The Force in the North


The American West and the Canadian North became romantic constructions in the hands of the media makers. The North-West Mounted Police were ready-made larger-than-life heroes and could be plopped right into the western story line with hardly a script change. If the program or movie was trying for Canadian realism, then the mission of peace, order and justice, would be achieved with conservative politeness.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and their predecessors were portrayed, first in novels and magazines, and then in film, on the radio and television, and in advertising. Radio and television dramas about the Canadian Mounted Police had an interesting way of building on the truth to create a fantastical image using a mixture of events from Canadian and American history without regard to historical chronology or geography.

The early radio programs were serialized versions of long dramas with cliff-hanger breaks between segments to keep the listener returning. This format affected the type of drama. During the late 1940s, the serialized dramas gave way to a more popular complete-in-one-episode program and the dramas became more complicated, if not more thoughtful.

The radio programs were extremely popular, and that popularity carried directly over into television and other media like comic books and newspaper comic strips. During the 1950s, one half hour television program, called Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, was based directly on the radio program of the same name. There were a series of authorized Sergeant Preston comic books printed about the same time. The comics started with painted covers but after the television programs began, the covers used colour photos from the shows. A Sergeant Preston newspaper comic strip, based on the television show, ran between 1981 and 1984.

The popular Mountie movies were also grist for the television mill. The Sergeant Renfrew series of films were run as serials on television in 1953 with new introductions written for that media. Some new material was written for television, maybe as many as 13 new episodes, and some programs were a combination of new and old. In “Get Your Man”, James Newill, as Sergeant Renfrew, explains how his North-West Mounted Police father was killed by smugglers and the show uses an edited flashback from the movie Renfrew of the Royal Mounted. The ideas may have been thin but the action was fast.

Famous mythical Mounties appeared in many formats over the years. The main character in the movie King of the Mounted first appeared in a short story written by the famous American western writer, Zane Grey. Grey used the character to script a newspaper comic strip that his son, Romer Grey, expanded. The comic strip ran from 1935 to 1939. The movie, King the Royal Mounted, was made in 1940.

The movie Mountie was a common and favourite hero although he was often indistinguishable from the American cowboy. In the mid-1940s, Russel Hayden played a number of Mountie characters although he was more famous for playing Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick. The Canadian Mountie continues to be a favourite character in the movies although, instead of moral drama or action-packed thrillers that become inadvertently funny, the modern movie Mountie more often stars in comedy that parodies the hard working and long-suffering Royal Canadian Mounted Police.