The North West Mounted Police moved into the Peace River area of British Columbia when looking for an all-Canadian route to the Yukon gold fields. Following the discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1895, some prospectors had tried to reach Dawson City by travelling overland from Edmonton. Few had succeeded in getting far and death and disaster had stalked them all. Ottawa was in sympathy with the idea of an overland route to the Yukon and looked to the North West Mounted Police to find it.
Commissioner L.W. Herchmer assigned the task of collecting exhaustive information on the best route to take from Edmonton to the headwaters of the Pelly River in the Yukon to Inspector J.D. Moodie, by an order dated August 27, 1897. Inspector Moodie, with a party of six: Constable F.J. Fitzgerald, S/Constables R. Hardisty, F. Lafferty and H.S. Tobin, a mixed breed interpreter, and a First Nations guide. It was noted that Constable Fitzgerald was a commissioned officer later in 1911 and perished in the famous Lost Patrol from McPherson to Dawson City. The group left Edmonton on September 4, 1897, with 24 pack horses and six saddle horses.
Inspector Moodie arrived at Fort St. John, B.C., a trading post of the Hudson Bay Company, on November 1. Several weeks were spent preparing for the winter travel ahead. He left Fort St. John on December 3, 1897, and arrived at Fort Graham on January 18, 1898. Here, the party was forced to remain until April 1, 1898. Moodie finally arrived at the Upper Pelly River on October 1, 1898, and by November 20 had returned to his post at Maple Creek, travelling via Fort Selkirk, Skagway, and Vancouver.
Another patrol under the command of Inspector A.E. Snyder left Edmonton on December 11, 1897, and lasted until mid-February 1898. Inspector Snyder visited Fort St. John travelling via old Fort Assiniboine and Lesser Slave Lake. He travelled a distance of 1,070 miles, the purpose of the patrol being to determine the whereabouts of Inspector Moodie, to check police stores left at Fort St. John, to check the well being of the prospectors along the trail, and to carry mail.
The trail established by Moodie and his men lay forgotten until 1905 when it was decided that a pack trail should be constructed from Fort St. John to Teslin Lake in the Yukon, a total distance of approximately 750 miles.
This road was to be made in such a way that “at some future time it may be made into a wagon trail.” A detachment of two officers, Superintendent C. Constantine and Inspector Richards, 30 non-commissioned officers and constables, and 60 horses left Fort Saskatchewan on March 17, 1905, to begin this work. They arrived at Fort St. John on June 1.
Establishing the headquarters, Constantine succeeded in renting a small shack, which was made into an office. Two more buildings were erected to form a mess, recreation, cookhouse, and barrack. Constantine also erected a winter herd camp and corral some four miles northeast of Fort St. John. In September 1905 the men employed on the trail returned to Fort St. John to spend the winter where they expanded the camp to accommodate the men.
Work commenced on the wagon road to the Yukon on June 15, 1905. By September 25, 1907, 376 miles had been completed and connection was made with the Telegraph Trail, and Fourth Cabin, 104 miles north of Hazelton.
On February 20, 1907, Constable A.G. Gairdner and S/Constable De Couta, with two dog teams, patrolled to Peace River Crossing, Dunvegan, Fort St. John, and Fort Graham. Their instructions were to pick up what mail they could at these points and carry some to the Peace River-Yukon Trail party.
In the spring of 1908, the B.C. government did not want to assist in further construction of the Peace River-Yukon Trail and as the Force did not have the men to spare, the road was abandoned.
In 1910 a patrol was made through the Peace River District by the North West Mounted Police. The object was to clear the old police trail through to the government telegraph line near Hazelton, north to Whitehorse via Telegraph Creek and Atlin. It was noted that the trail was in very bad shape with fallen trees ad bridges washed out or rotted.
In 1918, Western Canada became the jurisdiction of the federal government. But it was not until August 15, 1950, that the Force took over the policing of British Columbia and detachments were opened at Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, B.C.
For its detachment quarters Fort St. John found a building owned by the Government of B.C., but since it had been condemned by the Fire Marshall in 1946 the search was still on for a building. A Department of Transport building, which was a former R.C.A.F. building located at the airport, was transferred to the Force for use as detachment quarters, jail and court house on December 15, 1950. The Force continued to occupy this building at the Air Base until 1959.
A new police-owned standard detachment building was erected in 1958-59 at 10525 Mackenzie Street (100th Street). The RCMP moved into this building on February 10, 1959 and is the building previously occupied by Gemini Environmental next door to City Hall.
Following is the Christmas Dinner Program and Dinner Menu for the North West Mounted Police, Peace-Yukon Trail Cutting Crew in Fort St. John in 1905:
Soup – Ox-Tail
Fish – Broiled Mullet, Onion Sauce
Game – Partridge Au Gratin
Vegetables – Potatoes, Cabbage, Turnips, Carrots
Sweets – Christmas Pudding with Brandy Sauce, Shortbread 'a Ecosse, Fruit and Cheese
Tea, Coffee, Cigars and Cigarettes
Toasts to the King and Visitors was followed by entertainment from the group.
Joanie and I would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!
Larry Evans is a former fire chief, city councillor, and lifelong historian living in Fort St. John.