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Beginnings and Landmarks

RCMP traditions centre in Regina

Leader-Post
May 16, 1955. p.13

The first settler, Edward Carss, arrived in September of that year and homesteaded on the banks of Wascana creek. Other settlers followed and the following June Pile o’Bones became the capital of the Northwest Territories and was renamed Regina. In the fall of 1882 the Mounties moved their headquarters to Regina.

From the canvas tents that were their only shelter through the first winter, they established and administered law in a territory bounded by the Great lakes, the international boundary, the Rockies and the Arctic.

FIRST BARRACKS

The first permanent barracks were erected in the spring of 1883. These were fabricated buildings shipped from eastern Canada.

No sooner were the Mounties settled than trouble began to brew between the settlers and the Metis. In 1885 the trouble broke into open fighting that became known as the Riel Rebellion.

Even before shots were fired Mounties and volunteers from Regina became involved in the conflict. Unrest had been growing in the Prince Albert district where only 21 policemen were stationed, and when rebellion was reported imminent on March 13, 1885, Commissioner A. G. Irvine was ordered north with the largest force he could muster.

With a force of 90 officers and men he set out from Regina to cross the snow-covered prairie and by forced marches was able to reach Prince Albert before the Metis attacked.

His action prevented an outbreak of fighting, but soon afterwards Mounties and Metis clashed at Duck Lake.

In the battles that followed, Fish Creek, Cut Knife, and Batoche, the police played an important role. Joined by an expeditionary force from eastern Canada and volunteer settlers the rebellion was soon quelled and the Metis leader, Louis Riel, captured.

Riel was tried in Regina, convicted of rising in armed revolt against the Queen and being “in league with the devil,” and on Nov. 16, 1885 was hanged at the police barracks. Contrary to the public sentiment of the day he was not buried at the foot of his gallows.

TROUBLE AGAIN

Trouble started to brew again in the 1890’s when the Indian outlaw, Almighty Voice, spread terror in the Duck Lake district. At the police barracks in Regina a ball to bid farewell to Mounties leaving to take part in Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee was in progress when news arrived of the murder of Captain Jack Allan by Almighty Voice.

Commissioner Herchmer, after whom a Regina school is named, stopped the ball and Mounties were soon on their way to Duck Lake.

When the Indian’s refused to surrender their refuge was shelled and Almighty Voice was killed.

But the glorious traditions of the Mounties stem not so much from the engagements in which a large force was involved as from incidents in which one or several policeman averted trouble by their audacity and calm resolution.

Such an incident occurred when Piapot, fiery chief of the Crees, camped on the right-of-way of the Canadian Pacific Railway as it was being built across the country. His warriors frightened off the railway workers and construction was at a standstill.

One sergeant and a constable rode into the Cree camp and ordered the chief to move. Piapot refused.

But as his warriors chuckled the sergeant jumped from his horse and kicked down the poles of the chief’s tepee. Taken somewhat aback, Piapot and his followers moved, and the railway continued westward.

As the reputation of the Mounties spread throughout the west and the red coat became a symbol of law and order the headquarters at Regina continued to grow.

The frame structures which replaced tents gave way in time to the brick buildings of the present barracks.

One of the few remaining frame structures, and one of the most interesting buildings on the barracks grounds, is the RCMP chapel, claimed to be the only church in the world used exclusively by policemen. Built in 1885 to house Indian prisoners and later used as a mess hall and a canteen, the building was converted to a chapel in 1894.

In those days the barracks was practically a separate community, and Mrs. Herchmer, wife of the commissioner, expressed a wish for some sort of chapel at the barracks.

In 1939 a tower was erected to commemorate the march of the force into the Northwest Territories in 1874. The chapel, which holds regular Sunday services, now contains plaques and memorials to many of the Mounties who died or were killed while on duty.

In 1905, when the province of Saskatchewan was created, the Mounties got a new name. The king bestowed the use of the word “Royal” on the force and it became the Royal North West Mounted Police.

In 1919, the operations of the force were extended to cover all Canada and in 1920 it absorbed the Dominica police at Ottawa, so the name was again changed to the present form, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

In the same year the headquarters of the force was moved from Regina to the nation’s capital, in keeping with its new stature as a national police force.

Regina continued to be the western training headquarters for the RCMP, and in 1928, when the Saskatchewan Provincial Police turned over its duties to the RCMP, the city became the headquarters for “F” division comprising all Saskatchewan.

The Regina barracks, known as “Depot” division, is the western training centre for the RCMP and also headquarters of “F” division.

In the barracks of today are contrasted the old and the new, the picturesque and the practical.

In red brick buildings clustered around a large, grassy square are the barracks for men,.officers’ quarters, offices and classrooms, gymnasium and swimming pool, the museum, the riding school, and the crime detection laboratory.

NEW QUARTERS

In the museum, which was established in 1932 and moved to new and enlarged quarters in “C” block last October, are many grisly relics of past cases. The exhibits range from a piece of the rope used to hang Louis Riel, to a Russian “burp” gun captured in Korea.

The crime detection laboratory, on the other hand, houses the expensive and complicated machines to analyze substances which might become important clues in the solution of a crime. Established first in 1937 in one room with a one man staff, the lab was moved to a new three storey building at the southeast corner of the barracks square in 1953.

Now one of the largest police laboratories in Canada, its facilities are open to law enforcement agencies other than the RCMP.

There is also the riding school and stable, home of the famous “musical ride”. Its 32 riders dressed in review order and carrying cavalry lances with red and white penons have thrilled many crowds throughout Canada, the United States, and in England, as they took their mounts through intricate riding patterns.

The barracks is also the home of one of the official RCMP bands. One stationed in Ottawa was formed in 1938, and the other at Regina was formed in 1949.

However, a number of semi-official bands were formed as far back as 1876 and served to add music as well as color to the early days of the prairies.