Policing the Wild North-West: A Sociological Study of the Provincial Police in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1905–32.
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
Bill Waiser is a professor of history at the University of Saskatchewan,
and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History of Prince
Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of Western
Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946. His
The North-West Mounted Police (and its successor, the RCMP) are often identified with the Canadian West and its settlement history. But in 1917, the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan dismissed the Mounties and created their own provincial police forces, largely to deal with the challenge of enforcing prohibition laws.
Carleton University Sociology Professor Zhiqiu Lin examines the checkered history of the two forces—the Alberta Provincial Police (1917–1932) and the Saskatchewan Provincial Police (1917–1928)—in this published version of his doctoral thesis. He explains that the professionalization of police brought with it a new emphasis on crime control. In the case of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the early 20th century, the control of crime meant essentially the enforcement of unpopular prohibition laws. Indeed, this task proved extremely frustrating, especially since the public was generally uncooperative, and took its toll on the popularity and reputation of the two provincial police forces.
The book unfortunately still reads like a dissertation and would have benefited from a heavy editorial hand (if only to delete the author’s repeated use of “we”). There are also places where greater explanation would have been helpful. Why, for example, are Alberta and Saskatchewan dubbed “the wild North-West”? Then, there are questionable statements, such as the claim that the prohibition movement was the result of ethnic conflict.
In the end, the reader does not come away with a satisfactory understanding of why the provincial police forces were created and why they were disbanded in little more than a decade. Nor is there any sense of who these men were and how they saw their world. Finally, it is not clear whether the police forces were part of the search for a provincial identity or simply an extension of the provincial governments.