Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 1, Winter 2008, pp. 78-79.
This is a timely book. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which has served as a popular symbol of Canadian identity since the late nineteenth century, is today awash with financial scandals and accusations of corruption, incompetence, and cover-ups. The police force that has its roots in the creation of the North-West Mounted Police in 1873 is now perceived by many Canadians as just one more example of a modern, bureaucratic organization that has fallen victim to the misuse and abuse of power. Of particular concern is the RCMP's controversial role in monitoring and detaining suspected threats to national security.
In Riding to the Rescue, Steve Hewitt provides a succinct and comprehensive study of how it was that a frontier police force that seemed out of step and perhaps even unnecessary in the 1910s transformed itself into a central and modern component of the Canadian state. Hewitt's focus is regional, but the issues he explores had ramifications far beyond Alberta and Saskatchewan. Indeed, the main story told here concerns the creation of Canada's security state.
Presiding over the early stages of this transformation was Commissioner A. B. Perry, and the book provides detailed evidence of Perry's campaign to ensure the future of the force during, and in the aftermath of, the Great War. Historians of state security in Canada and elsewhere will appreciate Hewitt's thorough exploration of the transition of the frontier police force into the key player in the national government's attempt to secure order through the repression of real and suspected radicals. Perry recognized the government's need for a national security watchdog and saw this as the key to reinventing the force as the frontier era drew to a close. The book explores the RCMP's attempts to quell unrest and to bring into line groups deemed threatening to the status quo: communists, socialists, ethnic minorities, workers, and the unemployed.