Our Story

Learn about the history of the special constables and our roles in historic events like the hunt for the Mad Trapper, the search for the Lost Patrol, and voyage of the St. Roch.

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

Some would have froze because they didn’t know what kind of wood to use. What kind of footwear, direction of winds, hills and mountains and where to camp.

Winston Moses, son of S/Cst. John Moses, speaking about the RCMP

S/Cst. Andrew Stewart, S/Cst. Alfred Kendi with Inspector Nordie Kirk and Cst. Rolly Stewart, Richardson Mountains near Aklavik, 1946.

NWT Archives/N-2005-001:0120

Odillia Coyen making dry fish for winter patrol with S/Cst. Andre Jerome (right), Arctic Red River [Tsiigehtchic], 1957.

NWT Archives/N-1993-002:0046

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

First Special Constables

Special Constables have always been part of policing history in Canada. In 1874, after the NWMP arrived in Montana in their “March West” to control American whisky traders, Métis Special Constable Jerry Potts was hired by the Northwest Mounted Police to guide the police force to Southern Alberta. He was also responsible for choosing the site of the first NWMP Fort at Fort McLeod. He remained as a special constable for 22 years.

By the late 1890s, the Canadian government turned its attention to monitoring the activities in the Yukon gold fields. Special Constables were hired during this era to assist with dog team patrols across the length of the Arctic mainland, from Dawson City in the Yukon to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

Background: Baillie Island Detachment. Library and Archives Canada / RCMP / E003525183

A new element in our patrols this season has been introduced in the engagement of some full-blooded Indians as scouts who are attached to the patrols and so far have done very good service, being invaluable as trailers, and able and willing to travel excessive distances in an almost incredible space of time.

Commissioner’s report from 1887

The Lost Patrol

The story of the Lost Patrol reveals why it was imperative to have local knowledge of weather conditions and mountain trails along with skills required for long distance wilderness travel.

Changes were made to policing regulations following this incident, asserting police constables were no longer allowed to go out on patrol without Indigenous guides.

Background: Departure of Dawson to Fort McPherson patrol, 1910. NWT Archives/G-1979-002-0001

His great grandfather was one of the RCMP’s special constables enlisted to guide the lost patrol before it departed from Fort McPherson. His grandfather couldn’t leave that moment and asked them to wait but the ill-fated crew did not listen. Norbert says [Louis] Cardinal knew the mountain passes intimately and would have kept the patrol on track.

Top RCMP Honour Lost Patrolmen, Northern News Services, July 25, 2015

Story of the Lost Patrol

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

Timeline of Events

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.

Search Party

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.

Bodies Found

The search party found the bodies of the Lost Patrol March 21-22, 1911, 40 kilometres from Fort McPherson.

Inspector F.J. Fitzgerald, date unknown.

NWT Archives/N-1992-171:0030

S/Cst. Charlie Stewart, Fort McPherson, 1956.

Family of Sarah Simon

The Mad Trapper

The “Mad Trapper of Rat River” became the subject of a world famous manhunt. People may know parts of the story, but not everyone is aware of the central role of Special Constables and the involvement of Gwich’in residents. The Mad Trapper’s true identity remains a mystery, however, many believe his name was Albert Johnson.

Background: Search party gathers in Aklavik to hunt the Mad Trapper, 1932. Glenbow Archives/NA-1258-115

It took a lot of grub and dog feed [for all the men in the hunt]. All this was done by airplane and planes always landed at our place because we were staying near a big river. When they landed I would haul the stuff up the bank and store it away for the police until they came back again to keep on their search for Albert Johnson.

Gwich’in Elder Sarah Peters (CBC Archive 1973, L27-11)

How Special Constables Helped in the Search for the Mad Trapper
S/Cst. Joe Bernard.

Yellowknife Roman Catholic Diocese/093-244-2

Leggings worn by S/Cst. Joe Bernard in the hunt for the Mad Trapper. Tsiigehtchic, 1931. Maker unknown

PWNHC 2010.012.082

Joe Panipakuttuk on the St. Roch

The St. Roch served in the north as the RCMP’s vessel through the 1930s and 1940s, and became famous for being the first ship ever to sail through the Northwest Passage in a west to east direction in 1942, the first to make a return voyage in an east to west direction in 1944, and the first to circumnavigate North America in 1950.

Background: R.C.M.P. boat “St. Roch” in August on the Arctic Ocean. NWT Archives/N-1992-213: 0070

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

I hated the trip. I was very young and I was always worried. The older people didn’t worry but it was terrible living in the tent on the deck. The water would come right into the tent and I got scared.

Mary Panipakuttuk was one of three young girls on the St. Roch trip. From The Dauntless St. Roch, Paul Delgado (2003)

Objects from the St. Roch

Background: St Roch at the Vancouver Maritime Museum (Courtesy Napa/Wikimedia)