The Great Adventure: How the Mounties Conquered the West
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
William A. 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.
The Mounted Police are perhaps Canada’s most widely recognized symbol.
And like all national symbols, they have assumed mythic qualities. Such
is the case in this latest retelling of the Mounties’ long march
across the western interior in the summer of 1874 to subdue and evict
American-based whisky traders who were debauching the Natives of
southern Alberta. It is good drama, but questionable history.
The Great Adventure is largely based on the diaries and reminiscences
of 13 men who were among the first recruits of the fledgling North-West
Mounted Police. Cruise and Griffiths have effectively used these
accounts to provide a compelling reconstruction of the force’s great
trek along the international border from Dufferin, Manitoba, to Fort
Whoop-Up in present-day southern Alberta.
Through the men’s own words, the reader learns about the unique
landscape and its natural life and the many challenges it posed to the
Mounties’ physical and psychological well-
being. There were easier routes to Fort Whoop-Up, but the Canadian
government deliberately chose to send the raw recruits along the
difficult border route for symbolic reasons; in the end, the trek became
a defining event in the history of the force.
The Mounties, however, did not—as these authors contend—conquer the
West. By the time the Mounties reached their destination in early
October 1874, they were in no condition to meet any resistance.
Fortunately, the whisky traders had already abandoned the area. The
Blackfoot leaders, meanwhile, welcomed the Queen’s soldiers in the
hope that they would end the debilitating whisky trade.
In fact, the history of Native–newcomer relations in the North-West
before the arrival of the police was generally a nonviolent one;
certainly it was tame in comparison to the experience on the American
frontier. That is why the red-coated mounties were established by
Ottawa, to ensure that Canada’s new western empire remained peaceful