Designated in 2021 as an Outstanding Historic Event.
Nominator: Doug Wells, Elliott Premises Management Committee, Harbour Breton
Although operational for only 15 years, the creation of the Newfoundland Ranger Force is an important part of our history. The Rangers were much more than simply law enforcement; they played an important role in maintaining the economic and social wellbeing of the communities they served. The Force’s successes speak to the Rangers’ own resourcefulness and compassion for rural people during one of the most difficult periods in Newfoundland and Labrador history.
The Commission of Government established the Newfoundland Ranger Force in 1935. The Force was initially envisioned largely as wildlife or forestry officers and customs collectors. As such, it was created as a branch of the Department of Natural Resources. But it was clear even before the first Rangers were recruited that many communities lacked any real policing system. Therefore, the Commission decided to model the new Newfoundland Ranger Force after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
But actual police work proved to be the least of their duties. Newfoundland Rangers managed government relief, planned and supervised public works projects, and enforced quarantines during epidemics. They were firefighters, truancy officers, and customs officers. In communities lacking medical services, they even pulled teeth, stitched wounds, set bones, and once delivered a baby.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Rangers also took on wartime duties. They supervised the local implementation of rationing, blackout and national registration policies. They monitored the skyline for enemy aircraft and the coastline for U-Boats known to be patrolling the North Atlantic. And, along with civilians in rural Newfoundland, they helped rescue passengers from wrecked or torpedoed ships.
As outsiders and authority figures, the Rangers were sometimes viewed with distrust by the remote communities they served. People came to respect the Rangers and accept them as useful members of their community. A member of the Newfoundland Ranger Force might be the only government representative seen by many rural people, especially in Labrador. As such, Rangers served a vital role in bringing the voices of these remote communities to a faraway government in St. John’s. Rangers’ commanders frequently praised them for their compassionate interpretation of the rules during difficult times.
Confederation ultimately spelled the end for the Newfoundland Ranger Force. Maintaining a separate provincial police force proved too costly and the Newfoundland government chose to amalgamate the Rangers into the RCMP. Members at the time had the choice to accept an honourable discharge or to transfer to the RCMP with a one-rank demotion. Still, many small communities remained loyal to the Newfoundland Ranger Force. An Ontario-born RCMP officer working in Newfoundland in the 1950s recalled that locals phoning the office would always stop to check: “[A]re you a Canadian Mountie or are you one of ours?”
Newfoundland Ranger Force insignia. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger Force, First Contingent, 1935. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger Force Barracks, Whitbourne, circa 1936. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Rangers on horseback, circa 1930s. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger with citizens of Hopedale, circa 1935 to 1950. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger with dog team, 1938. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger in Ranger Force Patrol boat, Battle Harbour area, circa 1938. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger reading proclamation to loggers, circa 1939 to 1945. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger Force detachment building, Hebron, circa 1940s. From The Rooms Archives.
Grand Bank detachment on patrol, circa 1940s. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger Force detachment, Port aux Basques, circa 1940s. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Rangers in motorcycle training, Whitbourne, circa 1940s. From The Rooms Archives.
Newfoundland Ranger Force depot, Kilbride, circa 1943 to 1950. From The Rooms Archives.