Non-Boer War

North West Canada 1885 Medal

Description

The obverse depicts a diademed and veiled head of Queen Victoria with the legend 'Victoria Regina Et Imperatrix'.  The reverse has the words 'North West Canada' within a maple wreath and the date '1885' in the centre.  The ribbon is 33mm wide.  It is blue grey with a red stripe at each edge.  The medals were issued unnamed but examples are seen privately engraved, often in abbreviated form, eg '9e V G' for Neuvieme Voltigeurs de Quebec, 'P A V' for Prince Albert Volunteers.

Some 5,650 medals were issued to Canadian units.  16 British officers who were on the staff in Canada also received the medal.  Otherwise no British troops were engaged.

Some of the Canadian Units were: A Bty Regt Cdn Art; A Troop Cavalry School Corps; Alberta Mtd Rifles; B Bty Regt Cdn Art; Battleford Rifle Coy; Boulton's Mtd Inf; Birtle Coy Inf; C Coy Inf Corps School; DLS Intelligence Corps; French's Scouts; GG Body Guard; Halifax Prov Batt; Inf Btn Wpg (95th); Light Inf Bn Wpg; Montreal Bde Gar Art; Midland Bn; Moose Mountain Scouts; Medical Staff; Northcote Steamer (34 medals with bars); North West Mounted Police; Ottawa Sharpshooters; Rocky Mountain Rangers; Steele's Scouts; Staff; Transport Officers, Scouts; Winnipeg Fld Bty; Winnipeg Troop Cavalry; Yorkton Co Inf; York & Simcoe Prov Bn; 2nd Bn QOR; 7th Bn Fusiliers; 9th Bn Que Volt; 10th Bn Royal Grenadiers; 65th Bn Mt Royal Rifles; 90th Bn Wpg Rifles.

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Obverse
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Reverse
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Rim of the medal
 

The single clasp Saskatchewan was awarded with the medal.   Some unofficial clasps are sometimes seen.  These include Batoche, Bartouche and Fish Creek.

The medal was authorised by the Canadian Government on 18th September 1885 and awarded to all those serving west of Thunder Bay, who took part in the suppression of Riel's Rebellion of 1885.

Up to that time members and ex-members of the NWMP who had served during the rebellion had been excluded from the rolls of those eligible for the medal. When the subject of rewards for services during the Rebellion was considered by the Government, a distinction was made between the NWMP; whose ordinary duties of maintaining law and order were within the limits of the disturbed districts, and the militia; called upon to leave their homes and occupations at great personal inconvenience. The decision was met with much disdain by members and ex-members of the NWMP. Inspector F J Dickens was one of the officers who openly spoke out against the unfair situation. He indicated he was not surprised when the Force was overlooked in the distribution of scrip - a land grant of 320 acres went with the medal, or scrip to the value of $80.00 - stating it was only right that those who had left their homes and jobs should receive more compensation, but he continued by stating:

These medals however, are not meant as a pecuniary compensation, but as badges of honor earned by sterling soldierly qualities, and this being the case, I should think that the police who fought under Crozier at Duck Lake, Herchmer at Cut Knife and Steele in the Fort Pitt Country, as fairly entitled to them as the volunteers. I do not say that all the members of the Mounted Police should receive medals, but only those actively engaged in the suppression of the rebellion.

The pressure exerted by members and ex-members of the NWMP, along with their supporters, met with the desired results and the following legislation was passed on July 10, 1886:

On a memorandum dated 7 Jul 86 from the Minister of Militia and Defence, representing that the North West Medal of 1885 has only been distributed amongst the Corps belonging to the active Militia, but as the North West Mounted Police have rendered services equal to those of the active Militia during the outbreak in the North West Territories last year, he recommends that the men belonging to the Mounted Police who were actually under fire during the said troubles, be granted the same medals as the Corps above mentioned.

For members and former members of the NWMP, the Department of Militia and Defence established the following guidelines for awarding the medal:

- Men who deserted from the Mounted Police subsequent to the date of the final suppression of the disturbances are not to be awarded the medal.
- Men dismissed from the Police Force subsequent to the date of final suppression of the disturbances are not entitled to the medal if dismissed for misconduct.
- The next-of-kin of members of the Police Force during the Rebellion who had since died, are not entitled to receive the medal.
- The medal will be engraved before being issued.

The first lot of medals destined to be awarded to members and ex-members of the NWMP was delivered to the Comptroller of the Force on December 15, 1887 and consisted of 163 medals and 163 clasps. The clasps were not attached to the medals which would help to account for the fact that a number of examined medals, awarded to men eligible for the clasp, did not have the clasp attached. Over the years some of the medals and clasps undoubtedly became separated or the clasp was lost prior to being permanently attached.

... the following Order-In-Council was passed on August 20, 1900.

The Minister is of the opinion that all members of the North West Mounted Police who were on service in the North West Territories during the period of the Rebellion of 1885 should be dealt with, so far as regards the medals, in the same manner as members of the Active Militia, he the Minister, therefore recommends that the Order-In-Council of 10/7/86 be amended by striking out the words "who were actually under fire during the said troubles".

The Minister therefore recommends that a silver clasp, bearing the word "Saskatchewan" be accorded to all the Militia-men who were engaged in the following actions:- Fish Creek, Batoche, Cut Knife, Frenchman's Butte.

The recommendation was approved and so stated in the February 16, 1887 letter from the Colonial Office to the Governor General of Canada, which read, in part:
His Highness the Field Marshall Commanding in Chief has approved the issue of a clasp to the medal inscribed "Saskatchewan".

Members of the NWMP were not part of the militia and as such there was more latitude in awarding the clasp and all members who were "under fire" were eligible.

The clasps, numbering 2,250, were ordered March 10, 1887 and received in Ottawa in May.

In addition to the award of the medal, a grant of 320 acres of land or scrip of $80 were also awarded to these recipients.  Members and former members of the NWMP did not receive the land grant or scrip. However, examined documents showed that some ex-members of the NWMP were, in the early 1930's, given a grant of $300.00 in lieu of scrip for their services during the North West Rebellion.  See the information on E S Kirkman for copies of NWMP documents, including the land grant.

History

On May 8, 1882, legislation was passed which divided the NWT into four provisional districts - Assiniboia; Athabasca; Alberta and Saskatchewan.  In 1885, south of the 60th parallel, the North West Territories (NWT) included what is now the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, along with the majority of the present Province of Manitoba.

The Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were formed on September 1, 1905. Although formed in 1870, the province of Manitoba was only 1/18 of its current size; over the years land from the Northwest Territories was absorbed until the current boundaries were reached in 1912.

This decision was resented by the local Indians and others. Louis Riel, who had been the leader of the 1869-70 revolt, used the discontent to promote revolt. Forming a provisional government, he called fro and led an uprising. In response, the Canadian Government called out the troops. General Frederick D Middleton led the troops and split them into three columns.

The circumstances which led to the North West Rebellion were many and varied. Western Canada was enduring a period of rapid change during the late 1870's and early 1880's. One of the most dramatic was the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, began in 1875, which resulted in the influx of thousands of settlers. During the same period of time buffalo herds, which once numbered in the millions, were virtually wiped out. The Indians and Métis faced difficult times indeed. The Indians watched as their livelihood disappeared, along with their itinerant lifestyle and they faced many challenges enduring the transition to settlements and reservations. For the Métis, they fought to secure title to the lands they had occupied for many years and opposed land surveys which ignored their traditional river-front properties. They did not want to be deprived of their properties and when they petitioned Ottawa, their grievances went unheeded by an apparently indifferent government.

In the spring of 1884 a group of Métis, numbering about thirty and headed by Gabriel Dumont, met at Batoche to discuss their grievances. Dumont told the meeting he did not have the leadership skills required to undertake the task at hand, despite actions which proved he had the talent to lead them. He suggested however, the man who could lead the group was Louis Riel, and they agreed he be invited back from Montana.

In June, 1884 the plan was put into action and four men visited Louis Riel in Montana where he had been teaching school. The quartet represented some inhabitants along the North Saskatchewan River which included, in addition to the Métis, both English and French speaking white settlers. They urged Riel to return to the North West Territories to assist in drafting a Bill of Rights, which would be sent to senior government officials in Ottawa. Riel consented and the group returned to the area on June 27.

By that fall, a petition was drafted and in December, it was forwarded to Ottawa. Officials took little action, other than stating a Commission would be appointed to inquire into the latest, as well as previous, petitions. Superintendent L N F Crozier of the NWMP, in a telegraph to senior government officials, urged "immediate action in the matter and settlement if possible."

Through the winter of 1884-85, tensions continued to build and by late February, the group advocating rebellion had grown to upwards of sixty men and was daily gaining support of Métis and whites. The support certainly was not widespread among the people of the territory and fierce opposition to the agitation of Riel came from many sources, including the media and clergy.

His peaceful methods having failed however, Riel decided more dramatic action was needed to force the hand of government officials and he began the most decisive and unfortunate work of his life. He organized a small force which, after a number of battles, was defeated at Batoche by May 13, 1885.

The defeat marked the end of the dream for an independent Métis nation. Riel and Gabriel Dumont escaped but shortly thereafter Riel surrendered and he was transported to Regina, NWT and held in the guardroom at the NWMP Headquarters.

The North West Rebellion began with the Battle of Duck Lake on March 26, 1885. A force of some 100 men {which comprised of approximately 57 members of the NWMP and some 43 Prince Albert Volunteers} under the command Superintendent L N F Crozier faced overwhelming odds and after a battle which lasted between twenty and thirty minutes, they were forced to retreat. One member of the NWMP was killed on the field and two were mortally wounded. The Prince Albert Volunteers lost heavily - nine were killed and six wounded.

The last major battle took place on June 3 when 75 members of the NWMP, under Inspector S B Steele, engaged rebels near Loon Lake. The battle lasted approximately three hours and resulted in the death of five rebels; one Mounted Policeman was wounded.

Riel was charged with treason and tried before an all English-speaking jury. The defence contended he was insane but Riel rejected that argument. He addressed the jury and defended his ideals, accusing the government of shameful neglect in their handling of the Métis and Indian situation. His dignity and logic garnered the support of many in the audience but members of the jury were not convinced and Riel was subsequently convicted and sentenced to hang.  Despite numerous petitions for clemency, Riel was hanged on the grounds of the NWMP Headquarters at Regina on November 16, 1885.

Examples

NWC (0) (623 Gr J W Marshall, A Batty, CA).  John Marshall is confirmed on the roll for A Battery.  Ursual Feb 07 Can $950.

NWC (0) (Asst. Surgn E Benson, Medical Staff).  DNW Dec 06 £380.

NWC (1) (J B Fontaine, Battleford Regt).  DNW Dec 06 £2,400.

Baptiste Fontaine was a Metis with an Indian mother and French father, and served as a wagon driver and a Private in the Battleford Rifles. At the outbreak of the Riel campaign, however, he was hired by the North West Mounted Police as a scout and despatch rider, an appointment that witnessed his presence at the “Battle of Cut-Knife Hill” on 2 May 1885, soon after which he was wounded and captured by the Indians. An article in the Saskatchewan Herald later reported:

‘On Wednesday last as four scouts were making a visit to the upper settlement they found themselves suddenly confronted by a large body of Indians who made their appearance on the crest of a hill the scouts were ascending. The latter not feeling able to cope with the superior force of the enemy retired amidst a rattling volley of rifles, which the scouts returned as they moved off. Three of the men kept the open but the other one, Baptiste Fontaine, sought refuge in a bluff, and as he has since not been heard of it is feared he has fallen into the hands of the enemy.’

Meanwhile, the Toronto Globe reported that Fontaine had in fact been shot from his horse and was last seen crawling into a wood - and that he had either died or was captured - while in a later version in the Canadian Illustrated War News, he was depicted as having last been seen standing rifle in hand, ‘as though determined to die fighting’. Whatever the exact version of events, he had indeed been taken prisoner, and escaped a grisly end at the hands of the Indian chief, “Poundmaker”, and his warriors, when news was received of the capture of the rebel Riel. The Belleville Ontario Intelligencer of Friday, 22 May 1885 reported his release from captivity under the following circumstances:

‘Battleford, NWT, May 21: Poundmaker sent a flag of truce tonight, along with the captive teamsters, two women and a priest, to ask upon what terms he would be allowed to surrender. Baptiste Fontaine, the scout supposed to have been killed a fortnight ago while on a scouting expedition under Constable Ross, came in with the released prisoners. He says Poundmaker was badly broken up yesterday on hearing of Riel’s surrender. The Indians were terribly frightened, and piled their rifles in a tepee and hoisted an old British flag, which they captured somewhere. They then held a big council and decided upon sending in this letter asking for terms of surrender. There is a great rejoicing here over Poundmaker’s collapse.’

NWC (1) unnamed.  DNW Jun 06 £380.

 

 

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