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CONSTANTINE, CHARLES, militia and police officer; b. 13 Nov. 1846 in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, only son of Isaac Constantine and Mary Rhodes; m. 5 Nov. 1873 Henrietta Armstrong (d. 1934) in Point Douglas (Winnipeg), and they had three sons, two of whom died young; d. 5 May 1912 in Long Beach, Calif.

Charles Constantine emigrated to Lower Canada with his parents in the late 1840s and spent his formative years in Stanbridge. He displayed an early interest in the military life and joined the local militia. In 1870 he volunteered for service in Red River (Man.) [see Garnet Joseph Wolseley] and arrived there with the 2nd (Quebec) Battalion of Rifles in June. About the time of his marriage in 1873, his military duties at an end, Constantine was appointed deputy sheriff for Manitoba under his father-in-law, Edward Armstrong. He held the position until July 1880 when he became the province’s chief of police. Later he also served as an inspector of licences and as chairman of the Board of License Commissioners.

The outbreak of the North-West rebellion in 1885 [see Louis Riel*] gave Constantine an opportunity to re-enter military service. He enlisted with the Winnipeg Light Infantry Rifles as a captain and became its adjutant. Experienced in both police and military matters and knowledgeable about the west, Constantine was almost a natural for the North-West Mounted Police. In August 1886 he applied for a commission and on 26 October he was appointed an inspector. He was sent to Banff (Alta) to establish a detachment in the new national park. Two years later, on 28 April, he was posted to Depot Division (Regina); he lived and worked in Moosomin.

In 1894 Constantine was chosen by NWMP commissioner Lawrence William Herchmer for special duty. Summoned to Ottawa in May, he was instructed to survey conditions in the Yukon. The government was concerned about the influx of American miners, the liquor trade and its impact on the natives, and the general issue of law and order. Constantine remained less than four weeks in the north but while there he asserted Canadian sovereignty by enforcing customs regulations. In his report he recommended that some 40 mounted policemen be dispatched to the Yukon. After much procrastination, the federal authorities decided in 1895 to send a contingent of 20 under Constantine’s command. This small force arrived at Forty Mile, on the Yukon River, in July and immediately began construction of Fort Constantine, the first NWMP post in the territory. Additional men arrived in 1897 and were in place throughout the Yukon valley when the gold-rush reached its peak in 1898 [see Sir Samuel Benfield Steele].

Promoted superintendent in 1897, Constantine returned to the prairies in June 1898 and assumed command in turn at Moosomin, Regina, and Fort Saskatchewan (Alta). In 1902 he undertook a confidential mission to investigate the whaling industry on the American west coast. The following year he was sent to establish detachments at Fort McPherson (N.W.T.) and Herschel Island, Y.T. He and five other members of the force, including Francis Joseph Fitzgerald, arrived at the fort on 14 July. Constantine rented a building to serve as quarters, instructed Fitzgerald to proceed to Herschel Island, and on the 16th departed for home. He viewed the detachments as temporary measures to ensure that American whalers paid customs duties. But the die had been cast. The NWMP had crossed the Arctic Circle and had opened a new chapter in the history of the police and of the north.

In 1905 N Division, comprising the Athabasca District, was created and Constantine was placed in command. His major responsibility was unrelated to traditional police work. The force had been asked to construct a 750-mile pack trail from Fort St John (near Fort St John, B.C.) to the head of Teslin Lake in the Yukon. Constantine personally supervised this incredible undertaking in 1905 and, although misadventures prevented his reaching the trail head in 1906, he returned in 1907 to assess progress. Ill health forced him to relinquish direct command that year; he returned to his headquarters on Lesser Slave Lake. His dream of being the first mounted policeman to enter the Yukon from the southeast slipped away in 1908 when work on the trail, then half-completed, was abandoned.

In 1908 Constantine assumed command of A Division (Maple Creek, Sask.); three years later he was transferred to Prince Albert, where he contracted typhoid fever. He died in 1912 following an operation in California, where he had gone to convalesce, and was buried in Winnipeg with full military honours. He had been an outspoken man, disdainful of administration and bureaucratic niceties. Though not large, he was rugged, tenacious, and hardworking, essential qualities in a mounted policeman selected to undertake some of the pioneer work of the force.

Glenn Wright

General Register Office (London), Reg. of births, Bradford (Yorkshire), 13 Nov. 1846. NA, MG 30, E55; RG 2, P.C. 1916, 26 Oct. 1886; P.C. 1201, 26 May 1894; RG 9, II, B1, 82, file 12069; RG 18, 22, file 383-1888; 100, file 17-1896; 1121, file 384-1888; RG 31, C1, 1851, Missisquoi, [Que.], dist.224, no.1: 31. PAM, GR 1530, 55, 14 Dec. 1871; 265, 26 July 1880; 570, 14 Nov. 1881; 1484, 30 April 1884. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Headquarters (Ottawa), Hist. sect., Service file O.79. St John’s cemetery (Winnipeg), Tombstone inscription. Manitoba Free Press, 26 Nov., 4 Dec. 1881; 14 May 1912. Manitoban (Winnipeg), 8 Nov. 1873. Regina Leader, 25 April 1889. Waterloo Advertiser (Waterloo, Que.), 3 May 1889. Whig-Standard (Kingston, Ont.), 19 Feb. 1934: 4. Winnipeg Free Press, 19 Feb. 1934: 3. Can., North-West Mounted Police, Report (Ottawa), 1874–1903, continued as Royal North-West Mounted Police, 1904–7. W. R. Morrison, Showing the flag: the mounted police and Canadian sovereignty in the north, 1894–1925 (Vancouver, 1985).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Glenn Wright, “CONSTANTINE, CHARLES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed August 29, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/constantine_charles_14E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/constantine_charles_14E.html
Author of Article: Glenn Wright
Title of Article: CONSTANTINE, CHARLES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1998
Year of revision: 1998
Access Date: August 29, 2014