The introduction of law enforcement in the North was part of colonial expansion, as Canada extended sovereignty over land and people.
When the police came north in the early 1890s, they lacked the skills and knowledge necessary to survive the harsh northern climate. Indigenous languages, cultures, and ways of life were completely unfamiliar to them.
Mounted police with S/Cst. Louis Cardinal (centre, back) and Chief Julius of the Teet’it Gwich’in (far right), Fort McPherson, 1904. HBC Archives/Provincial Archives of Manitoba – 363-R-34/3
S/Cst. Andrew Stewart, S/Cst. Alfred Kendi with Inspector Nordie Kirk and Cst. Rolly Stewart, Richardson Mountains near Aklavik, 1946.
Odillia Coyen making dry fish for winter patrol with S/Cst. Andre Jerome (right), Arctic Red River [Tsiigehtchic], 1957.
Most Special Constables were Indigenous people hired to help the police by teaching them how to survive in the north. Local women and families also provided essential support.
Special Constables worked alongside the police to help them understand Indigenous cultures and traditions. They helped break down barriers and built a cultural bridge between government and the people.
Special Constables are credited with creating positive relationships between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and communities.
S/Cst. Otto Binder Jr. (centre) with Insp. W.G. Fraser and unidentified RCMP constable, 1957. NWT Archives/N-1990-005:0014
Commissioner’s report from 1887
Top RCMP Honour Lost Patrolmen, Northern News Services, July 25, 2015
In December 1910, four officers and fifteen dogs departed Fort McPherson on their annual winter patrol. The party consisted of Inspector Fitzgerald, Constables Richard Taylor and George Kinney, and recently retired Constable Sam Carter (who was the guide). Carter was not from the area, and had only done the patrol in the opposite direction, from Dawson to Fort McPherson.
Special Constable Esau George from Fort McPherson travelled with the group for a few days. He was hired along the way when the party missed a turn on the trail. Inspector Fitzgerald dismissed him part-way at Mountain Creek, saying he wasn’t needed for the rest of the trip.
Six weeks later, S/Cst. Esau George arrived in Dawson and was surprised that the RCMP patrol had not been seen. Due to George’s concern, a search party was sent out under the command of Cpl. W. J. D. (Jack) Dempster, guided by S/Cst. Charlie Stewart. Dempster and Stewart eventually found the frozen bodies of the four missing men, 20 miles from Fort McPherson.
The police inquiry revealed that the four deaths were due to the small and inadequate quantity of supplies, the want of an efficient guide, and delay in searching for the lost party.
Background: Last page of Inspector F.J. Fitzgerald’s diary, 1911. NWT Archives/© RCMP/G-1979-002:0004
On December 21, 1910, Inspector Fitzgerald, Constables Taylor and Kinney, and Special Constable Sam Carter set out from Fort McPherson with limited provisions.
Background: Search party returns to Dawson after finding the Lost Patrol, 1911. NWT Archives/G-1979-002:0002
By January 12, 1911, Fitzgerald’s patrol was hopelessly lost trying to find Forrest Creek. The party turned desperately back towards Fort McPherson.
By January 19, 1911, the patrol ran out of provisions, and began eating the dogs.
On February 5, 1911, Fitzgerald made his last entry in his diary before all four men perished a few days later.
On February 28, 1911, Inspector Dempster, Constables Fyfe and Turner, and Special Constable Charlie Stewart set out from Dawson in search of the Lost Patrol.
The search party found the bodies of the Lost Patrol March 21-22, 1911, 40 kilometres from Fort McPherson.
Family of Sarah Simon
Gwich’in Elder Sarah Peters (CBC Archive 1973, L27-11)
Yellowknife Roman Catholic Diocese/093-244-2
During that east-west voyage, Captain Henry Larsen hired Joe Panipakuttuk, an Inuit guide and hunter who brought six family members and 17 dogs along at Pond Inlet. Joe’s mother was hired as a seamstress and guide and wouldn’t go without her 6-year-old granddaughter Mary.
The family was dropped off on Herschel Island to make the trip home to Pond Inlet, which took two years.
The Panipakuttuk family on the deck of the St. Roch, 1944. Vancouver Maritime Museum
Mary Panipakuttuk was one of three young girls on the St. Roch trip. From The Dauntless St. Roch, Paul Delgado (2003)