Riding to the Rescue: The Transformation of the RCMP in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1914–1939


205 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-9021-4
DDC 363.2'32'0971209049




Reviewed by W.J.C. Cherwinski

W.J.C. Cherwinski is a professor of history at the Memorial University
of Newfoundland.


Hewitt is a lecturer in American and Canadian Studies at the University
of Birmingham and the author of Spying 101: The RCMP’s Secret
Activities at Canadian Universities, 1917–1997 (2002). In Riding to
the Rescue, he uses class, ethnicity, race, and gender analysis to take
issue with the traditional image of the Mounties as the symbols of fair
play in their administration of justice.

Once the prairie west was settled early in the 20th century, the force
had to reinvent itself or face extinction. The industrial unrest during
and after the war provided the opportunity. Led by Commissioner A.B.
Perry, the force took up the challenge of policing an urban Canada.
However, Hewitt argues that its motives were to serve the needs and
objectives of the same ruling Anglo-Celtic, capitalist society from
which its members—particularly the officer ranks—were recruited.

To support his case, Hewitt describes the Mountie culture as one based
on manliness, strength, and size. The war and the need to protect the
nation from potentially subversive enemy aliens established the pattern
for the tumultuous interwar period. Worth watching were “Orientals”
for their association with illegal substances, but more important were
Bolshevik revolutionaries intent on disrupting the country. Special
attention was also paid to radical labour organizations and the
unemployed. The economic and social dislocation during the Depression
meant even greater vigilance. The strategy was to infiltrate and carry
out large-scale surveillance of those associated with suspect
organizations and to control the industrial scene by even violent means
when necessary. The list of events involving the Mounties—all in the
name of public security—adds up to a grim legacy: the Winnipeg General
Strike, the One Big Union, the arrest of the eight Communist Party
leaders in 1931, the Estevan Strike (also in 1931), the On-to-Ottawa
trek, and so on.

While Riding to the Rescue can leave the reader feeling paranoid, it is
a solid, well-documented piece of historical investigation. It can be
faulted only for sloppy editing; however, that should not detract from
Hewitt’s status as the foremost interpreter of the modern Mounties.


Hewitt, Steve., “Riding to the Rescue: The Transformation of the RCMP in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1914–1939,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15836.