The Royal Mounted Police in the Arctic
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 26 Jan 1928, p. 11-29
Steele, Captain Howard, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A brief historical review of the Mounted Police (formerly The Royal North-West Mounted Police) in the Arctic or sub-Arctic since 1894 when the first detachment was sent to the Yukon just before the great gold rush. The speaker relates the story of why the Mounted Police were sent there, and why they are there now, such story bound up with the story of exploration in the search for the North-West Passage. Details of the detachments dotted over the area as far north as Bache Peninsula where they occupy the most northerly habitation on earth. Duties of a detachment. Success achieved by the Force in the Arctic, with example. Hardships and difficulties. The interest of the work, with examples. A detailed description of getting to the more northerly detachments. Anecdotes of courts assembled. A detailed description of the North-West Passage, with many anecdotes of the journey, and a relating of historical events attached to several locations along the way, including a murder mystery.
Date of Original
26 Jan 1928
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
Empire Club of Canada
Agency street/mail address:

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
26th January, 1928

The President introduced the lecturer who said: The subject of my address on this occasion, refers to what is probably the least known of all the activities of the present Force, formerly The Royal North-West Mounted Police. I am going to try to dispel some of this ignorance. To begin with, the Mounted Police have been in the Arctic or sub-Arctic since 1894, when the first detachment was sent to the Yukon just before the great gold rush. The question arises, why were they sent there and why are they there now?--and the answer is bound up with the greatest story of exploration in the world's history, the search for the North-West Passage.

This is a British Story. More money and more lives were expended by British subjects in the search for the North-West Passage than were expended in the same object by the rest of the world put together. Of the twenty-seven islands of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago having an area of over three hundred square miles, all but three were discovered, claimed for the British Empire, and in the main explored and charted by British subjects. The three exceptions were discovered by a Norwegian expedition and have since been acknowledged by Norway as part of Canada's heritage in the Arctic. In fact, one might say that the Canadian Arctic Archipelago was painted red in the life blood of British seamen and adventurers, and that the Franklin cenotaph, erected on Beechey Island to the memory of Sir John Franklin and his men, forms the foundation stone of Canada's dominion in the far north. The names of some of the greatest explorers in history--Franklin, McClintock, Parry (not Peary but Captain Sir William Edward Parry), are associated with the search for the NorthWest Passage. And it is because of these men that the Mounted Police are up there now, in the cold and the darkness of the Polar night, keeping the flag still flying. When Canada became a Dominion Great Britain handed over all that territory to be held in trust for the British Empire by us. It took three hundred years to discover the North-West Passage. It still takes from two to three years to sail through it. Today its course is dotted with Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachments and we can make the journey in imagination in a few minutes, as we will do presently, after taking a little run up to the most northerly detachments. None the less, we should never forget that it took three hundred years of tragic and heroic effort to win the Arctic for Canada.

One reason why the Mounted Police are stationed in the Arctic is because the area is not a worthless waste, but is very rich in valuable animal life and shows signs of potential mineral wealth. Then, the Arctic Islands will probably have a useful future as air bases. The leading aviation authorities of the world are agreed that, when Europe, Asia and America are linked by intercontinental air routes, many of these routes will lie across the Polar Basin, straight across the North Pole, because these are the shortest and most logical lines to follow. When that time comes bases at which the air liners can replenish will be required in the Arctic and these islands will then become of first-class importance. I can quote you figures to illustrate the present value of the Arctic to Canada and the material benefit derived by this country from the presence there of the Mounted Police. For instance, $150,000 in duties and fees were collected by the Force in the Yukon in 1898, during the Great Gold Rush. The Yukon is in the Arctic or sub-Arctic regions:--then in one year recently, in 1926, $28,000 in customs duties and $10,000 in income tax were collected at one small detachment alone--Herschel Island, the most westerly of all the northern detachments. About ten percent of the entire Force, or approximately one hundred all ranks, are assigned to duty in this enormous area, which is in the form of a triangle bounded roughly on the south by the 55th parallel of north latitude, on the east by a line drawn up Baffin Bay midway between Greenland and Ellesmere Island as far as the north pole and on the west by the 141st meridian, which forms the boundary between Alaska and the Yukon Territory, also continued to the pole. Canada does not claim the pole itself but claims everything up to it. This triangle is as large as Europe minus Russia. The area of the Arctic Islands alone exceeds 535,000 square miles, which is approximately equal to the combined areas of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It is very thinly populated, having only about 15,000 people, Eskimos, Indians, trappers, missionaries and prospectors and traders. Even the most densely populated area, the MacKenzie River District, contains only 1-96th of a person to the square mile!

The men of the Mounted Police in that area are dotted over it in detachments of two or three men, as far north as Bache Peninsula, within eleven degrees of the pole, where they occupy the most northerly habitation on earth. Every detachment is a pocket government in itself, the Sergeant or Corporal in charge having the powers of a postmaster, gamewarden, justice of the peace, and in fact, all the authority necessary to enable him to represent the government. These detachments remain in the Arctic all the year round, year in and year out, constantly attending to their arduous duties.

The duties of a detachment may be briefly summarized as follows: to protect and assist the natives and the whites, to enforce the Federal laws and to carry out scientific investigation for the government. This work is accomplished largely by means of the patrols. Setting out with dogs or in boats, they periodically undertake long journeys, sometimes to investigate an alleged crime but often merely to remind the people of their presence in the country. This is where the dog teams come in--in fact without the husky these patrols would be impossible. The dog, whose picture you see shown here, has a remarkable record. His name is "Mountie" and, though he is now enjoying a wellearned rest at the C. P. R. Hotel in Quebec, the Chateau Frontenac, he served five years with the Mounted Police in the north, covering eight thousand miles on the trail during that time, while, according to his driver, he was never a day off duty and never missed a patrol.

The secret of the success achieved by the Force in the Arctic lies largely in the readiness of the men to adopt native methods and to use the assistance of natives in their work. For instance, they wear native clothing, employ native equipment and often eat native food when travelling. Because of this wise policy, they have been able to conquer the Arctic, whereas many of the old explorers failed.

As will be readily understood, their hardships and difficulties are many. The summers, though short, are pleasant but the winters, as you well know, are long and severe. When on patrol, they have often to travel over vast ridges of broken ice which may cover an area of hundreds of miles. This is especially true among the islands, because the men in that area are compelled to do their winter patrolling over the sea ice, as the islands themselves are frequently too rocky and precipitous to permit of sled travel. Often a patrol is brought fade to face with starvation and is compelled to kill and eat its dogs or to drive them on for days, at a time without food. Such a state of affairs arises when the patrol is depending for food on the game it encounters en route, as it frequently happens that the expected game is not sighted. Terrible blizzards and intense cold are also common. Then there is the Arctic darkness, which does not last for six months, except at the pole, but may last for several months at the more northerly detachments. Finally, there is the loneliness, which you can easily picture for yourselves when you recall that many of the detachments remain alone for a year without more than a handful of natives for company. In some instances, men have been forced to spend the year with only one companion, a state of things which speaks for itself. Naturally, these hardships are relieved to some extent by the interest of the work, by games, a library and sometimes a radio. But even these are not always sufficient to make life endurable. In such cases, anything different is a relief and all kinds of diversions are invented in order to pass the time. A chum of mine, named Charlie told me that when he had exhausted every other resource, he organized the seals and walruses into parliaments. I don't really believe that; but I do believe, because I have seen photographs to prove it, another somewhat similar story of his. There are no horses in the Far North but there are plenty of muskoxen, so Charlie captured a musk-ox, saddled it, broke it and rode it, then reported to the Commissioner that he had carried out the annual riding course required of all members of the Force. I don't know what the Commissioner thought about this. He may have been annoyed. He certainly must have wondered how Charlie managed to carry out the instructions referred to, in an entirely horseless country. And here's another interesting fact. The Canadian Post Office frequently delivers the letters addressed to Santa Claus to the Far Northern detachments--after all, that is the proper thing to do. And the men help to pass the long winter nights by answering these letters. In this way, we may fairly say they earn their Christmas dinner.

Now, before making the North-West Passage, we'll take a quick run up to the more northerly detachments. In this run, the first detachment we come to is Pangnirtung, near the southern end of Baffin Island. When our expedition visited it in 1925, the N. C. O. in charge was Sergeant Wight, a great, big, good-natured, quiet chap, with next to nothing to say about himself, and altogether unlike the Mounted Police Sergeant we come across in cheap fiction. Yet, with Inspector Wilcox, Inspector Joy, Staff-Sergeant Dempster and a few others, he is without a doubt one of the outstanding polar travellers of today. You don't see him often mentioned in the newspapers but it is a fact. In the very short patrol season of 1924-25 Sergeant Wight, with three others of the detachment, patrolled 5,190 miles, partly by boat but mostly with dogs, a distance more than one and one half times the distance across the North American continent along the Canada-United States boundary, much of it through little known country.

Next we come to Pond's Inlet, on the north end of Baffin Island, chiefly celebrated for its connection with the Janes murder case. In April, 1920, a trader named Janes was murdered by the Eskimos at Cape Crawford four hundred miles within the Arctic Circle. The natives had never heard of the white man's law, because the Mounted Police had never been in that particular area, but it was felt that the crime could not be allowed to pass unnoticed. So the Government decided to take action. They did not send a regiment or even a patrol, as might have been expected. They sent only one man, Staff-Sergeant joy, recently promoted to Inspector, I am glad to say, in recognition of his fine work in the north. But joy embodied in himself the powers of the entire Government and so was as good as a regiment for the job in hand. He landed at Ponds Inlet in July, 1921, and spent the following winter ranging far and wide over Baffin Island pursuing his inquiries. At all times, he carried his life in his hands. The Eskimos are normally a good-natured, docile people, but liable to become violent suddenly through suspicion, anger or fear--incidentally, most of the murders which have taken place in the Arctic have been due to these unexpected outbursts. It was quite on the cards that the people of Cape Crawford might easily have associated joy's presence with the death of Janes and might therefore have decided that for their own well-being it would be best to dispose of joy also. However, joy handled the situation so tactfully that they never suspected anything; in fact, they became very friendly. In spite of all obstacles, joy eventually found the body of the murdered man, conducted an autopsy, held an inquest as coroner, then discovered the identity of the murderers, arrested them in his capacity as constable and as justice of the Peace held the preliminary inquiry and committed them for trial. The chief criminal was a native named Nookudlah and an interesting sidelight on the Eskimo character is provided by the fact that this man worked as a dog-driver for joy for several months before his association with the murder was discovered, without apparently realizing that he was in any danger. This gives one a good idea of the simplicity of these natives. At the same time, it does not in the least alter the point that Staff-Sergeant joy was in a hazardous position during his investigations because of the possibility that his purpose might be detected and resisted.

In 1923 a court was assembled at Ponds Inlet to deal with these three natives. The trial then held constituted, I believe, the most northerly trial ever held in the world. Nookudlah was sentenced to ten years in the penitentiary and one of his accomplices received the sentence of two years with hard labour at Ponds Inlet. The sentences were comparatively light because it was found that there had been some provocation and because Janes had been killed in accordance with Eskimo law, that is, a general meeting of the community had decided that it was best to make away with him and had appointed Nookudlah executioner. The judge complimented joy on his excellent work. Nookudlah was brought down to the south, being taken to Stony Mountain Penitentiary, but unfortunately, as the Eskimos, through living in the pure air of the Arctic, are not immune to the diseases we have down here, he caught tuberculosis. As it would never do to have him die in the south, lest the natives might think that he had been killed by us after word had been given that he was to suffer nothing more than imprisonment, the Government thereupon decided to return him to his own people and we took him back with us to Ponds Inlet in 1925. It was very interesting to note that he bore no ill-will towards Staff-Sergeant joy, in fact, they were the best of friends and used to spend hours talking about seals and komatiks and blubber. Poor Nookudlah wanted nothing more than to get his teeth into a nice fat seal-steak again. I am sorry to say that he has since died.

Just across the Sound from Ponds Inlet is the next detachment, Dundas Harbour, on North Devon Island. When we visited it in 1925, we found only three people living on it and those were the men of the detachment, who had lived there alone for a whole year. It had not been intended to leave them in such isolation but the natives who should have been with them and who had arranged to join them by crossing the ice from another island during the winter, had been unable to reach them. Before the year was up, owing to lack of this native assistance, they were in some respects in desperate straits. For instance, they had to make fur-caps and mitts for themselves from the skins of husky pups, as they were unable to get about the country sufficiently to kill enough game. But they seemed little the worse for their experience and quite cheerful, so much so that they were willing to spend a second year at the detachment. We left some natives with them but when the ship returned in the following year, instead of three white men she found only two. One of the Policemen had died during the year and the remaining pair had been through the ordeal of spending several months on the island with their dead comrade. That is part of the price which has to be paid for the maintenance of Canada's dominion in the Arctic.

The next detachment touched at on the way north is Craig Harbour on the south side of Ellesmere Island. In 1925 it was the base for what was then the world's most northerly police patrol. This patrol was made by 'Corporal T. R. Michelson. He had been an aviator during the war and his record in the Royal Air Force, according to himself, seems to have consisted of one crash after another, in which he escaped more by good luck than good management. So it is not surprising that he came through all the perils of the patrol without injury. Two attempts to make this patrol were necessary. With his objective Kane Basin Detachment, on the east coast of Ellesmere, which at that time consisted simply of a depot, he made two attempts to accomplish his mission. On the first attempt, conditions compelled him to turn back after a few days' travel. The second attempt was successful. Accompanied for half the distance by three Eskimos who had come over from Greenland to visit Craig Harbour and by a native named Klishook, employed at the detachment, but making the return journey with Klishook only, Michelson travelled over the sea ice of Smith Sound. This neighbourhood is full of tragic associations, as in 1883-84 those very waters had furnished an impassable barrier in the path of the Greely Exhibition of the United States, which had been thus prevented from reaching Greenland and hence had been marooned all winter on Ellesmere Island till, out of a total strength of 26, only 6 were left. Blizzards which forbade all travel, smashed sledges and bitter cold were features of the northward run. While crossing a glacier one of the dogs fell down a seventy-five foot crevasse and was rescued by the party at the risk of their lives. When they arrived at Kane Basin, their first need was for matches. You can imagine Michelson's surprise and disappointment in discovering that a large box marked "Matches" which he hastily broke open contained, not what he sought, but--ladies' underwear! I might explain that this underwear had been sent north for issue to destitute Eskimo women.

On the return journey, the conditions already encountered were repeated, and, towards the end, the patrol was placed in a position of very great danger when Michelson lost all but three of his dogs in a bear hunt. Sighting two polar bears towards dusk one day and being badly in need of meat, he gave chase and, when the dogs winded the bears, loosed them by cutting all the traces with his knife, in the Eskimo way. The dogs disappeared in the twilight and that was the last Michelson ever saw of them. Nor did he ever see any sign of the bears--an Arctic mystery. Next morning, two of the missing animals turned up and a fortnight later the third somehow found its way back to Craig Harbour. But the rest of the team never came back.

As a result, the patrol was severely handicapped at a very critical time. They could not afford to abandon any of their equipment, yet, being short of supplies, had to keep moving. The problem was solved by dividing Klishook's team between the two sledges. Thanks to this loyal co-operation, they were able to make slow but sure progress. Their troubles, however, were not yet over. Some time later they got separated in a dense mist and did not see each other again till they reached Craig Harbour. Each man feared that the other had been drowned, as the rest of the way lay over broken ice in which a slip meant certain death. You can easily imagine their joyful reunion, when they at last reached home. The time occupied in making this patrol totalled twenty-five days and the distance covered 485 miles. During the entire journey they never met a soul.

Kane Basin detachment, to which Michelson travelled, formed the limit of our northward voyage in 1925. We were supposed to establish a detachment at Bache Peninsula, some fourteen miles to the north, but were prevented from doing so by ice conditions. We could only gaze on it from afar; but in 1926, after three unsuccessful attempts which typify the determination and perseverance of the Mounted Police, the detachment was established, with Staff-Sergeant joy in charge. The other day I asked joy what he thought of the place and he informed me that it was the best detachment in the north, in fact, a paradise. Whether you would agree with this depends on the interpretation you put upon the word "Paradise." Of course, if you like solitude and an open-air life and the opportunity of studying nature, especially of studying wild life in vast multitudes, then you would consider it a " Paradise."

It was from Bache Peninsula that joy made a patrol that in some respects is the greatest of all northern patrols. Crossing Ellesmere he made a complete circuit of the northern group of islands, covering 1,320 miles in 54 days. He had only two natives with him and during the entire journey they met no human being, while they had a series of hair-raising adventures. Had this patrol been made by a recognized explorer, it would have received reams of newspaper publicity. I do not say this in any attempt to disparage the work of such men, as many of them have been generous in their acknowledgments of what the Mounted Police have done. For instance, one of the greatest of them all recently expressed to me the opinion that the Mounted Police were in the first rank of polar travellers. This is the opinion of Captain "Teddy" Evans, who was second in command to Captain Scott. At present, it is impossible for the general public to realize the full value to Canada of such journeys as this. Only as time passes will this be made apparent.

Having now touched at all the more northerly detachments, we will rapidly return south to make the North-West Passage. As I said before, it is impossible in the limited time at our disposal to touch at more than two or three of the detachments in this area. One of the first met with on the way west is Port Burwell, in Hudson Strait. There is a lighter side to life at Port Burwell, as you can see from this photograph [picture shown] of the Mounted Police Canadianizing the Eskimos, through a banquet held on Empire Day. But in November, 1920, when Sergeant Wight was in charge there, it witnessed one of many similar scenes which serve to emphasize the perils of police work in the Far North. A patrol was sent by motor boat to Cape Chidley. On the way back they ran into a gale, which flooded the engine so that they had to anchor the boat. It was decided that Corporal Butler, in charge, and a civilian named Lyall, had better land and walk to the neighbourhood of the detachment, there to get help. Soon after they left the boat, a blizzard came on and eventually conditions became so bad that Butler decided to take refuge in a snowbank. Lyall insisted on pushing on. During the night, Sergeant Wight became anxious and sent out a search party as soon as the storm dropped sufficiently to make it safe to do so. The party rescued Corporal Butler, who escaped comparatively lightly.

His feet were frozen solid to the ankles, but he completely recovered. Through a continual blizzard raging during the next week, the party continued to search for Lyall. They found him eventually, frozen to death on a rock on which he had sat down to rest. That's just another example of the price of empire in the Arctic.

The next point at which we stop is Fort Churchill, on the western side of Hudson Bay. At present; Fort Churchill is appearing prominently in the newspapers as the future terminus of the Hudson Bay Railway. In winter, it does not look a very prepossessing spot at which to detrain, though of course it is quite nice in summer. Hitherto, however, its chief claim to distinction has lain in the fact that it has been the starting point for several great Mounted Police patrols.

Among these patrols, the principal is known as the Bathurst Inlet patrol and is interesting because it was the longest ever made in the Arctic. Some years ago, two white men were murdered on Bathurst Inlet, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. Word of the crime did not reach the Mounted Police until nearly a year later, and it was not found possible to send out a party until July, 1914, when Inspector Beyts proceeded to Churchill from Halifax. During the following summer a base was established on Baker Lake, and, when winter came, the Inspector made two attempts to reach Bathurst Inlet, but could not do so owing to the almost total absence of deer on which the patrol was to depend for food.

In 1916 Inspector French came out to carry on the work and in March, 1917, he finally got started. He was accompanied by Sergeant-Major Caulkin and four natives with lovely names, Quashak, Bye-and-bye, Joe, and an Eskimo lady named Soloman. They had three dog teams with sleds and two canoes. It took them two months to reach Bathurst Inlet, whence they proceeded to Bernard Harbour. They endured severe hardships, as they suffered a great deal from cold and exposure, their clothing wore out until they were practically in rags, they were badly frost-bitten and snow-blind half the time, while the white men suffered greatly in health from the straight meat diet on which they were compelled to live. On reaching Bernard Harbour, they were seriously short .of supplies. Inspector French described this stage of the trip as the hardest he had ever made. Having completed its investigations, the party re-outfitted at Bernard Harbour, where there was a Hudson's Bay Company post. The return journey to Baker Lake, which they reached on January 29th, occupied three months. Before it was over, they were on the verge of starvation and under the necessity of killing many of their dogs to keep the rest alive. In fact, the situation at one time looked so gloomy that the Inspector wrote in his diary that "it looked like their last patrol." However, they finally reached their base in safety, having satisfactorily accomplished their mission. They found that the murders had been committed under extreme provocation and therefore did not bring back the murderers to trial, but they impressed the white man's law on all the natives met with so thoroughly that the patrol is still remembered in that country. Altogether, the party travelled 4,500 miles and were absent ten months, while the entire expedition occupied three and a half years.

Now, passing rapidly by Bernard Harbour and other detachments, we come to Herschel Island. This point is associated with one of the most exciting of all Mounted Police Arctic adventures. I may say, incidentally, that I made use of this episode in a very much modified form in a recent book, and was criticized by a newspaperman, who said that it was impossible. Inspector Phillips, one of the principals in the affair referred to, I frequently see in Montreal, and I have read his report and heard the story from his own lips, so can assure you that it is true.

In 1918, Inspector Phillips, with Constables Cornelius and Doak, was wrecked eight miles from Herschel Island when his whaleboat was crushed to pieces in the ice. They had to abandon the wreck and jump from icepan to icepan. The cakes constantly overturned and then it was a case of jumping for their lives. Finally, they reached the more or less solid ice along the shore, and from it got to the nearest land. To reach the land they had to cross over a score of leads or open lanes in the ice by swimming. It is easy to imagine the strain and physical effort involved in swimming over twenty leads in the freezing Arctic sea. It took the party ten hours to get to shore. Then they started to walk to Herschel Island. A strong gale was blowing and in their wet clothing they suffered intensely, especially as they had been compelled to throw away their heavy outer clothing in order to swim at all.

Doak became delirious under the strain and, as the Inspector and Cornelius could not carry him, it was decided that Cornelius should go on to Herschel for help while the Inspector remained behind to look after Doak. The Inspector built a shelter of driftwood and there the two men remained until rescued by a whaleboat at 11 p.m. next day. A sharp lookout was kept for Cornelius, but he was not seen en route nor was he found at the post. The Inspector thereupon sent another boat to look for him. He was found marooned ten miles away and brought in. It is pleasant to be able to add that none of the party suffered any permanent ill-effects, as a result of this adventure.

At this point I want to mention a very interesting and mysterious fact. Some years later Doak was treacherously murdered in the north on the same day and almost at the same time as Cornelius died in hospital at Edmonton. So these two men, who had been comrades in life, were also comrades in death.

Our journey has taken us all but completely through the NorthWest Passage. About four hundred miles away from Herschel is Dawson, capital of the Yukon. Hundreds of stories showing how law and order were maintained there by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police during the Gold Rush and afterwards could be told of Dawson, but I propose to speak of only one Yukon incident, selecting this because it gives a glimpse of the brilliant detective work which has built up the reputation of the Mounted Police and led to the association of the name of the Force with the cheap phrase, "Get your man ! "

On Christmas Day, 1899, four men left Fossal's roadhouse on the Yukon River bound for the outside. Their names were O'Brien, Olson, Clayson and Relphe. The Mounted Police, who kept track of the comings and goings of all men in that country, noted their departure. And when time passed and the men were not seen at the next point along the river, they noted that too. And word was sent to all detachments to keep a sharp lookout for the quartette, while patrols also examined the trails.

So in due course the detachment at Tagish saw a strange man alone on the river near the post, with a horse and sleigh. This man made a detour especially to avoid the detachment, a suspicious action, as a man does not avoid the Mounted Police in those wild places unless there is something against him. The detachment, therefore, went out and arrested him--just in time, as it happened, because he had landed himself and his outfit in a dangerous hole and he was drowning when the police pulled him out. The man was O'Brien. When questioned about the whereabouts of Olson, Clayson and Relphe, with whom he had left Fossal's, he would not answer. He was searched and on him were found a curious nugget shaped like a hand, and a strange coin, while his sleigh was packed with banknotes. The Police made inquiries and found that there were witnesses who knew that the nugget and coin had belonged to Relphe, while the banknotes were Clayson's. It began to look as if Mr. O'Brien had set his heart on getting Clayson's money, had killed him with that purpose in mind, and had polished off the others at the same time, so that there would be none to bear witness against him.

It now became the job of the Mounted Police to find out, firstly, if the three men really had been murdered and, secondly, if they had been murdered by O'Brien. Constable Pennecuick was called in. From time to time others assisted him, but the full credit of the investigation belongs to him. Examining the bank of the river along which the party had travelled on their way to the outside, he soon noted, even under a recent fall of snow which tended to screen it, a point up which someone had climbed. Going up the bank, he was surprised to find that he had a clear view for miles along the river. The trees at that point, he discovered, had been recently cut down. Soon it struck him that this had been done so that a lookout might be kept for persons coming along the river trail. Next he examined the tree-stumps and found that the axe used to cut the trees down had been peculiarly dented, leaving marks which proved this upon the chips and stumps. He kept some of the chips. Now he searched for a trail down to the river, found traces of it, got a broom and carefully swept aside the screening snow. And so he gradually uncovered a track which showed that a heavy body or bodies had been dragged down to the river and dropped through a hole in the ice, to get rid of them. Pennecuick continued his work with that broom of his and soon found several bullets, including one in the earth from a .45 rifle.

At this point Providence stepped in, if ever Providence has stepped in anywhere to bring a murderer to justice. A dog came out of the bushes. It was a dog which belonged to O'Brien and which Pennecuick knew well, for he had seen it when O'Brien was in jail at Dawson for some minor offence some months before. Pennecuick thought 'This dog wants to say something. I'll tell him to go home and see what he'll do.' So he told the dog, 'Go home, sir, go home!" And the dog, obeying led him to a tent hidden deep in the woods. There, in the tent, were the .45 rifle and the remains of a fire in which clothing had been burned. Pennecuick found buttons in the ashes, marked with the name of a Seattle firm--Clayson had come from Seattle to the Yukon. In the stove he found other relics. Then, putting himself in the murderer's place, he thought, "Before O'Brien burnt these clothes, he would search them and throw away anything he did not want. Now, where would he throw it to?" To make sure, he went and stood by the stove, as O'Brien must have done, and threw a handful of small objects carelessly away, again just as O'Brien must have done,--noting where these fell. Then he got his broom and carefully swept away the snow near each object. His perseverance was rewarded by the discovery of a safe key and another strange coin.

The trial was held. The evidence was conclusive. A witness was found to tell of how O'Brien had suggested to him a plan of preparing a camp such as Pennecuick had discovered, to which victims could be lured and in which the murderer, watching for enemies, could lie in concealment afterwards. O'Brien's axe was produced and found to be nicked just as the axe used for clearing the lookout near the camp had been nicked, according to the evidence of the chips Pennecuick also exhibited. The safe key was found to fit Clayson's safe in Seattle, the coin belonged to Relphe. The strange nugget and the first coin were produced. Even the dog was produced. To clinch the matter, the river at this time gave up its dead and Pennecuick was able to prove by other clues discovered that these men had been killed at O'Brien's camp. And altogether a net of circumstantial evidence through which no being on earth could have wriggled was woven around the murderer. The judge congratulated Pennecuick whom he called a genius. The jury found O'Brien guilty in half-an-hour. So in spite of all his precautions he was hanged and he died cursing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The O'Brien case has carried us past the detachment at Fort McPherson, to which we must retrace our steps, because Fort McPherson is immortalized by its association with the supreme epic of Mounted Police work in the Far North, the Fitzgerald patrol. I could not close with a greater story than this. It is in all respects perfect, as perfect as though it had been planned by a master poet. The names of the four men of the patrol, Inspector F. J. Fitzgerald, Constables Kinney, Taylor, and Special Constable Carter, should be held in reverence in every home in Canada. With them stands Corporal Dempster, who was Fitzgerald's great rival and who is still carrying on in the north in defiance of time and hardships.

A few days before Christmas, 1910, Fitzgerald and his party left Fort McPherson to make the annual patrol to Dawson, about 400 miles away. They carried dispatches and the mail. The mail was a specially precious burden, of course, to be carefully guarded and transported at a high rate of speed. In order to make a quick trip, the patrol travelled with only just the amount of food required to carry them and their three dog-teams to Dawson. Only Carter had ever been over the trail from McPherson to Dawson, though Fitzgerald had once covered it in the opposite direction, so they were dependent upon Carter for guidance.

The weather was intensely cold, with trails made desperately hard by the bursting of the rivers through the broken ice; but they made good progress with the assistance of an Indian named Esau, who took them to a point from which Carter was sure he knew the way.

In the meantime the patrol was expected at Dawson. When it was long overdue, an Indian reported to the officer commanding there that he had left Fitzgerald many days before. Corporal Dempster was accordingly sent out in command of a rescue party. He made a record run to McPherson and when within 35 miles of the Fort, discovered why the Fitzgerald patrol had not turned up. Here he found the bodies of Kinney and Taylor, who had died from starvation and exposure.

Fifteen miles farther on, only twenty miles from safety he found the bodies of Fitzgerald and Carter, also dead from similar causes. From the Inspector's diary, Dempster learned the whole story.

Soon after parting with Esau, Carter found that he did not remember the way to Dawson. For days, urged on by their desire to do their job, at all costs, the patrol had searched for the route without success and had been finally compelled to turn back in a desperate effort to retreat to McPherson. Eventually Fitzgerald and Carter had given the two weaker men all the food and all the bedding and struggled on in a final effort to get assistance. I will pass over the pathetic details of the Inspector's ministering to his comrades and of his will, and quote only a sentence from one of Dempster's reports, a sentence which takes on tremendous significance, because of the way in which it summarizes the whole great tragedy as though it referred merely to the work of a mail-carrier on a city street

"The regular Herschel Island-Fort McPherson mail for Dawson, carried by the Fitzgerald patrol, was found secure and intact under Inspector Fitzgerald's body; and the same has been duly delivered."

There is no need to comment upon this. So long as we carry on in this spirit, our country has nothing to fear.

Powered by / Alimenté par VITA Toolkit

My favourites lets you save items you like, tag them and group them into collections for your own personal use. Viewing "My favourites" will open in a new tab. Login here or start a My favourites account.


The Royal Mounted Police in the Arctic

A brief historical review of the Mounted Police (formerly The Royal North-West Mounted Police) in the Arctic or sub-Arctic since 1894 when the first detachment was sent to the Yukon just before the great gold rush. The speaker relates the story of why the Mounted Police were sent there, and why they are there now, such story bound up with the story of exploration in the search for the North-West Passage. Details of the detachments dotted over the area as far north as Bache Peninsula where they occupy the most northerly habitation on earth. Duties of a detachment. Success achieved by the Force in the Arctic, with example. Hardships and difficulties. The interest of the work, with examples. A detailed description of getting to the more northerly detachments. Anecdotes of courts assembled. A detailed description of the North-West Passage, with many anecdotes of the journey, and a relating of historical events attached to several locations along the way, including a murder mystery.