The Force in the North

The Lost Patrol

Royal Northwest Mounted Police officers traveled from Fort McPherson to Dawson City by dog team, delivering mail and staking a continuing claim to the land for the Government of Canada. The route was a perilous one—sleds would break though river ice and temperatures were often extreme. On one fateful trip, the trail took the lives of four officers. This disaster became know as the "Lost Patrol." 

In December, 1910, a patrol of four members of the NWMP commanded by Insp. Francis J. Fitzgerald left Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories with the mail for Dawson—a distance of 765 kilometres.  When they didn’t show up by February, it was obvious that something had gone wrong. The patrol had lost their way in the Ogilvie Mountains and had decided to turn back to Fort McPherson. 

On February 28, 1911, Inspector Jack Dempster, along with Constables J.F. Fyfe, F. Turner and First Nation guide Charlie Steward, were sent to search for the Fitzgerald’s lost patrol. They found the bodies of the four patrolmen 55 kilometres away from Fort McPherson on March 22 and 23. They returned to Dawson with the sad news in a record time of eleven days. The highway in this area between Dawson and Inuvik was later dedicated to Dempster.

An investigation determined that Fitzgerald's party perished due to a shortage of supplies, bad weather, sparse game and the lack of an experienced guide.

After this tragedy, the Mounties put up rest cabins and supply caches along the route from Dawson to Fort McPherson and between Fort McPherson and Herschel Island. All subsequent patrols were led by a native guide and hunter.

Dick North, a local author and historian, has long had a fascination with this story.  He is the author of definitive work on the disaster, The Lost Patrol.  Dick narrates the story and discusses the impacts to northern policing in the attached video clips.