The Force in the North

The Klondike

The Klondike Gold Rush was the greatest challenge to the NWMP in the Yukon.  At the Chilkoot Pass, they ensured gold seekers had adequate provisions and assisted them in passing the dangerous rapids at White Horse.  The population of Dawson increased from a few hundred to tens of thousands almost overnight.  The Mounties had a variety of duties from mining recorder, customs agent, arbitrating disputes and safekeeping gold.  A police guard traveled with gold shipments from the Klondike Goldfields to Dawson City’s banks and from the Yukon to the Outside.

The North-West Mounted Police under Inspector Constantine were seriously undermanned and under-supplied for their obligations. The winter of 1898 was difficult and food supplies were scarce. The original force of 19 Mounties was replaced in 1897, and Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior approved an increase in size of the total Yukon force.

Because the demands of the Gold Rush were so great upon the Force, in 1898 the Canadian government sent a special force to assist them.  This group was drawn from Canada's permanent militia and known as the Yukon Field Force (YFF).  The Field Force traveled overland along an all-Canadian route from the Stikine River to Telegraph, Teslin and down the Yukon River. This arduous trip ended temporarily at Fort Selkirk along the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson City. By August, the entire force had moved to Dawson City to help guard prisoners, banks and gold shipments. By 1900, the Force had departed.

By 1898 there were 51 Mounties and 50 members of the Yukon Field Force in Dawson to keep the peace. Additionally, Sifton had sent officials to undertake some of the civil duties that the Mounties has been doing in addition to their police work.

Sam Steele arrived in late summer 1898 and assumed command. His duties included patrolling the gold fields, ensuring the health and safely of everyone in the region, sitting on boards and committees of the newly established Territorial Council as well as his police duties. 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 into town squad which undertook both day and night patrols and the main barracks.

The Mounties were well-regarded for their sense of law and order. During the era of the Gold Rush in Dawson City, however, they did deploy a certain amount of tolerance with respect to the vices of their community.

Prostitution, gambling and alcohol were regarded as necessary evils in the booming mining town. While not legal, these vices were tolerated, as long as they were kept under strict control. Thus, no alcohol was served on Sundays and the dance and gambling halls remained quiet and closed.  Infringement of the Sunday ordinance could earn an offender a hefty fine and/or a sentence of hard labour on the woodpile. Out of respect for the Mounties and for fear of the woodpile, the residents complied, and Sundays remained a quiet and holy day in Dawson City.

Prostitution was essentially ignored if the trade was plied discreetly on the other side of the river from Dawson City, which was officially called Klondike City but commonly known as Lousetown. Discretion was vital. Women were not permitted to drink alcohol or to gamble in the dance halls.

The Mounties themselves adhered to a strict code of conduct, as the unfavourable behaviour of one Mountie was considered a reflection on the whole force and such conduct met with severe punishment. A sentence of two months on the stockade and subsequent dismissal was bestowed on a constable who gave tickets to three prostitutes so that they could witness the arrival of the Governor General at Dawson.