Red Coat Trail

Planting the Red Coat Trail marker northwest of Orkney, June 1961.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A6674-6

The Red Coat Trail is a historic land trail established by the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP), whose brightly coloured uniforms resulted in the naming of this trail. It entered Saskatchewan near Roche Percée and meandered west until it reached the Alberta border in the Cypress Hills. In the summer of 1874 the NWMP embarked on a long and arduous trek across the trail through what was then the North-West Territories. The Dominion government, eager to survey and settle the west, dispatched the force to maintain law and order at a place called “Fort Whoop-Up,” located near the junction of the Belly and Bow rivers in present-day Alberta. A force of 275 men, more than 300 horses, 140 oxen, 73 wagons, and over 100 Red River carts left Dufferin, Manitoba on July 9. The force generally followed the Boundary Survey Trail, careful enough not to veer too far south and cross onto American soil. Intense prairie heat, insects, lack of drinking water and feed for the animals created unbearable living conditions: the force thus broke into splinter divisions along the way in an attempt to increase its efficiency. On September 10, the main NWMP contingent reached the junction of the Belly and Bow rivers; however, Fort Whoop-Up was nowhere to be found. It was only several weeks later that the NWMP, with the assistance of Métis guide Jerry Potts, found the fort at the junction of the Belly and St. Mary’s rivers. By the time the NWMP arrived there, much of the unrest had subsided. The arrival of the NWMP signaled the permanent establishment of the force, later to become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), in the Canadian west.

James Winkel