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Archival audio – CBC Radio – Alfred King
It was decided that I would leave. He was alleged to have been interfering with traplines of the Natives, and threatening them. And so, on the day after Christmas, I left with a Native guide, and went to the Mad Trapper’s cabin on the Rat River.

Angela Misri: The voice you’ve just heard is that of Alfred King, an RCMP constable stationed in Aklavik, The Northwest Territories, in 1931. And that day that he’s recalling? It’s just the beginning of what would become one of the largest manhunts in RCMP history, lasting 49 days, and covering over 200 kilometres in -40 degree temperatures… all in an effort to capture the fugitive who — to this day — is referred to as “The Mad Trapper”.

Welcome to Canadian Time Machine, a podcast that unpacks key milestones in our country’s history. This podcast receives funding from the Government of Canada and is created by The Walrus Lab. I’m Angela Misri.

In this episode – we’re talking about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in honour of their 150th anniversary, which took place in May 2023. Now, there are a lot of controversies with the RCMP – and we’ll get to some of those – but first, let’s get back to the Mad Trapper…who locals believed was named Albert Johnson. Johnson was living in a small cabin he had built for himself on the bank of Rat River. Very little was known about him, including his real name.

Soon enough, though, he’d earn the nickname of “The Mad Trapper.” Partially because he was accused of tampering with traplines set out by local Indigenous peoples and partially because of what happened when the RCMP tried to confront him about it. Following their first attempt at a conversation with him, on December 31st, a team of RCMP officers arrived at Johnson’s cabin once more… but this time they announced they had obtained a search warrant. One of those RCMP officers was Albert King.

Archival audio – CBC Radio – Alfred King
With that, I went to the cabin door and I rapped twice and called and told Johnson who I was, and he fired with the rifle, and hit me through the lower part of my chest.

Angela Misri: King survived the shooting…but as the manhunt progressed, the RCMP would face even more violence from the mystery trapper. It’s now January 9. 1932. It’s still blistering cold…around -40 degrees. A posse of 9 men and 42 dogs start making their way to Johnson’s cabin. RCMP Inspector Alexander Eames and First Nations guide Charlie Rat are part of the posse that begins to surround the makeshift cabin demanding he surrender. Little did they know, Johnson had fortified the cabin, firing his rifle and shotgun at the posse.

Archival audio – Mad Trapper Exhibit – Narrator
Such was the ferocity of Johnson’s attack from his tiny half buried fortress cabin that even the increased ranks of the assault team could not dislodge. It was decided to dynamite the Rat River Rat from his home. The devil himself must have signed a pact with Albert Johnson…

Angela Misri: Johnson survived the explosion…and soon enough, the RCMP was forced to return to town to restock their goods. By the time they came back, Johnson had disappeared, and snowfall had covered his tracks. Over the course of the following weeks, more officers and Indigenous trappers searched for Johnson in the vast terrain between the Mackenzie river in the Northwest Territories and the Richardson Mountains in the Yukon.

In that time, Johnson fatally shot an RCMP officer, and injured a sergeant. When the search began to feel insurmountable, Inspector Eames – who was part of the original posse – decided to do something the RCMP had never done before: use an airplane to help track the fugitive. It was with the help of bush pilot Wilfred May that the team was finally able to track down Johnson, as he began to trek across the mountains. The chase ended on February 17th, 1932 with a dramatic confrontation on the Eagle River in northern Yukon. Johnson died in the crossfire, after refusing to surrender. To this day, his real identity remains a mystery.

Angela Misri: It’s been 92 years since the Mad Trapper was finally caught, and over 150 years since the RCMP itself was created…making the police force almost as old as the Dominion of Canada itself. For some, mention of the RCMP might conjure up feelings of heroism. To this day, for example, the constable who was killed by the Mad Trapper, Edgar Millen, has a plaque dedicated to his service during the search for the fugitive. And there’s currently an exhibit about the Mad Trapper at the RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina. But others might have more somber associations with the national police force. To many Indigenous peoples, the RCMP could trigger memories of residential schools, or cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. For Sam Karikas, CEO of the RCMP Heritage Centre, talking about the dark and painful parts of the RCMP’s past is just as important as celebrating its moments of heroism…because they are all intricately tied in with Canadian history.

Sam Karikas: The RCMP history is Canadian history. There are so many proud and triumphant chapters of the RCMP story over 150 years and, and there are others that are really painful and complex. And our country’s history includes those things like settlement, colonialism, which have intergenerational impacts. So that adds even more complexity to our feelings of, quote unquote, looking back through history. You know, this is something we all have to contend with, though, not just the RCMP as an institution or the federal government whose laws and policies were enforced.

Angela Misri: The RCMP Heritage Centre is operated by a non-profit organization, the Mounted Police Heritage Centre. It’s dedicated to sharing the story of the RCMP, Canada’s national police force.

Sam Karikas: So, visitors to the Heritage Centre will get an opportunity to see, um, the history of the RCMP, from the very beginning of when the Northwest Mounted Police was established, and throughout Canadian history. There’s also learnings about the diversity of roles that one could have or careers one could have in the RCMP. So, for instance, you may be specialized in the sense of you are on the emergency response team, which is a very specialized unit. You may be specialized in science and technology, in the skills related to that. And then the other piece, of course, is, when visitors come to visit, they are welcome to partake in our programming. So our programming kind of tells all of the other stories that aren’t in our static galleries and kind of learnings around and dialogue around contemporary issues, how we contextualize the past to today.

Angela Misri: Sam and her colleagues at the Heritage Centre hope to be able to continue dialogue about a range of issues as they work towards becoming a national museum.

Sam Karikas: As a museum and working to become a national museum, I believe that’s exactly where we can and should have these conversations. And overwhelmingly we’ve heard from people that they’re, they want a place to explore these aspects of our history, um, and to have that dialogue. So, you know, we can hold space for two things at once. We can honour sacrifice and service and celebrate what it is that’s uniquely Canadian about a world renowned police service like the RCMP, uh, while also acknowledging the harmful impacts of colonial policies and societal issues like bias, racism. In an ideal situation, you know, as we continue in our collective healing journey, I really hope that there’s space for both. And I think it’s actually a really rich space for exploring that very complex kind of cross section of Canada.

Angela Misri: Many thanks to Sam Karikas for telling us about the RCMP Heritage Centre. I’d now like to welcome Jean Teillet to the show. Ms. Teillet is a recently retired Métis lawyer, author, and lecturer, specializing in Indigenous rights, justice, and identity. She’s also the great grandniece of Louis Riel. Ms. Teillet joins us from Vancouver. Welcome, Ms. Teillet.

Jean Teillet: Oh, thank you.

Angela Misri: I’d like to start by acknowledging your own intergenerational connection to the RCMP. Your great granduncle, Louis Riel, was hanged at the Northwest Mounted Police Barracks in Regina in 1885. For listeners who are unfamiliar with Louis Riel’s legacy, can you please tell us about his resistance movement and about the RCMP’s reaction?
Jean Teillet: Well, there’s two resistance movements that Riel led. The first one was in 1869-70 in Red River, in what is now Manitoba, and that was about bringing Western Canada, actually what is two thirds of Canada now, it’s all of the northwestern territories, so all of the prairie provinces, uh, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, the Yukon, Northern Quebec, everything, Northern Ontario, all that came into Canada at the same time. And Riel was more or less resisting the fact that Canada had a plan to take over all that territory without ever even talking to any of the inhabitants. So it was a resistance about the right to negotiate the terms on which that large territory with many people in it would join Canada.

So that was the first resistance. But that predates the creation of the RCMP. The RCMP got created, I think it’s in 1874, might be 1873, but somewhere around there. So that’s a couple of years afterwards. So the second resistance Riel led was in 1885, and that was in Saskatchewan. There was a sort of a parallel resistance by the First Nations, and I think it’s very important to understand that they were both resisting the rule of Canada and what was happening to them, but they were on totally different tracks. They weren’t actually working together. So I think that’s important to understand. But by then, the Mounties, or what were called the Northwest Mounted Police, had been created. And their major job in those days was policing Indigenous people.

That’s almost entirely what they saw their role as. And the reality of the times was that the RCMP played a, um, you know, no story is a simple story. So there are good RCMP people who were very cognizant of what was happening and how wrong it was and were speaking out. So, in particular, Dr. John Kitson was a doctor for the Northwest Mounted Police. And he was in an, I think outrage is the only way to describe, how angry he was about the fact that Canada was starving First Nations on the reserves in Saskatchewan and that the RCMP were enforcing that starvation. And he was very vocal about that.

So there’s really. The overwhelming story of the RCMP is that they were there as an enforcer to keep First Nations stuck on the reserves and starving and to put down the Métis in any way they could. And there was in 1884, people built up somehow this, I don’t know, expectation that Louis Riel was some kind of monster sent from somewhere. That he was all powerful, uh, you know, nothing could be further than the truth. He was simply a very powerful orator.

Angela Misri: Uh huh. I actually, completely coincidentally, went to Louis Riel Junior High in Calgary, so, uh, I know, weirdly coincidental. But what we learned, and this was in the 80s, obviously, was that he was the face, he was the leader. But what you’re saying to me is, is that he had great oration skills, and do you have any idea why the RCMP and several others fixated on him as the source of the problem?

Jean Teillet: Basically, it’s way easier to blame one man for everything because then you don’t look at the systemic problems that he’s actually resisting about. And that’s what’s happened here. So the church is very, the Catholic church I’m speaking of and the Protestant church, but the Catholic church in particular was very vested in, uh, eliminating Riel. And that’s because he was speaking out against them. And, uh, so was, uh, Macdonald. I mean, Sir John A. Macdonald had regarded Louis Riel as one of the major thorns in his side for 15 years.
Um, so I think that it’s easier to say that, you know. But Riel was by no means alone. Uh, Gabriel Dumont was a massive force, especially in Saskatchewan. Um, he was a great leader. But he couldn’t command the audiences or speak fluently or speak to government, speak in government language or in the language of the West. Whereas Riel was very fluid, uh, with language and had a really good education.The other thing we have to remember is that by that point, Riel was very much a mystic.
He was not the same man he was in 1870. He was always very religious. Um, but he had moved into a world where the world of spirit and religion was much more important to him. And so he was, he was functioning in that vein and also trying to be a voice for the people. So there were, you know, Patrice Fleury was one of the sort of leaders, uh, Gabriel Dumont.

Angela Misri: Did your family connection to Louis Riel influence your decision to become a lawyer and fight for Indigenous rights across the country?

Jean Teillet: Yeah, I, I think it’s influenced my whole life. I was raised to be very proud of being a Riel. My father and my father’s brothers and sisters, so it’s my dad’s mom who was Sara Riel, they were raised to be very proud of being Riels, and they passed that on to us. I mean, we had Riel papers that my brothers and I took to show and tell in school when we were little kids, right?

So we were always very proud of that and also very aware of the fact that our understanding of that history was not what was taught in schools and was not what everybody else thought was sort of Canadian — “the Canadian” history. So yes, it was an influence in my decision to pursue Indigenous rights and that’s what I did all the way down the line is I, I have worked a lot for First Nations, um, particularly in treaty negotiations. But a lot of my work was certainly in the early days was about Métis rights and that was directly, uh, influenced by my family and my desire to get Canadians to understand that what they thought of as history was not the whole story.

Angela Misri: We’ve just spoken with Sam Karikas, who’s the CEO of the RCMP Heritage Centre, about the importance of having a national dialogue surrounding the RCMP’s dark history. I’d like to hear your perspective on the following clip. Please take a listen.

Sam Karikas: What we want to do is create a place that, that opens up that dialogue. So we want to be the place that we have that conversation. A really good example of that, for instance, is residential schools. The topic of residential schools is something that every Canadian should know about, needs, needs a space to know about, needs multiple spaces to know about. And when you look at truth and reconciliation, uh, as a whole, that concept, that is the responsibility, um, and the obligation of every organization in Canada to look at how it is that they are living those calls to action. And so from our perspective, especially wanting to become a national museum, there is a particular history of in Canada, of the role that the RCMP played as truancy officers in the residential school system. We want to be able to reflect those stories and to be able to allow people to come here and know that they can learn about that part of Canadian history.

Angela Misri: Ms. Teillet, any thoughts on what we’ve just heard?
Jean Teillet: It’s so interesting, the idea that they want to change the way Canadians view that. I’m just reminded of, um, an incident that I was involved in, and it would be, it would be the late 90s, uh, in Toronto. The RCMP Museum at that time was busily sending around its artifacts, not with the kind of message that we just listened to, but with a message of look, this is what we did and being very proud of it. One of the things they paraded around was the noose that hanged Louis Riel.

Jean Teillet: And that was on display in Toronto at Casa Loma. So that, that’s a very different story. And, and even in, I guess it would have been 1974 when the RCMP was celebrating their hundred year anniversary. They published a little booklet and the booklet was like a little cartoon booklet I think it was meant to give out to children. Very few words in it, but lots of big colorful pictures, drawings. And one of them was that they wanted you know, their job was to stop Louis Riel from setting up his own country.

Angela Misri: Wow.

Jean Teillet: And the whole idea of it is just ludicrous. So I think it’s really interesting that they’re saying now they want to you know explore the darker parts of their history. It’s not so much just what they did. It’s what they continue to do by way of that dialogue. So you know, I’m a lover of museums. Um, I’m on the board of the Glenbow Museum and I love working there. And they are the holders of a large archive that I used when I was writing my book, The Northwest Is Our Mother. They have a huge archive and lots of important material and I think it’s important to save that.The RCMP Museum has a different feel to me. It’s um. You know, especially in light of the reports we’ve had recently that the RCMP is deeply misogynist and that I absolutely believe. Let me just tell you one of the stories that I came across when I was writing my book. Was in 1871 uh, there was a reign of terror going on in Manitoba.

This is just prior to the formation of the Northwest Mounted Police, and it went on for two and a half years. Even the New York Times ran a header about the military reign of terror going on in Red River. There were arsons and rapes and murders. There were house break ins that were just, it was just a reign of terror. And so one of the things that happened was the gang rape by the soldiers of a lovely young girl named Laurette Goulet. But when the Métis went to Colonel Jarvis, he said it was none of, and I’m quoting him, it was “none of his business” what his soldiers did in that regard, right? So” none of his business” whether his soldiers gang raped a young girl.

Jean Teillet: So that gives you an understanding of how deeply embedded in the DNA of the RCMP is the misogyny and the racist attitudes. They are baked in from day one into every single part of that police force. So the idea that there’s a museum that wants to explore that now, I question whether they’re capable of that or whether that’s a discussion that should happen externally from them because they would have no, you know, it’d be very, very, very difficult for them to do any real examination of the real story of their origins.

Angela Misri: The RCMP is currently facing scrutiny for its treatment of Indigenous peoples in different capacities. Last spring, B.C. ordered a probe into allegations of sexual assault against Indigenous girls by RCMP officers in Prince George. And as you know, a class action lawsuit against the federal government is currently underway. It alleges that Indigenous peoples are regularly assaulted by RCMPofficers in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut because of their racial origin. Can you tell us more about this lawsuit and what it might mean for the future of the RCMP?

Jean Teillet: I, I cannot speak in detail to the lawsuit. I have absolutely no information about it other than to say that this situation of RCMP being accused of sexual assault is a very, very old story –against Indigenous women and girls — is a very, very old story. And that’s the Laurette Goulet story I told you about. We had the story out of Val d’Or Quebec a few years ago about the women all standing up and saying that they were being assaulted and taken out on these starlight drives by RCMP officers. I mean, this is a story that arises over and over and over again all throughout Canada, and it has throughout the history of the RCMP, and it has never gone away. And I think that what we’re left with is one big problem with the RCMP. And I would say that what you have is a lot of men who are left in positions of almost absolute power in many fairly small or remote or isolated communities, and they have this sense that they can do whatever they want to women and girls. And they do. And there’s obviously not enough controls there on them, A. And B, there is a sense of deep, deep, deep entitlement and brutality that seems to come from their training. And so that’s why you hear a call from Indigenous people that we want our own police. We don’t want you to parachute in these men who only assault our women and girls and who are not a force for good in the community. Ultimately, they are a force that is making things worse. So, I think that that’s the cry from all over is that policing is a problem right now.
It needs to be rethought, and my, for myself, I think it needs, we need to get away from the fact that it is almost entirely men.
I think that the reports that have been done on, on the RCMP are absolutely true. It is in its DNA and it’s not, it can’t, and that’s the latest report, was it cannot change itself from within. It needs, so from my mind, I think it needs to be dismantled and rebuilt as an entirely different institution.

Angela Misri: Yep, I do not think you’re the only person who thinks so.

Jean Teillet: Yeah, I think you’re right.

Angela Misri: Just for your legal brain, because I don’t have one of those, what is a class action lawsuit? What is the difference between that and a regular lawsuit?

Jean Teillet: Sure. A regular lawsuit is usually brought by an individual. So that would be in the sort of situation we’re talking about. That would be one woman who says, this particular police officer or these police officers assaulted my daughter or me. And so it’d be one woman against them. What you’re talking about when you get into class action suits is these are attempts to get at the fact that this is widespread practice among many officers in many places. So there are many, many plaintiffs. The allegation would be that there are so many that they can’t bring individual cases. So the best way to do it is to get at the systemic problem, that this isn’t about one officer. Because that’s part of the problem, is that the RCMP seems to treat these kind of situations as one offs, like, oh, we’ve got one bad apple in the, the force, when in fact, it seems like the whole force is infected by a particular way of thinking and, uh, a belief that they can, can act like this in violent and dangerous ways against Indigenous women and girls with impunity and get away with it. And the fact is they’re right about that. They have been getting away with it.

Angela Misri: All right. Well, thank you for your time, Ms. Teillet. I really appreciate it.

Jean Teillet: Yeah, that ended on a low note, doesn’t it?

Angela Misri: I know. I want to ask about your retirement again, just to get us back on a happy note.

Jean Teillet: I just, you know, I just want to come back to the one good thing that you have from like Dr. Kitson, and he wrote it, Kitson to McLeod, McLeod was the head of the RCMP on July 1st, 1880. Okay, report from Dr. Kitson in the Library and Archives Canada. So the quote I’m going to give you is on page two of that report. And so what he said was… so this was, they’re talking about the fact that the Cree mostly, that we’re talking about, but the Cree and Ojibwe and Blackfoot, who had been crowded onto reserves in Saskatchewan and Alberta and Manitoba, were literally starving. And Gabriel Dumont had already written a letter talking about how outraged he was that they were starving and that the Métis were feeding them.
So the Métis were going hunting and providing food to the Indians on the reserve because the Indians were not allowed to leave the reserve. And in some cases there was literally a ring of RCMP around the reserve to stop the people from leaving. And so, in 1884, Dr. John Kitson, the doctor for the Northwest Mounted Police, reported that a minimum daily ration for a man in moderate health with active life should be one pound of meat, 0.2 pounds of bread, 0.25 pounds of fat or butter. The First Nations daily ration was 0.5 pounds of meat, 0.5 pounds of flour, which according to Kitson was totally insufficient. And what he said was that First Nations people were receiving less than half the rations provided to state prisoners in Siberia.

And Macdonald, Prime Minister Macdonald’s response was that the Indians will always grumble. And that’s quote.

And his answer is, of course, to send in The Northwest Mountain Police. So.

Angela Misri: Yes.

Jean Teillet: This is what’s going on. They’re starving people. They’re pushing them off their lands. They won’t let them hunt. They’re sending the police after them to stop them from living and then they turn around and say well you are you’re rising up against authority. You know, that’s, that’s exactly what happened in there. And I’m not sure I took us on a better path, better statement there.

Angela Misri: I was just going to say that.

Jean Teillet: I don’t think there is a better way. I just wanted to point out that there were people who saw what was going on and were trying hard to do something about it. And like Kitson, some of them were embedded in the RCMP. And I have no doubt that there were some good men out there who were trying to do the right thing. But the bulk of them were following orders, and as we still see, I think the misogyny and the racism is too deeply embedded in their DNA to remove. So, how do we get, you know, I don’t know how you tell a good story about the RCMP these days. I don’t know how you can do it.

Angela Misri: Thank you so much for your time.

Angela Misri: And thank you for listening to Canadian Time Machine. This podcast receives funding from the Government of Canada and is created by the Walrus Lab. The archival audio clips in this episode are courtesy of CBC licensing. Some of the audio elements in this episode come from a sound library. Like all our episodes, the transcripts will be available in both English and French. To read the transcripts, please visit This episode was produced by Caro Rolando and André Proulx. It was edited by Nathara Imenes. And Amanda Cupido is the executive producer. And – a special note about this episode – it has a counterpart on the French feed for this show! So if you’re bilingual and want to listen to more about the history of Louis Riel and the RCMP, head over to the podcast called Voyages Dans L’Histoire Canadienne. For more stories about historic Canadian milestones, visit

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