RNWMP – On Transfer – 1907 Style

Photograph of a Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP) cap badge as worn by members from 1904 to 1919.





Veteran Mark Gaillard discovered the following article and felt that it would be of interest to other Veterans and family members.





August 18, 2017 – One hundred and ten years ago, on August 20, 1907, four exhausted members of the Royal North West Mounted Police arrived at their new posting at Churchill, Manitoba, in “D” Division – 46 days after leaving “Depot” Division in Regina, Saskatchewan!

The story was told by a Veteran who was on that epic transfer – former Constable Lyman John Caldwell, Reg # 4526. In 1959, he wrote about his experience in a story entitled “On Transfer – 1907 Style” published in the “Scarlet and Gold”, the house publication of the Vancouver Division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans’ Association. His detailed account recalled the many hardships that members of the Force routinely endured during the early years of the last century, and puts into perspective the difference in our working conditions now compared to then.

“In June 1907, I was a rookie [at “Depot” Division] in Regina. I was detailed as court orderly and through the hot days I drowsed listening to prosy lawyers declaiming pro and con in matters which did not interest me one little bit. On July 5, the court room opened and a fellow rookie beckoned me out. He told me that he was to relieve me and I was to report at barracks immediately. I arrived there about 4 p.m. and was informed by Sergeant Major [James Wilson] Spalding, Reg # 3667, that I was leaving at seven that evening on transfer to the Hudson’s Bay and hurry up and pack my kit.

Photograph of RNWMP Sergeant Major James Wilson Spalding (Reg.#3667)

Our party consisted of Inspector Ephrem Albert Pelletier, O.122, Sergeant George Butler, Reg # 2412 and Constable Cyril Travers, Reg # 4570, Constable John Ernest “Sailor” Brown, Reg # 4546, a cockney, and myself. We left on the C.P.R. at 7 p.m. and arrived in Winnipeg the next morning early. That afternoon we took the narrow-gauge rattler down the Red River to West Selkirk arriving there the same evening.

1904 – Photograph of RNWMP Inspector Ephrem Albert Pelletier (Reg.O.122) taken just prior to departing to the Hudson Bay area (Source of photo – RCMP Historical Collections Unit – “Depot” Division).

The next day being Sunday we laid over and left West Selkirk on Monday, July 8, at about 10 a.m. on the Dominion Fish Company’s steamer “Premier” and proceeded down river, entering Lake Winnipeg about 3 p.m. At nine that night, all hands turned to and loaded timber for the ship’s boilers.

Photograph of the Dominion Fish Company’s steamer “Premier.”

We called at George’s Island and saw our first Huskies. We arrived at Warren’s Landing at 8 p.m. and were welcomed by some of our Indian brothers. That night we slept in a freight shed. On the morning of July 10, we left Warren’s Landing on the little sternwheeler “Keewatin” and sailed down the Nelson River, arriving at Norway House about 4.30 in the afternoon.

Sergeant David Bennett “Daisy” Smith, Reg # 1714, was stationed there. He was called Daisy because of his florid innocent looking face. He at once detailed us constables to the guarding of two Indian murderers. In our time off we visited the interesting Hudson’s Bay store. The mosquitoes were hungry and they were evidently pleased with the change of food.

We were at Norway House ten days. On Friday, July 19, Sergeant Butler, Sailor Brown and myself left with an H.B.C. flotilla of York boats for Split Lake down the Nelson River. Our boat was captained by Ketchekeeik, a prominent Cree chief and the crew consisted of nine Crees.

We made 18 miles the first day, running the Sea Falls, so named by Sir John Franklin, and which consisted of a short drop of three or four feet. The mosquitoes were still hungry, but this did not deter our Indians from holding a church service at which I was particularly struck by the excellence of the singing.

We ran a number of rapids next day, some of which were interesting and sent cold chills down our backs. I remember we had moose steaks and bacon for lunch.

We reached Cross Lake that evening where Mr. MacLeod, the H.B.C. manager, made us welcome and relieved us of the cooking. On Monday, the 22nd we left at 7 a.m. Our trip was uneventful and we arrived at Split Lake on Friday July 26. Here we were met by Constables Wheeler Frank Rose, Reg # 4159, and William Andrew Doak, Reg # 4396. Split Lake post consisted at this time of the Hudson’s Bay store and the RNWMP detachment. the H.B. manager was Aleck Flett.

On the 30th Sergeant Butler, Constables Rose, Brown and myself went in a canoe to an island farther up the lake to cut logs for the new detachment. We cut 52 logs. While we were returning on August 1, we met Inspector Pelletier and party who returned to the post with us. On Saturday, August 3, Inspector Pelletier, Constables Brown, Travers and myself and four Indians left in three canoes for Fort Churchill.

We faced 18 days of strenuous travel. Soon after leaving Split Lake we made our first portage and it set the pattern. It took us three trips to get across with the canoes and all our gear. The Peterboros [canoes] are considerably heavier than birch barks and in some places had to be dragged, with the consequence that when we arrived the bottoms were paper-thin.

We had ten dogs and Inspector Pelletier’s pet pedigree water spaniel Molly, which of course travelled in his canoe. More about Molly anon. These pestiferous dogs gave us all kinds of trouble and never seemed to learn that it was far easier to jump into a canoe than to be lifted there by the loving arms of a man.

Of course, we were stimulated by the attentions of the mosquitoes, who had been joined by cohorts of bull dogs, deer flies, black flies, “no-see-‘ums” and other species – all biters.

Sailor Brown at the end of every portage always came up with the remark: “Blimey, ain’t this real.”

To feed the dogs, which were an assorted bunch, we had a sack of cornmeal and a box of tallow, quite ripe. The daily routine was reveille at 3 a.m., coffee and bannocks, launch and load canoes, paddle till 8 a.m., land and cook breakfast, which consisted of bacon, bannocks and coffee, paddle till 3 p.m., land and eat coffee and bannocks, paddle till 9 p.m., then camp for the night, generally on wet moss with the result that in the morning we were lying in a pool of water. Our clothes never had a chance to dry.

We were faced by scores of those portages and we had a number before we reached Dog Lake, and several more before we struck Big Chief Lake. This is a large lake and the head of the Little Churchill River, which we now entered. It was smooth going on this river which is of considerable size and we had an easy time until we reached its confluence with the Big Churchill.

We arrived here on a rainy Sunday afternoon and camped on a small island. We needed food for the dogs and cast a small gill net in the stream which in a short time we netted several hundredweight of fish – believe it or not. We got sturgeon four and five feet in length, whitefish, trout and other kinds. We kept what we needed and threw the rest back. Needless to say both we and the dogs made pigs of ourselves that evening. It was a welcome change from bacon and bannock.

The following day we travelled four miles to Paddle Portage where we left the Churchill, which is unnavigable lower down, to cross over the height of land into the head-waters of the Deer River. This portage is over a mile and uphill until you reach a series of small lakes and muskegs and stagnant creeks. A lot of this had enough water to almost float the canoes and we waded up to our waists pushing these craft. Portages were many and frequent, and carrying a backpack with a tumpline with a rifle in one hand and a canoe paddle in the other with the mosquitoes getting a free hand was not my idea of earning 60 cents a day.

During this period, we ran out of food and tobacco. We tried the inner bark of the red willow as a substitute for the latter but found it too hot and bitter. One day we were lucky enough to kill some geese. These we fried in rancid dog tallow. I cannot truthfully recommend this unless you are very hungry.

At last we reached the headwaters of the Deer River, which is narrow and crooked with a log jam at every bend. We tried chopping through the jams, but found that the debris just lodged at the next bend, so we resumed portaging. These portages, happily short, had to be cut through virgin timber and we were not a bit pleased.

However, all tribulations have an end and in due course we reached the Churchill where the Deer ran into it. The remaining 60 miles were all plain sailing down to Fort Churchill where we landed on August 20. The first ashore was Molly who was met by about 40 huskies who in less than two minutes had torn her to shreds. The Inspector was inconsolable.

The cook “pro tem”, Constable Frank Edward Heaps, Reg # 4195, had seen us coming and had a welcome meal ready for us.

Photograph of RNWMP Inspector John Douglas Moodie.

At Churchill were stationed Superintendent John Douglas Moodie, O.66, Sgts. John Daniel Nicholson, Reg # 1709 and Bob Ralph M. L. Donaldson, Reg # 3566, Cpl. Tom Nicholls, Reg # 3419 and Constables Andrew Stothert, Reg # 4173, Harold Hornsley Verity, Reg # 4011 and Heaps.

I had a look at myself in a mirror and got a shock. I was gaunt and burnt nearly black, my eyes were like two holes burned in a blanket and my ears stuck out like lumps of raw liver.

After 50 years I can look back on this experience with a great deal of equanimity, and indeed have a feeling that the modern lad on transfer has missed something.

I sometimes wonder what the pensioner of 1980 will talk about over his beer.”

RNWMP Veteran Lyman John Caldwell didn’t get the chance to talk to any RCMP pensioners in 1980.

On September 22, 1972, he celebrated his 90th birthday at the Veterans’ Hospital in Victoria, British Columbia. Sergeant Bruce Baird, Reg # 17461, of “E” Division Headquarters, was on hand to wish him well on behalf of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Less than a month later, on October 18, 1972, he passed away.

Photograph of Constable Lyman John Caldwell (Reg.#4526).


Lyman John Caldwell joined the Force on December 1906 and served in “F” and “D” Division.  On April 4, 1909, he deserted from Churchill and was convicted of desertion on June 28, 1909 and served 1 month of hard labour.  Then on December 2, 1909, Lyman went to service court for intoxication and received 1 month of hard labour which was reduced to 7 days of hard labour.

He received a medal discharge on October 5, 1918 to join the Alberta Provincial Police (#3813) and served with them until 1930.