The Force in the North


In a land as vast as the Yukon, in addition to the detachments, the Mounties relied on extensive patrols to keep track of people and activities. They traveled by foot, canoe, boat, horseback and dog sled and later by plane to carry out their numerous duties. Though the force was the “Mounted” police, in the Yukon dogs were used more frequently over the years than horses. Horses were used in the early years in Whitehorse, Dawson and outlying posts, while Mounties who served at remote posts made their patrols by dog sled in the winter.

The delivery of the Royal Mail was a vital and significant service provided by the Mounties to northern residents. For the miners and prospectors living in the remote outposts of the Yukon, mail was their only link and lifeline to the outside world, usually for months at a time. These mail patrols also allowed the Mounties to check up on individuals, collect customs fees, register births or deaths and deliver news of the outside world. The Mountie sometimes stayed overnight, enjoying a hot meal and a warm bed after traveling long distances in severe weather conditions over challenging terrain.

In the late 1890s Mounted Police and special constables made dog patrols to deliver the mail between Dawson and Skagway, a distance of about 965 kilometres. Twice a month, relays of northbound and southbound patrols traveled from detachment to detachment by dog team on rough trails or over Yukon River ice. Over the winter of 1898-99, the Yukon force traveled 100,000 kilometres carrying over six and a half tons of mail by dog team. By 1903, that mail patrol extended to Fort McPherson and Herschel Island.

In summer, patrols were made along the rivers and lakes by boat. The small steamboat Vidette and motor vessels Jessie and Tagish were used along the Yukon, Stewart, and Pelly Rivers. The Gladys was used on the southern lakes. These water vessels also carried civilian passengers and cargo as well as cargo for the posts.

As the population dropped after the Gold Rush, detachments closed and the number of Mounties in the North was reduced. For decades afterwards, patrolling became the only means of putting the population in contact with the law and government services. As technology changed and more communications services became available, patrolling by boat and dog sled ended. The last dog sled patrol was in 1969 from Old Crow to Fort McPherson.