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DAWE: The early days of policing in Central Alberta

The North West Mounted Police, as it was initially known, was deployed to Western Canada in the summer of 1874. Once in the West, the N.W.M.P. began the establishment of a network of police posts and patrol routes. Most of the activity in Central Alberta was initially limited to constables making their way from the posts in Southern Alberta to Fort Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.
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Fort Normandeau, 1887. (Photo by Public Archives of Canada)

The North West Mounted Police, as it was initially known, was deployed to Western Canada in the summer of 1874. Once in the West, the N.W.M.P. began the establishment of a network of police posts and patrol routes. Most of the activity in Central Alberta was initially limited to constables making their way from the posts in Southern Alberta to Fort Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.

The Calgary-Edmonton Trail became the major transportation link between Northern and Southern Alberta. Police patrols along the route became increasingly frequent. Duties included helping travelers in distress, occasionally accompanying the Royal Mail along the route and escorting the treaty payments to the new First Nations reserves which had been established in the Battle River area, at what is now Maskwacis (Bear Hills), under Treaty Six.

During the North West (Riel) Rebellion in the spring of 1885, the Alberta Field Force, which consisted mainly of Canadian militia, but also a few members of the N.W.M.P., proceeded from Calgary to Edmonton to secure the Calgary-Edmonton Trail. This included the construction of three small forts at Red Deer (Fort Normandeau), Ponoka (Fort Ostell) and Wetaskiwin (Fort Ethier).

The three Alberta Field Force forts were manned by units of the 65 Battalion (Mount Royal Rifles) militia for the remainder of the Rebellion. In 1886, Fort Normandeau was taken over by a detachment of the N.W.M.P. and turned into a police post. A lease was signed with Robert McLellan whose stopping house had been converted into the main building of the Fort.

Initially, the detachment consisted of 12 constables, under the command of Inspector T.W. Chalmers. A small building was added within the fort palisade as quarters for Inspector Chalmers. For a while, there were plans to create a large police reserve on which to construct a larger barracks. While a site was surveyed, these plans were later dropped, and no further construction took place. The lease with McLellan was renewed.

A major factor in this change of plans to create a sizeable permanent post was the low level of crime in the district and along the C.& E. Trail. Consequently, the size of the Fort Normandeau detachment was reduced to four or five constables under the command of one sergeant in 1887.

Despite the smaller detachment, Fort Normandeau continued to be a significant part of the local community. The local settlers benefited financially through the sale of provisions and horse feed to the constables. The Fort was also the site of church services held by local missionaries and such community social events as dances.

In 1890-1891, the Calgary-Edmonton Railway was constructed. Almost all of the inhabitants of the original Red Deer Crossing settlement moved to a new townsite on the rail line to the east. The relocation of the N.W.M.P. detachment was delayed as the Police wished to continue to monitor the remaining traffic along the C.&. E. Trail. Initially, one constable was assigned to the new hamlet to meet the incoming trains and to make sure that things were generally peaceful.

By 1891-1892, a new barracks was built on what is now 4942 Ross Street with stables being located where the Rollis Block is today (5005 Gaetz Avenue). However, before the Police left Fort Normandeau, they sawed up the old palisade and used it for firewood.

Michael Dawe is a Red Deer historian and his column appears on Wednesdays.