The Force in the North

Dawson

When gold was found on Rabbit Creek, the NWMP had only just completed work building Fort Constantine at Forty Mile. Almost all the population immediately moved to an area where the Klondike River flows into the Yukon River. Surveyed by William Ogilvie, the town was named for George Dawson of the Geological Survey of Canada. A portion of the town was set aside for the government. In 1897, the NWMP began constructing Fort Herchmer, named for the NWMP commissioner.

Fort Herchmer, located at Dawson, became the new NWMP headquarters in the summer of 1897. On June 13, 1898, after the Yukon Territory was created, the total 31 detachments were reorganized into "H" and "B" Divisions.

Mounties moved a number of buildings to the new site at Dawson from Fort Constantine and began constructing others immediately. Reinforcements arrived in the form of the Yukon Field Force but the accommodations in Dawson were not adequate for both the Mounties and Field Force members. While the detachment was sophisticated and included officers' quarters, a hospital, barracks and a jail, it could not hold all the personnel on site.

In the spring of 1898, the Yukon River was very high and flooded the barracks, the orderly room, hospital, sergeant’s quarters and store room. Inspector Harper had to enter and leave his quarters by canoe. Harper recommends a recreation room be constructed with a billiard table and other games supplied. (Report of the North-West Mounted Police, 1898. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer. 1899:73.)

The Dawson post had 51 police, 5 special constables (dog drivers) when Steele arrived on September 5, 1898. There were outposts at Fort Constantine, Stewart River, and Selkirk. (North-West Mounted Police: Yukon Territory. YA 351.74062  Nor 1898:30.)

Sam Steele arrived in late summer, 1898, and assumed command. On top of his police work, his duties included patrolling the Goldfields, overseeing the health and safety of the people in the region and representing the NWMP on the boards and committees of the newly-established Territorial Council. The workload was so great for Steele and his men that the NWMP established both a detachment and a town station in 1900. Duties were split between the town squad, which undertook both day and night patrols.

Superintendent Perry there was ample quarters at Dawson, if the Yukon Field Force was to be removed during the next summer (1900). If not then the post would need sergeants’ quarters, sergeants’ mess-room, artisans shop and stable. (Report of the North West Mounted Police, 1899. Sessional Paper No.15. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer. 1900:5.) The Field Force left in 1900, but the duties undertaken by the NWMP remained steady.

During this time the Force had two locations: the Dawson Detachment and the Town Station as noted in the following excerpt and still not enough space. In 1901, more quarters for married officers were needed in Dawson as the commanding officer has to live out of barracks. Insp. Wroughton was in charge of collecting mining royalties and he collected $8,078.88 that year. Dawson Detachment had 1 Supt., 4 Inspt, 1 A/Sur. 4 S.Sgt., 2 Sgt., 5 Cpl., 48 Cst., 15 Spl., 2 Att. for a total of 82 men. The Town Station had 1 Inspt., 1 sgt.,1 Cpl., 12 Cst., and 1 Spl. for a total of 15 men. (Report of the North West Mounted Police, 1901. Sessional Papers, Volume 11. Ottawa: Queen’s Printer. 1902:6, 50, 65.)

By 1910, when the rush was tailing off and World War I was beginning, the Dawson detachment had only 20 to 25 men.

Dawson is still an important RCMP detachment today.