Better know a Canadian institution: the Dominion Police

Ask anyone when our national police was founded, and they’ll likely say 1873, when the North West Mounted Police was formed.  But while they were riding to Fort Whoop-Up, who do you think was keeping the peace in the east?

The Dominion Police were founded in 1868 as an amalgamation of two border patrol services, the Western Frontier Constabulary in Ontario and the Montreal Water Police in Quebec, and started as Parliament Hill security, with a force of 13 men.  They eventually became Canada’s secret service, the border patrol, the parole officers, and the spy agency, as well as serving as bodyguards and the guards of the Halifax and Esquimault naval dockyards. They also ran a national fingerprinting bureau.

The force was initially led by two co-commissioners: the old head of the Water Police, Charles-Joseph Coursol, held jurisdiction in Quebec, and Gilbert McMicken, the founder of the Western Frontier Constabulary, held jurisdiction in Ontario. McMicken was made Commissioner of Police for Manitoba in 1871 and left for Winnipeg, leaving the deputy minister of justice, Col. Hewitt Bernard CMG, as acting co-commissioner in Ottawa. Alexander Mackenzie dismissed the Tory McMicken on taking power in 1873, replacing him permanently with Bernard. Coursol and Bernard both retired in 1876, and were replaced by the new deputy minister of justice, Zebulon Aiton Lash, as sole Commissioner. He was replaced by Augustus Keefer, hired as a full-time Commissioner, from 1880 to his death in 1885. Keefer’s successor was Col. Sir Arthur Percy Sherwood CMG MVO, who served as Commissioner for 34 years and oversaw a massive growth in the force’s strength and power, from 20 men in 1880 to 150 in 1920.

In May 1918 the Dominion Police were moved from the Department of Justice to the Department of Militia and Defence, essentially becoming a civilian wing of the military police, the Canadian Provost Corps. Sir Percy retired in May 1919 and was replaced as Commissioner by the Provost Marshall, Col. Gilbert Godson-Godson DSO DCM. He served until the amalgamation of the Dominion Police with the Royal North West Mounted Police to form the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on February 1, 1920.


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