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The Peoples, Their Places

Northwind Dreaming: Surveyors, Northwest Mounted Police and the Klondike Gold Rush

A lady Klondiker, Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. 1899. The Hudson's Bay Company sold its territories to the Dominion of Canada in 1870. The federal government sent agents into the Northwest Territory to define and take control of its new property and exercise the jurisdiction of the Crown.

First to arrive were surveyors for the Geological Survey of Canada, mapping travel routes and mineral riches which the Survey hoped would encourage mining to "develop" the north. The Dominion Land Survey followed in the early 20th Century by university professors and their students.

klondike prospectorsIn 1897, hundreds of prospectors headed for the Klondike gold fields through Fort Chipewyan, using the traditional fur trade river system. The North West Mounted Police (NWMP) sent Inspector Jarvis on a long winter patrol to prevent conflicts between newcomers and Indian and Métis residents. Jarvis was the first Canadian government official to enforce Canadian laws in the Fort Chipewyan region. The NWMP, later the Royal North West Mounted Police and now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, established an outpost in Fort Chipewyan in 1898 and have been there almost continuously since that date. They were replaced briefly after World War I by the Alberta Provincial Police, who were stationed in Fort Chipewyan for several years.

The police enforced federal and provincial regulations that restricted traditional Native land use practices. For example, the Unorganized Territories Game Act of 1896 prohibited the hunting of wood bison, to protect the remnant population near Fort Chipewyan. In 1907, the new Alberta government passed its first Game Act, which introduced closed seasons for hunting and trapping. Officers in Fort Chipewyan rarely had difficulties enforcing the law among the Indians or the Métis.

Reprinted from "Northwind Dreaming: Kiwetin Pawatmowin Tthisi Niltsi Nats ete" with permission of the Provincial Museum of Alberta and Dr. Patricia McCormack.