What We Did

See how we showed the way across the North by teaching survival skills, leading patrols, serving as interpreters, and outfitting the officers.
We Showed the Way

The RCMP were newcomers and needed to learn essential survival skills. Indigenous people shared their knowledge to support the police in many ways. They were hired – sometimes on the spot – as forerunners, guides, scouts, interpreters, hunters, fishermen, wood cutters and cooks.

S/Cst. Andrew Stewart loads a toboggan, Aklavik patrol, 1946. NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0093

They really had to know what they were doing out there. How to survive. They had to look after these RCMPs who weren’t from this country, but all of a sudden come to a harsh, cold country. They had to know how to survive.

Peter Ross talking about Special Constables

S/Cst. Andrew Stewart prepares a camp meal, Aklavik Patrol, 1946.

NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0095

S/Cst. Peter Esau (left), guides Garner King and Cst. Bob Knights into Fish Lake, Sachs Harbour, 1958.

NWT Archives/N-1993-002:0277

Cutting fire wood, 1922.

NWT Archives/N-1979-004:0238

Police Interpreter hauling water, Aklavik, 1920s.

NWT Archives/N-1991-041:0029

On Patrol

Detachments and posts were established in communities and areas of commercial activity such as whaling, trapping, and mining. Dozens of posts were set up between Fort Constantine (Forty Mile, YT) and Lake Harbour (Kimmirut, NU), and as far north as Ellesmere Island. Some of these detachments are still used today.

Likewise, patrols crossed incredibly long distances over isolated terrain, across all three modern territories. Prior to 1999, the Northwest Territories included what is now Nunavut territory.

Background: RCMP Detachment Resolute Bay, 1949. Library and Archives Canada/National Defence Headquarters, 126784

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Detachment Photos
Winter Patrols

Special Constables and local families provided expert knowledge of dog travel for long and difficult patrols. Dog patrols helped establish a new Canadian government presence in the north. Specials travelled in deep snow and frigid temperatures to deliver mail and newspapers, and to visit people out on the land.

Background: S/Cst. Andre Jerome on patrol from Arctic Red River [Tsiigehtchic] to Inuvik, 1957. NWT Archives/N-1993-002:0004

They had never been with dogs before. Sometimes the dogs would run away and the RCMP would fall off the sled and your legs are flying up in the air. Some of those things happened. But they learned fast.

Albert Elias, in an interview about his uncle S/Cst. Moses Raddi

We knew how to care for the dogs

Before snow machines became popular, most northern families had good dog teams. Working dogs required daily care throughout the year. They were fed meat and fish which was often cooked, especially in winter months.

RCMP puppies Peter and Paul, Sachs Harbour, 1958. NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0176

We broke trails

One of the tough jobs of a Special was to walk ahead of the dogs on snowshoes to break trail through deep snow, making it easier for the rest to follow.

Breaking trail on the Dawson to Fort McPherson patrol, 1920s. NWT Archives/N-1979-067:0061

We knew the land

Dog patrols followed traditional trails used by the local people. Specials knew these routes, plus how to read the weather conditions, navigate difficult terrain, and live on the land. Traditional on-the-land skills were essential.

S/Cst. Peter Esau and Cst. Bob Knights on patrol to Holman Island [Ulukhaktok], 1958. NWT Archives/N-1993-002:0178

Dog Sledding Objects

Background: RCMP dog leader, Fort Rae detachment, 1926. NWT Archives/N-1987-016:0618

Summer Patrols

In the summer, rivers and lakes connect people and communities. During summer patrols Special Constables guided the police along waterways in whaleboats, schooners and canoes.

Jimmy Akavak, Sandy Akavak, and Matthew Akavak with Cst. McLaughlin and Cst. Marchbank, on Eastern Arctic Patrol, Lake Harbour [Kimmirut], NWT, 1944. NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0249


When the police arrived in the Northwest Territories they were not familiar with the Indigenous languages.

Interpreters were hired to assist the police with their life and work in communities and on patrols. Many Specials and interpreters spoke a combination of local languages, French and English.

Language and communication skills were invaluable to the police, especially in law enforcement or emergencies.

S/Cst. Vital Thomas, Rae [Behchokǫ̀], 1962. NWT Archives/N-2003-037:0188

Mum used to speak Gwich’in… people used to visit my mum and dad if they had anything to say to the RCMP and they couldn’t say it right. They would use them as a translator and they would talk to the head Sergeant or Corporal. The people in the community felt comfortable with them [her parents] instead of going directly to the RCMP.

Louise Reindeer, speaking about her father S/Cst. Johnny Reindeer

S/Cst. James Fabien of Fort Resolution spoke English, French, Chipewyan and Dogrib [Tłı̨chǫ], 1933.
RCMP Letter of Engagement for dog driver and interpreter S/Cst. Jimmy Fabien, 1929.
What does “Special Constable” mean in my language?



Dası́dën lát’e-u, dası́dën ts’énı






Vidree Oonaatsoo Ts’anuu



Pilihimap Ikayuqtia



ᑭᖅᑕᓕᖖᓄᒼ ᐃᑲᔪᖅᑎ
Pukiqtalingnut Ikajuqti



Tiguyit Ikayuqtingit


North Slavey

Ekw’ahtı̨ gochelekuke


South Slavey

Ehtth’ıatı̨ ts’ándı̨



Kw’ahtı Xè Eghàladadǫ
Outfitting for Survival

Warm and well-made clothing kept members alive and comfortable while out on the land. Women used time-honored designs and materials such as seal skin, wolverine fur, caribou and moose hide. They also knew how to make harnesses, whips, booties and fancy blankets for the dogs.

RCMP and friends showing off their winter clothing. Old Crow, 1954. NWT Archives/N-1979-062:0145

My mother made parkas for the RCMP. You see today the RCMP have the brown serge, and on their pants you see the yellow stripe? My mother made those. She did sewing for the RCMP, she made them duffels and mukluks, fur mitts with mitt strings. She prepared bannock for them for long trips. She made dry meat for them to carry, and dry fish.

Mabel Brown, speaking about her mother Mary Kendi

Mary Kendi was the wife of S/Cst. Alfred Kendi and supported the Aklavik detachment. Mary was an impressive seamstress and is fondly remembered as a pillar of the Gwich’in community.

NWT Archives/G-1995-001:0570

Martha Stewart was the wife of S/Cst. Andrew Stewart. They traveled between Fort McPherson and Aklavik, spending most of their time in the mountains. She was well-known for her sewing and traditional skills, which were valuable to the RCMP.

NWT Archives/G-1995-001:0013

Case Objects