peoples' behalf impressed them enough to encourage good relations. In 1885 the NWMP were used to quell the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel.
In 1895 jurisdiction was extended to the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush where the force served with distinction under the command of Sam Steele making the gold rush the one of the most peaceful and orderly affairs in history. Ironically, the force's dissolution was being discussed around this time in Parliament, but the Mounties' conduct so impressed the prospectors during the gold rush that the force became famous around the world and their survival was ensured.
During the Boer War, the force raised the Canadian Mounted Rifles, mostly from NWMP members, for service in South Africa. For the CMR's distinguished service there, Edward VII honoured the NWMP by changing the name to the Royal North West Mounted Police on June 24, 1904.
In 1935 the RCMP, collaborating with the Regina city police, crushed the On-to-Ottawa Trek, which had been organized to call attention to the need for decent treatment of the unemployed men in the relief camps.
In the 1920s, the RCMP assumed the duties of national counter-intelligence, which continued for decades. However, by the late 1960s, it was discovered the force had in the course of their intelligence duties engaged in crimes such as burning a barn and stealing documents from the separatist Parti Québécois, among other abuses. This led to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the RCMP, better known as the Macdonald Commission, named after the participating judge, David Macdonald. The commission recommended that the force's intelligences duties be removed in favour of the creation of a separate intelligence agency, which was named the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
Among themselves, the Mounties universally refer to their organization as "The Force". They did this long before the Star Wars movie gave a different meaning to the phrase.
The rank system of the RCMP illustrates their origin as a paramilitary force. The ranks of the RCMP, in English and French, are:
The official website of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police