Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police

With the possible exception of the London Metropolitan Police (better known as Scotland Yard) and the Texas Rangers, perhaps no police force is as well known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (often abbreviated RCMP). The Mounties have been heroes in novels, comic books, movies, and TV shows. They have been spoofed in cartoons, parodied on skit comedy shows, and even sang in musicals. Dressed in their distinctive Red Serge, they are arguably the most recognisable police force in the world, even more so than other famous police forces such as Scotland Yard and the Texas Rangers.  The RCMP hve are referred to as both Mounties and as The Horsemen, and as everyone knows, they always get their man.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police emerged as the result of two earlier Canadian police forces. The Dominion Police was created in 1868 following the assassination of journalist, poet, and politician Thomas D'Arcy McGee. In many ways they were the equivalent of the United States' Secret Service. The Dominion Police guarded the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, served as bodyguards for politicians, and even functioned as an intelligence service (they infiltrated the Fenian Brotherhood in Canada). In 1911 they would assume responsibility for guarding the naval yards at Esquimalt and Hallifax, as well as the national fingerprint bureau.  During the First World War they also coordinated the efforts of Canadian security and police agencies to enforce the War Measures Act. The Dominion Police's jurisdiction only extended to the eastern provinces of Canada.

The other, in many ways direct ancestor of the RCMP was the Northwest Mounted Police. The Northwest Mounted Police was founded in 1873 in an effort to tame the Northwest Territories. In the 1870's the Northwest Territories were very much a part of the Wild West. In particular, an illegal whiskey trade had arisen in the Northwest, which not only resulted in violence among he white settlers, but problems with the Native population. The whiskey trade would lead directly to the Cypress Hills massacre, in which wolfers and whiskey  traders, fueled by illegally purchased alcohol, attacked a Nakoda camp, resulting in the deaths of 23 Nakoda and one wolfer. Because of the massacre, Canada moved to form a police force for the Northwest Territories. Originally to be called the Northwest Mounted Rifles, Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald signed the new force into law as the less militaristic sounding "Northwest Mounted Police."

The Northwest Mounted Police was modelled to some degree after the Royal Irish Constabulary, one of the first national police forces. And although a police force, it was organised after British cavalry units, complete with red uniforms. The Red Serge of RCMP originated with the Northwest Mounted Police. The classic red uniform (not actually worn in the field, but worn for ceremonial purposes) was not the only thing the RCMP inherited from the Northwest Mounted Police. The phrase "The Mounties always get their man" originated because of the Northwest Mounted Police. The phrase goes back to a story in the Fort Benton Record (out of Montana) in April 1877, only four years after the police force was formed.

The Northwest Mounted Police was only meant to be temporary, but as time passed it became a permanent fixture. In fact, by 1903 their jurisdiction included the Yukon and extended to the Arctic coast. It was in June 1904 that King Edward VII officially recognised the police force, making them the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. In 1905 their jurisdiction was expanded to include the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

It was in 1919 that the Canadian Parliament passed legislation by which the Royal Northwest Mounted Police would absorb the Dominion Police to become a national police force. It was then on February 1, 1920 that the two police forces were merged to become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be responsible for enforcing federal laws across all of Canada. Throughout the 1930's the RCMP would assume more responsibilities, including including fingerprints, a photograph section, a forensics laboratory, and firearms registration. From the Fifties until the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was created in 1984, the RCMP handled a good deal of Canada's security and intelligence operations.

As mentioned earlier, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police inherited their distinctive red uniform from the Northwest Mounted Police. Contrary to many Hollywood movies and TV shows, however, it must be pointed out that the Red Serge is not worn as part of the Mounties' everyday dress while on duty. Instead the Red Serge is reserved for ceremonial occasions, such as the musical rides (for which the Mounties are well known), ceremonial parades, national and civic ceremonies, and such events as funerals and weddings. The only time while on duty a Horseman might wear the Red Serge is while providing security at a special event. Surprisingly, the famous Stetson, wide and flat brimmed "Mountie hat" for which the RCMP are known was not a part of the original Northwest Mounted Police uniform. Originally the pith helmet, was the official headgear of the Mounted. The pith helmet being impractical for the Canadian West, however, most Mounties wore cowboy hats or the famous Stetson Mountie hat while on duty. Indeed, at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the contingent of Mounties wore the unofficial Stetson rather than the official pith helmet. It was around 1904 that the Stetson was made the official headgear of the Northwest Mounted Police.

As important as both the Northwest Mounted Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been in Canadian history, it should be no surprise that they would figure prominently in Anglophonic pop culture. Indeed, the Mounties would often be the heroes of books, comic strips, movies, and television shows. Indeed, little more than twenty years had passed when short stories and novels featuring the Northwest Mounted Police began to appear. Roger Pocock, who served in the Northwest Mounted Police, wrote one of the earliest short stories to involve the Mounties, "Lean Man," published in 1887. His novel, The Cheeful Blackguard, also centred on the NWMP.

While Popock wrote one of the earliest Mountie stories, it was arguably John Mackie the author who invented Northwestern "Mountie fiction." Mackie had served in the Northwest Mounted Police  from 1888 to 1893, and he used his experiences in his works. Mounties take centre stage or at least occupy a prominent place in such novels by Macke as The Devil's Playground (1894),  Sinners Twain (1895), The Heart of the Prarie (1899), The Prodigal's Brother (1899), The Rising of the Red Man (1904), and Canadian Jack (1913).

Almost concurrently with Mackie's career was that of another writer who included Mounties in some of his stories and novels, although they did not occupy centre stage. Jack London was an American who went to the Klondike during its gold rush. Those experiences would provide fodder for many of his stories and even novels.  Mounties figure in such stories as "To the Man on the Trail (1899)" and "The 'Fuzziness' of Hoockla-Heen (1902)," and the mounted also figure in his novels White Fang and Call of the Wild. Ralph Connor, Bernard W. Sinclair and Gilbert Parker were other writers who wrote early works featuring the Mounties, well before the NWMP gave way to the RCMP.

By the Thirties the Northwestern or Canadian Western was well established as a genre, so much so that there were even pulp magazines dedicated to it. North-West Stories was published from 1925 to 1952 by Fiction House was perhaps the most popular. Its success inspired other Northwestern magazines which featured Mounties as heroes, including Complete Northwest Novel Magazine and Real Northwest Stories. It was not unusual for standard Western pulp magazine, such as Street and Smith's Western Stories, to include stories featuring the NWMP and RCMP.

By the Thirties the Mounties were popular enough to produce multi-media successes. The book Renfrew of the Royal Mounted by Laurie York Erskine was published in 1922. It spawned  successful series of books, ten in all, as well as seventeen short stories Erskine wrote for The American Boy magazine. From 1936 to 1940  there was a Renfrew of the Mounted radio show. Six Renfrew of the Royal Mounted movies were produced between 1937 and 1940, in which Renfrew sang not unlike a singing cowboy. These films were later edited into a television series in 1953, with some additional material added.

Another fictional Mountie would also become a multi-media success. Stephen Slesinger created the character of Dave King of the RCMP, and licensed the Zane Grey byline for King of the Royal Mounted. King of the Royal Mounted debuted on Februay 17, 1935 as a Sunday comic strip. By March 1936 King of the Royal Mounted went daily. The comic strip ran until 1955. In 1936 the first of five Big Little Books was published. From 1937 to 1958  King of the Royal Mounted appeared in various comic books, including his own title from 1952 to 1958. Dave King of the RCMP appeared in the feature film King of the Royal Mounted in 1935, and in the serials King of the Royal Mounted, (1940),The Yukon Patrol (1942), and King of the Mounties (1942).

That King of the Royal Mounted should provide fodder for one feature film and several serials should prove no surprise, as Mounties appeared in the movies even before Mountie fiction had fully coalesced as a genre. The first movie featuring the NWMP was Rider of the Plains, produced in 1910 by the Edison Moving Picture Company. Cameron of the North West Mounted Police, based on Ralph Connor's novel, was an early Canadian film produced in 1912 by film pioneer Ernest Shipman. It proved immensely popular. Another early film about the Mounties was O'Malley of the Mounted, made in 1921 and starring the legendary William S. Hart. The film was remade in 1936 starring George O'Brien in the title role

At the moment Hollywood alone has produced over 200 movies featuring the NWMP or RCMP. For the most part these have been action movies or dramas, such as Cecil B. DeMille's 1940 North West Mounted Police, starring Gary Cooper. Strangely enough, the Mounties have figured in other genres of film. Rose Marie originated as an operetta on Broadway in 1924. It was filmed twice in 1928 alone and again in 1954, although the best known film version remains the 1936 version starring Jeanette MacDonald as Marie and Nelson Eddy as Sgt. Bruce of the Mounties. Sadly, Nelson Eddy singing "Indian Love Call" remains one of the most popular images of the Mounties. Even Shirley Temple appeared in a movie about the NWMP, Susannah of the Mounties, based on the book by Muriel Dennison.

Radio would produced what may have been one of the most successful fictional Mounties. Challenge of the Yukon debuted on the home of radio shows The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, WXYZ in Detroit, on February 3, 1938. The series centred on Sgt. William Preston and his lead sled dog Yukon King in the Yukon of the 1890s. In November 1951 the title of the radio show officially became Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. The radio show ran until June 1955. From 1951 to 1955 Dell Comics published a comic book, entitled Sgt. Preston of the Yukon. A television adaptation of the radio show debuted in 1955 and ran until 1958. There were also trading cards.

Sgt. Preston of the Yukon and Renfrew of the Mounted would not be the only television shows featuring Mounties. Debuting in 1959, R.C.M.P. was a drama centred on the Horsemen that ran for a single season on the CBC, BBC, and the Australian Broadcasting Company. Sadly, it failed in American syndication. A more successful show about a Mountie was Due South.  The series grew out of a telefilm of that title which aired on CTV in Canada and on CBS in the United States. Receiving good ratings in both countries, Due South debuted as a TV series in 1994. It aired from 1994 to 1995, at which point CBS cancelled the still popular series. Making enough of a profit in Canada and the UK to do so, another eighteen episode season was made to air in the 1995-1996 season. After a hiatus of one year, CTV brought Due South back in 1997 for one last, 26 episode season. It aired in syndication in the United States. Centred on a Mountie in Chicago, the show became known for its sensitive handling of characters and remains a cult show to this day.

Portrayed so often in Anglophonic pop culture, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been parodied from time to time. For the most part this has been in animated cartoons, the most famous of which may well be Dudley Do-Right. Well before Dudley made his first ride, there were animated parodies of the Mounties. In 1942 the struggle between Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd was transferred to the Canadian North in the short "Fresh Hare," in which Elmer was a Mountie pursuing Bugs. In Tex Avery directed the short  "Northwest Hounded Police," featuring Droopy as a Mountie pursuing Avery's Wolf character.

Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties made its first appearance as a segment of The Bullwinkle Show in 1961. The concept actually dated back to 1948, conceived by Alex Anderson (along with Rocky and Bullwinkle) when Jay Ward was about to enter television animation. The series centred on Dudley Do-Right, a none too bright Mountie who often defeated his archenemy Snidely Whiplash in spite of himself. Although in love with his commanding officer Inspector Fenwick's daughter Nell, she hardly acknowledged Dudley, much preferring his horse named, well, "Horse."

 In all, 38 Dudley Do-Right of the Mounties  were made. The Dudley Do-Right segments were popular enough to be reran as the Saturday morning series The Dudley Do-Right Show in 1969 and later syndicated. In 1999 a live action film based on the carton was released. At least in the States, Dudley Do-Right may be the most famous fictional Mountie of them all.

Dudley Do-Right was not the only Mountie to figure in American animation of the Sixties. Klondike Kat was a segment which debuted in 1963 on Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales. Klondike Kat was an anthropomorphic cat and a Mountie who was in constant battle with an anthropomorphic mouse and apparently a Québécois (from his accent anyway) Savoir Faire (whose catchphrase was "Savoir Faire is everywhere!"). Like Dudley Do-Right, Klondike Kat was none too bright, and more often defeated Savoir Faire out of sheer luck. The Klondike Kat segments would reappear on Underdog after that series moved to CBS in 1966. In 1968 when the Underdog segment Go Go Gophers received its own series, Klondike Kat was one of the segments of that show.

The RCMP would also figure in one of the most famous skits from Monty Python's Flying Circus. "The Lumberjack Song" included a chorus of Mounties. The Mounties become confused and disturbed as the lumberjack's lyrics become more, well, outré. In the film ...And Now for Something Completely Different they eventually pelt the lumberjack with rotten eggs.

"The Lumberjack Song" would not be the only song to involve the RCMP. On their self titled debut album,  Blue Öyster Cult included a song entitled "I'm on the Lamb But I Ain't No Sheep," which portrays an outlaw fleeing the RCMP across the frozen north. The band remade the song as "The Red and The Black" on their second album, Tyranny and Mutation. A Native group called North End Connections recorded their song about being pursued by the Mounties entitled "The RCMP Always Chases Me."

This is only a very small sampling of the NWMP and the RCMP in pop culture. As mentioned earlier, Hollywood has made over 200 movies featuring Mounties and the Canadian film industry many more. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have existed for over eighty years now, while the Northwest Mounted Police existed for nearly fifty years before that. In real life they continue to be one of the most famous police forces in the world and an important of Canadian law enforcement. It is safe to say that even more Horsemen will appear in books, movies, and TV shows in the next eighty years.

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