North West Mounted Police (NWMP) - Personnel Records, 1873-1904

NWMP Post, Banff, Alberta, 1888
Source

Background

The North West Mounted Police was established in 1873 to bring Canadian authority to the North West Territories (present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan). Its jurisdiction grew to include the Yukon in 1895, the Arctic Coast in 1903 and northern Manitoba in 1912.

The general duties of the Force were to:

  • establish law and order;
  • collect customs dues;
  • enforce prohibition;
  • supervise the treaties between First Nations and the federal government;
  • assist in the settlement process;
  • ensure the welfare of immigrants; and
  • fight prairie fires, disease and destitution.

In 1904, the name changed to the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP). In 1920, the RNWMP absorbed the Dominion Police and became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and was responsible for federal law enforcement in all provinces and territories.

Members of the Force served in the:
  • Northwest Rebellion, 1885;
  • South African War, 1899-1902;
  • First World War, 1914-1918; and
  • Second World War, 1939-1945

The Records

Records of the North West Mounted Police and Royal Canadian Mounted Police are in the custody of Library and Archives Canada, Record Group 18 (RG 18). The records include the surviving personnel records for NWMP members who served between 1873 and 1904.

After 1904, only a sample of historically significant personnel records was retained, some of which are held by Library and Archives Canada. There are also files for members of the Dominion Police.

The personnel files in this database were digitized from the microfiche in RG 18, volumes 10037-10047, and RG 18 1997-98/386/box 33.

References to the surviving personnel files for the RNWMP (1904 - 1920) can be searched using the Archives Advanced Search database using the following search strategy.

  • Archival ref. number: 18
  • Any Keyword: surname

Note that some references indicate an initial rather than a full given name. The references for personnel records are identified as Series G. If the reference includes a microfilm reel number, it indicates that the file is available on microfilm and may be borrowed. If no reel number is included, the file can only be consulted onsite.

References to other documents relating to some NWMP members can be found in records of the Department of the Interior (RG 15). In the above database, enter RG 15 in the Archival Ref. Number box and the name in the Any Keyword box.

Record Group 18 includes other records relating to the Force, such as daily journals for the different Divisions and Detachments. There are also records relating to recruitment, enlistment, medical examinations, nominal rolls, discharges and investigations into charges against members. These records are described in the ARCHIVED - General Inventory database.

Service files for those who joined the RCMP after 1920 remain in the custody of the RCMP. Requests for service information can be made directly to the RCMP under the provisions of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.

The Service Files

The service files often contain personal correspondence, clippings and other information about the individual long after he took his discharge from the Mounted Police.

Officers' Files

When the Mounted Police was first organized in 1873, there was no administrative need to assign a service number to each officer. It was not done in the military and there were only 23 officers. As time went by, however, the number of officers increased. Only in 1900 were officers given numbers, starting with the first officers appointed in 1873.

With or without numbers, service records exist for all officers of the NWMP from 1873 to 1904, including medical doctors and veterinarians. All officers were appointed by the government of the day by order-in-council, including those who were commissioned from the ranks. Most officers' files are rich in detail, usually more than those of the men in the ranks. Many include extensive documentation on individual careers, and some also contain information about marriages and children.

Regimental Numbers

Recruits were assigned a regimental number at the time of engagement. For example, the first contingent to arrive at Lower Fort Garry in the fall of 1873 were assigned numbers beginning with 1; the numbers continued, in consecutive order, when the second contingent arrived in the spring of 1874. Within a few years, however, members of the Mounted Police were scattered throughout the Northwest Territories at Fort Walsh, Fort Calgary, Fort Edmonton and elsewhere. Quick and easy means of communication were lacking and with men joining and leaving on a continual basis, the numbering system was soon in disarray.

Each troop or division assigned numbers to its own members and to avoid confusion with identical numbers, "A" Troop at Fort Edmonton would assign a new recruit regimental number 345A, while "B" Troop at Fort Walsh might have a member with the number 345B.

To add to the confusion, personnel records were not maintained at a central location. Officials in Ottawa maintained a file, but so did officers at Headquarters in Fort Walsh and, after 1882, at Regina. In the late 1870s, some recruits had been issued numbers formerly allotted to men who had taken their discharge. To further complicate matters, in the early years, members were permitted to leave the Mounted Police by finding a suitable replacement. The replacements assumed the number of the original member thus creating a situation where one number may refer to two (and even three) individuals.

To rectify the situation, it was decided in August 1878 to renumber all members of the Mounted Police then serving, starting again at regimental number 1. This consecutive series of numbers is still is use today and now exceeds 50,000. The issuance of unique regimental numbers facilitates the identification of individuals and this is particularly helpful for research purposes.

Lost in the shuffle, however, are some who joined and left the Mounted Police before the consecutive numbering system was adopted. These are often referred to as "Old Series" or OS numbers. While some of these files have been preserved, many others have not.

Service Documentation

From the very beginning in 1873, dockets or files were created for each individual officer or member. While the quantity and nature of the documentation varies from one file to another and over time, the average NWMP file contains a series of completed forms, correspondence and in some cases, clippings, as described below:

Application for Engagement (Form 72)

The following information is recorded on this form: name and address of the potential recruit; by whom recommended; occupation during previous five years; the "horse question" (care, management and riding); military experience, if any; age; height; weight; chest measurement; marital status; date and signature.

Medical Examination (Form 65)

Every recruit had to pass a medical examination. The medical report contains a wealth of personal information: date and place of examination; age; height, weight and chest girth; muscular development; previous occupation; intelligence; temperament; complexion; colour of eyes and hair; sight; feet; heart; lungs; hernia; hemorrhoids and varix (blood vessel distension); vaccine or body marks; and comments by the medical examiner.

NWMP Description Summary (Form 59)

This form, narrow and horizontal, is found on most files and is a summary of personal information on each recruit, including his name, where engaged and the date. The following facts are also recorded: height; age; weight; chest measurement; colour of eyes, hair and complexion; marks; occupation; former residence; previous service, if any; denomination; name and address, and relationship of next-of-kin.

Discharge Board Report (Form 54)

When a member took his discharge, a Board of Officers was convened to verify and record his service. This one-page form includes a summary of the member's career: when he engaged and for how long, divisional postings, promotions, and his conduct while a member. The reverse side of the form contains a physical description of the discharged member, his intended place of residence, and notes on where and when the discharge board met.

Discharge Certificate (Form 84a)

Every member who left the force received a discharge certificate containing his full name, ranks held, dates of service, the nature of his leaving (discharged, dismissed, time expired, purchased, deserted), his conduct during service, and the date the certificate was issued.

Re-engagement

If a member re-engaged for a further term of service, all of these forms were completed (and updated) again.

Other Information in Service Files

In addition, NWMP files often contain correspondence. This might include letters from the member (seeking a promotion, requesting leave, inquiring about discharge), or correspondence about a member, especially with respect to disciplinary matters. It is not uncommon to find relevant clippings on file, especially obituaries from local newspapers or the RCMP Quarterly. Some documentation may postdate the man's career by decades. In 1933, for example, the federal government awarded a grant of $300 to surviving members of the NWMP who took part in the 1885 Rebellion. Dozens of men completed the necessary forms and submitted them to RCMP headquarters in Ottawa. These were put into their service files. The file does not, however, document the detachments at which a member may have served, nor are his pay records on file.

Discharge Board forms indicate the division in which a man served, but detachments are not noted, although internal evidence in a file may be useful in this regard. Census records, especially those for 1881, 1891, 1901 and even 1906 may be helpful in placing a member in a particular location. Except in rare instances, the members' files are not as detailed or as extensive as those of officers, but in almost every case, the documentation proves valuable for anyone interested in family history, genealogy, or community history.

The Database

This database provides access to the documents of over 4,000 members of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). Each record includes the digitized file of the member.

The digitized files are comprised of either a few pages or can be as large as 350 pages, depending on the length of service and other variables.

Important note: Some of the digitized documents, originally scanned from microfiche, are very difficult to read.

Search Screen

The search screen allows you to search by:

  • Surname
  • Given Name(s)
  • Regimental Number

Note that some entries include only an initial for the given name(s). Try searching by surname only, or use an asterisk (*) after the first initial of a given name to retrieve all records beginning with that letter. For example: for John or James, enter j, then the asterisk * as such: j*

Remember to try different spelling variations for surnames, if you are having difficulties locating a specific individual. The entries reflect the spelling of names as they appear in the source database.

When you have entered your search terms, click on "Submit." The number of hits found will be shown at the top of the results screen.

How to Interpret the Results

Your search results will be posted as a results summary list from which you will be able to obtain an item description.

Search Results Page

The search results page displays the following fields:

  • Item Number
  • Surname
  • Given Name(s)
  • Regimental Number

Click on the underlined Item Number of a record to access the Item page, which contains additional information specific to that record.

Item Page

The item page has digitized images of the original records available in JPG format and contains the following fields:

  • Surname
  • Given Name(s)
  • Regimental number
  • Volume
  • Reference
  • Item Number

To suggest a correction, click on the Suggest a Correction link to access an electronic form.

To return to the Search Results page, click on the Back button of your browser in the upper left corner of your screen.

How to Obtain Copies

You can print the images, save them to your computer, or visit our Copies and Reproductions page.

To print a copy of a scanned image in JPEG format, right click on the image, select copy, then paste to your word processing software, using the edit: paste special feature: device independent bitmap. Alternatively, paste to your desktop and open with the Office Picture Manager to crop and print.

Other Resources

Surviving records of members of the RCMP who joined the force after 1920 are still in the custody of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. You can send an inquiry to the following address to ask if they have a file for that individual. If no file exists, that office may be able to provide the individual's dates of service.

Public Affairs and Information Directorate
Historical Branch
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
1200 Vanier Parkway
Ottawa,  ON
K1A 0R2
webmaster@rcmp-grc.gc.ca

Glenbow Archives.

RCMP Graves

RCMP Obituary Index, 1933-1989

ARCHIVED - "Without Fear, Favour or Affection:" The Men of the North West Mounted Police