The Mounties

Mounties on horseback.
Canadian territory in the late 1860s shown in light yellow.
Patrolman of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The iconic RCMP dress uniform.
Modern workwear of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Patriotic Canadians coming out to salute their police force.

The Canadian government acquired Rupert’s Land, British Columbia and the North-Western Territory from Britain in the 1870s. By this acquisition, Canada’s territory grew significantly, and because the new land was lawless in the opinion of politicians in Ottawa, an armed force was sent there to keep order.

The patrolmen sent to the newly acquired territories wore bright red tunics to not be confused with the blue-coated U.S. army soldiers near the border, and came to be labelled “police” to not risk provoking a military conflict with the United States. The new branch of the Canadian law enforcement, furthermore, rode horses to be able to cover long distances in the expansive wilderness, and eventually came to be known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Keeping good order

The wild, westerly territories put under the jurisdiction of the new horse-riding patrolmen were quickly brought under control. The “Mounties”, in fact, kept such good order in the areas they patrolled that their flat-brimmed hats and shiny, red uniforms came to symbolize peace and stability for the European settlers of the late 1800s who poured in to populate the area. Much of this stability, however, came at the expense of suppressing the indigenous people who had previously roamed free on the prairie.

A regular police force

As the 19th century turned into the 20th century, the RCMP gradually acquired cars and their personnel dismounted their horses. Also in the 20th century, the Mounties turned into Canada’s federal police force and replaced their classical red dress uniforms with a more ordinary police attire, leaving the Red Serge solely for ceremonial events. Operating much like any other Western police force, since then on, the RCMP is critical to maintaining countrywide law and order but also battling the same kinds of internal problems as other government entities. Funding, for example, is a recurring headache and widespread reporting on sexual harassments in the force have upset many, not least people within the RCMP itself.

National pride

The internal problems notwithstanding, due to the RCMPs glorious past and their central role in fighting crime today, their traditional red tunics, flat-brimmed hats and polished riding boots continue to be appreciated symbols of national pride. Therefore, seeing the iconic dress uniform being worn during police funerals, commemorations and festivities inspire a sense of dignity and national unity in many Canadians.