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100 years of RCMP History in Wood Buffalo

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History - Our Roots

When news broke in 1895 of possible gold along the Athabasca River, and with the discovery of gold in the Yukon two years later, thousands of prospectors traveled north, using the rivers and inland routes through present day Fort McMurray as a roadway to their fortunes. In attempts to keep the peace, and stem the flow of illegal liquor and smuggling north into the gold fields regular foot, mounted and sled-dog patrols were conducted from Athabasca Landing to Fort Chipewyan. In 1897, the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) began regular patrols to the area that is today known as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

Insp. Jarvis, and Cst. Hetherington, along with three dog teams and a guide from Fort Saskatchewan took part in one of the first recorded patrols in the area that occurred between January and April of 1898, with similar patrols continuing into the 1900s. In 1904, the policing organization was granted the prefix ‘Royal’ by the King of England, thus becoming the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP). In 1913 the first permanent police detachment was established in Fort McMurray, and manned by Cpl. La Nauze and Cst. Thorne, from Athabasca Landing. In 1917, a RNWMP Detachment was also established in Waterways, not far from Fort McMurray.

The First World War imposed some significant human resource issues for the RNWMP, and as a result, in 1917, the province of Alberta created the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) to address manpower shortages. A police officer by the name of Cst. McDonald transferred from the RNWMP to the APP and became the first member of the Fort McMurray APP Detachment. From 1917 to 1921 the APP was responsible for all policing in the area.

In 1920, the Royal North West Mounted Police underwent yet another name change and became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) after the organization merged with the Dominion Police. The RCMP Detachment in Fort McMurray was re-established in 1921 under Sgt. Ward to handle all federal issues in the area.

With a reduced population and less federal enforcement to handle, the RCMP Detachment in Fort McMurray closed again in October 1929 until April 1932 when the APP was absorbed thus leaving the RCMP to resume policing for the area, and the rest of Alberta. Today’s Alberta Sheriffs perpetuate the Alberta Provincial Police.

In November of 1948, the areas of Fort McMurray and Waterways amalgamated and became the Village of McMurray. This new village introduced the McMurray Police Force under Chief Constable (former RCMP member) Sid Hawkins, and was in documented existence until 1964. Today the McMurray Police Force are represented by the Bylaw Enforcement Services of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

In 1962 the town’s name was changed back to Fort McMurray resulting in another detachment name change back to Fort McMurray RCMP.

In 2003 the Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan RCMP Detachments were amalgamated to form the Wood Buffalo Detachment.

Our Detachments

Over the past 100 years, policing facilities have been located in various areas of Fort McMurray. The RNWMP originally patrolled out of a spare cabin at the Hudson Bay Company Post on what is now known as McDonald Island.

In the early 1920s, the RCMP began policing out of a log cabin at the present site of the Landmark Cinema. In 1953 the RCMP Detachment moved to a two story building on the corner of Main Street and Manning Avenue which offered accommodations for one married member and two single members. Local residents would be familiar with the address as the Chef’s Table by Mitchell’s presently occupies this building.

After moving from the Mitchell’s location, the Detachment was housed in temporary trailers behind the Town Office until it was moved to the Gregoire Detachment, across from the present day Quality Inn Hotel.

Due to the growth of the community, and the construction of the Jubilee Building on Franklin Avenue, the Detachment was later relocated to this more centralized location. In addition to the space occupied in the Jubilee Building, the RCMP Detachment in Timberlea opened in 2009 on the corner of Paquette Drive and Powder Drive.

Where we are Today

The Wood Buffalo Detachment provides policing services to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and Wood Buffalo National Park, making it one of the largest geographic policing jurisdictions in Canada covering over 66,000 square kilometers. This area spans from south of Conklin to the Northwest Territories border, and includes the communities of Fort Fitzgerald, Fort Chipewyan, Fort McKay, Fort McMurray, Sapree Creek Estates, Draper, Gregoire Lake Estates, Anzac, Janvier and Conklin.

With the headquarters building located in the Timberlea area of Fort McMurray, there exist several satellite detachments throughout the Wood Buffalo region to affect timely responses to calls. The Wood Buffalo Detachment has a staff of 217 police officers, 78 support staff and 47 bylaw officers.

The Fort McMurray Victim Services Unit, an integral part of policing services, celebrating 25 years of service to the community, has a staff of six and 27 volunteers who continue to provide assistance and support to victims of crime and tragedy in our community.

The Centennial Year

2013 marks the Wood Buffalo RCMP Centennial. Throughout the year many events will take place to commemorate this milestone. Planning and organizing for the various events has already gotten underway and the first Centennial initiative has already taken shape. Local youth were invited to participate in a contest to create a unique Centennial Celebrations Crest. The contest ran throughout the month of November and a winner was chosen prior to the end of the year.

The crest was unveiled at the Centennial Launch in January, with the special vehicle decal unveiling taking place in April. The rest of the year will see the progression of other Centennial events which include RCMP member participation in sporting activities, dedication of the various police buildings, Officer-in-Charge awards and the Regimental Ball.

Scheduled for September 21, 2013, the Regimental Ball will be the culminating event celebrating the Wood Buffalo RCMP Centennial. Other festivities are also on the horizon for the Regimental Ball weekend. The Freedom of the City parade is in the planning stages as well as a police vehicle ‘show and shine’.

Organized by Fort McMurray Victim Services, the Ball also commemorates 25 years of Victim Services in our community. The Ball will be a large-scale event open to the community and beyond. All are welcome to attend and any interested parties can contact the Victim Services Unit for more information and ticket purchases.

Photos: RNWMP HBC Post 1913 Dog Patrol, Fort McMurray RCMP1935, RCMP Headquarters 1935.