Impatiently, I wiggle on the folding chair I brought with me. It's about to start. In the distance, I can already hear the drums. Here they are, just marching around the corner. The music corps leads the troop, closely followed by the Mounties in their famous red ceremonial uniforms, the Red Serge. In rank and file they pass us in step and don't make a face. Now comes the cannon - an old-fashioned relic of days long ago - before the cavalry brings up the rear. The square in front of the white military chapel is now well filled with RCMP officers and cadets. And I'm right in the centre of it, at the Sunset Ceremony.
It's Tuesday, early evening. My timing is just perfect as today’s stop on my Saskatchewan roadtrip is Regina, the provincial capital. Here, in the summer months, one of Canada's oldest military parades takes place every Tuesday on the grounds of the RCMP Depot Division. The Sunset Ceremony goes back to a British military tradition from the 18th century. At that time, at sunset, a lone drummer was sent into the streets of town in order to signal the innkeepers to close their taverns and to call for the soldiers to return to base. As soon as they came back, the flag was taken down with a ceremony and the day was officially considered over. Today, the Sunset Ceremony is an absolute must-see for all visitors interested in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – RCMP in brief – and its history. The colourful spectacle takes 90 minutes and includes the parade with military music, the taking down of the Canadian flag as well as an impressive presentation of drill exercises following a specific military ceremonial.
In their Red Serge, the RCMP officers, worldwide known as Mounties and friendly ambassadors of Canada, are the stars of the night. They indeed look smart with their scarlet tunic and midnight blue breeches with yellow trouser piping, an oxblood Sam Browne belt with white sidearm lanyard and matching oxblood riding boots as well as the famous Stetson hat! The cameras among the audience click on full speed! As a crowning finale, the old cannon is fired – ear-piercing and with lots of smoke.
To gain some background, I had already visited the RCMP Heritage Centre in the afternoon. A unique mix of educational institution, museum and tourist attraction, it engages visitors in this fascinating Canadian story. It takes visitors back in time using interactive displays, multi-media presentations and rare artifacts. The RCMP Heritage Centre is also advancing plans to become Canada’s newest National Museum.
The birth and development of Saskatchewan is uniquely tied to the history of the RCMP, originally known as the North West Mounted Police. Fort Walsh, in the southwest’s Cypress Hills, was the Mounties’ original headquarters from 1875 - 1882. The remains of Fort Battleford, further north,
commemorate the central role the fort played in the events of the North-West Resistance in 1885, a resistance by the Métis and an associated uprising by First Nations Cree and Assiniboine of the District of Saskatchewan against the Canadian Government. Today, both forts are a National Historic Site.
The story of the arrival of the RCMP cannot be told without an understanding of their early interactions with First Nations people. Sites and attractions throughout the province pay tribute to these decisive episodes in Saskatchewan history. Wood Mountain Post, near the Canada-United States border, tells of the friendship and respect between Major James Walsh and the legendary Chief Sitting Bull. Today, Saskatchewan’s inter-provincial Highway 13, known as the Red Coat Trail, approximates the route of the Great March West – the epic trek of the North West Mounted Police to western Canada in 1874.
There's no doubt that today, the Mounties have a special connection to Saskatchewan's capital as Regina remains home to the sole training academy for new members of the force. Over 1,000 new Mounties graduate each year. Visitors can view the training camp on daily tours.
In 2023, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will celebrate its 150th birthday! And with RCMP150 on the horizon, the Musical Ride is taking its world-famous show across the country. The Mounties have been demonstrating their riding skills for over a hundred years with this unique and rousing parade, the flagship and pride of the RCMP! A special unit of 32 riders and horses showcases their equestrian skills and travels the world for national and international performances.