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Top RCMP honour lost patrolmen
Superintendent took detour from river patrol to pay respects

Evan Kiyoshi French
Northern News Services
Saturday, July 25, 2015

The top cop in the territory laid wreaths at a Fort McPherson gravesite in honour of four men lost on patrol, a story which stands as testament to the hazards of Northern policing.

NNSL photo/graphic

RCMP superintendent Ron Smith, left, speaks at the Fort McPherson grave of the men of the lost patrol, who were lost in the mountains between Dawson City, Yukon, and McPherson in 1910. - Evan Kiyoshi French/NNSL photo

RCMP superintendent Ron Smith paid homage to the four men who died during a patrol between the community and Dawson City, Yukon, in 1910. Smith had flown to Fort McPherson from Yellowknife and drove to Tsiigehtchic two weeks ago where he met with the crew of the RCMP marine vessel Mackenzie before returning to pay his respects at the gravesite.

The ill-fated patrol was a scheduled dogsled trip between Dawson City and Fort McPherson. In 1904, the force began sending patrols between the mountains to maintain law and order and protect Canadian interests. In December of 1910, a Northwest Mounted Police patrol led by inspector Francis J. Fitzgerald consisted of Constables G.F. Kinney, R.O.H Taylor and their guide, special constable Sam Carter.

The men were unable to find their way through the mountains and turned back to Fort McPherson. When they were still missing by February, a search party was organized, led by Inspector Jack Dempster.

Dempster's crew - led by First Nations guide Charlie Steward - found the Fitzgerald patrol a month later. An investigation concluded that four men never found their way through the Richardson Mountains, ran out of food, and froze to death.

Following the successful search party, the highway between Dawson and Inuvik was named for Dempster.

During his visit in Fort McPherson, Smith laid wreaths and stood silently over each of the graves. He said the RCMP has learned much about operating in the harsh conditions of the North since the days of the lost patrol. He said invaluable lessons have been learned from community members who have shared their knowledge and helped to keep RCMPs safe while they're doing their jobs.

"It is so comforting to know there's so much value in expertise here," he said.

Smith also left wreaths at the grave sites of some community members who worked along side them in the early days of the service, including the grave of Louis Cardinal. His great grandson, Lawrence Norbert of Tsiigehtchic, said community members - known as special constables - were enlisted to help guide RCMP officers who didn't know the land as well.

Norbert said back in 1910 his great grandfather was one of the RCMP's special constables enlisted to guide the lost patrol before it departed from Fort McPherson. His grandfather couldn't leave that moment and asked them to wait but the ill-fated crew did not listen. Norbert says Cardinal knew the mountain passes intimately and would have kept the patrol on track and word in the community in the years after said that thespecial constable chosen to guide the patrol didn't know the land as well as his great grandfather did.

"They relied on another special constable and they got lost," he said. "If they had waited (that highway) wouldn't be called the Dempster."

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