Lac La Biche and the RCMP

Another week, another blog post! 

This week, we’ll be focusing on little known history for the Lac La Biche area – the RCMP. Or at the time of the twentieth century, they were known as the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP).

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) holds a significant place in Canada’s history, deeply woven into the fabric of the nation. In early 1901, the NWMP established its detachment in Lac La Biche, marking the beginning of its presence in the region. Initially, only one constable was assigned to the detachment, although limited information exists about their name or living arrangements at the time. In 1904, in recognition of the contributuions of its members during the Second Boer War, the Crown officially renamed the NWMP to the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (RNWMP).

The constable’s stay in Lac La Biche was relatively short-lived, as they departed not long after their arrival. In those days, patrols in the area were typically conducted by dog sled teams, embarking on arduous journeys starting from Edmonton and spanning approximately 3200 kilometers, often concluding at Fort Resolution in the Northwest Territories. Lac La Biche served as one of the stops along this grueling route. While details surrounding the constable and their time in Lac La Biche may be scarce, the legacy of the RCMP endures. Their presence played a vital role in maintaining law and order, contributing to the development and safety of the local community

Between 1902 and 1912,  there was no formal detachment. However, patrols were still a semi-regular occurrence – with local headquarters changing between Athabasca and Edmonton. By 1913, the force re-opened the detachment office. Our records for who this officer was is uncertain, however a name was mentioned for the officer performing the patrol circuit in Lac La Biche for that year. Constable T. W. B. Terndrup, regimental number 5467, was known to have patrolled from Lac La Biche to Wolf Lake Country. The winter previous, in 1912, the patrol being made by a Cpl. F. S. Pearson, regimental registration 3730, and Cst. P. Reddyhoff, regimental registration 5394, who patrolled to Lac La Biche from Athabasca. 

In 1914 the Alberta and Great Waterways (A&W) Railroad laid track, the objective was to connect Edmonton with Fort McMurray some 436 kilometers to the north. Along this proposed route was Lac La Biche, who was expected to be reached by the tracklayers by Christmas of that year. By opening the railroad, it was widely believed by provincial policy makers that the fertile tracks of land surrounding Lac La Biche would be a boon for the up and coming hamlet. All this interest in the surrounding area did not go amiss – businesses began popping up within the town proper and surrounding area. Much of them even before the railroad came to town, excitement for the town was booming! 

By 1915, the with advent of the railroad, three constables were stationed permanently, or at least for the time being, in Lac La Biche . The A&W trains were by this time making regular trips into Lac La Biche. Bringing with them new businesses, new community members and new tourism. The influx of such a large number of people meant that the RNWMP needed to rethink how it policed the area. However, the Great War was attracting able bodied police men away from towns like Lac La Biche, leaving them ill prepared to keep up law and order. By 1917, with no end to the war yet in site, the RNWMP in Alberta was overstretched and understaffed. 

Later in 1917, the detachment office was closed and was absorbed by the Alberta Provincial Police (APP) which took over policing responsibilities in Alberta. The remnants of the old RNWMP in Alberta remained as a border police force between Canada and the United States. By December of 1918, the RNWMP in Western Canada was a fraction of what it once was,  down to 300 personnel in total. Shortly after, the RNWMP amalgamated with the Dominion police force in 1920 who chose the moniker we know them as today, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). By 1932, the new APP  proved to be too great of a financial burden for Alberta. The Great Depression of the 30s struck Alberta with particular ferocity, who had to revisit its beleaguered coffers. The Alberta legislature, who by reviewing the costs associated with the old RNWMP, realized that quite a few pennies could be saved by reverting back to the old policing system. By 1932, the APP was reabsorbed by the RCMP.  

In 1932, the Lac La Biche RCMP reopened their detachment, securing a rental building from Mr. George N. Pappas at a monthly cost of $25. This six-room structure, situated on lots 19 and 20, served as the RCMP offices for nearly three decades, until 1959. Many locals can still recall the old bungalow that once housed the RCMP. Over the years, the RCMP in Lac La Biche has relocated and seen changes in personnel. Presently, they can be found at 11 Nipewon Road, continuing their important work in our community. It is a testament to the rich history of Lac La Biche to have had the RCMP as a part of our town’s story. Their presence and contribution have left an indelible mark on the fabric of our community.