At the time of his interview for the Colonist, in 1977, George Inglis described George Wall of Mill Bay as a "quiet…gentleman of 81". Which means, of course, that this onetime Royal Northwest Mounted Police officer has gone to his final reward. As have, most definitely, the five other former members of the NWMP who were still around in 1977.
Thanks to Inglis, however, we know something of Wall’s career. Derby-born in 1896, he came of age just in time to enlist in the Royal Artillery at the outbreak of the First World War. For four years his unit fought its way across France but Wall greeted Armistice without a scratch.
"I sure was lucky," he told Inglis.
By then ready for a new start, he chose Canada and landed in Montreal early in 1919. His first job, as a lumberjack in the Quebec woods, "was the only job I could get," he explained with a smile. "They were all Frenchmen in the camp. Only three spoke any English."
One of them showed him a newspaper ad seeking recruits for the NWMP: $60 a month with room and board. His coworker said there was no future for him in the Quebec woods. Why didn’t he apply to the Mounties? Wall did apply, was accepted, and was off to Regina for basic training then to his first posting, for three years, in Carcross, Y.T. More than half a century and much of a lifetime later, in the comfort of his Mill Bay living room, he downplayed any suggestion that life in the North in the 1920s (this was long after the Klondike gold rush had peaked) had been romantic or exciting – there had been no manhunt for the infamous Mad Trapper to enliven his days! But he did enjoy patrolling by dog team, hunting mountain goats high above Lake Bennett, hunting for moose and caribou, and fishing, often while on official business such as inspecting the hydraulicking operations on Yukon creeks. Those three years passed quickly and pleasantly but, by then, he was ready for a change and, taking his discharge, he set out for New Zealand.
In San Francisco, he learned that he required both passport and a birth certificate, neither of which he had as few people did in those days, particularly when travelling within the British Commonwealth. In
Los Angeles, he found work as a cable splicer for a telephone company. But he didn’t care for the heat and he re-applied, this time to the RCMP, for another northern posting. His name was placed on a list and, within a year, he was called to Vancouver. Signing on for two years, he was soon on his way to Baillie Island, on the edge of the Beaufort Sea, with only another constable and two Hudson’s Bay Co. employees for company.
For all the isolation, he enjoyed it enough to re-sign for two more years: "It was peaceful and easy. About all we saw were Eskimos [sic] when they came into the post to trade their skins. The old trading schooner from Herschel Island to the west, would drop anchor during the short summer.
"There were no aeroplanes in those days, no radio. But, there was always something to do. We built our own sleds, fished for the winter’s supply of dog feed, shot seals. When the long winter days came we would hitch up the dogs, collect an Eskimo guide-interpreter and make a patrol of, maybe 1,000 miles. These Arctic patrols were made to emphasize Canada’s claim to Arctic sovereignty."
Isolation worked for George Wall: "The northern silence never bothered me. I used to read a lot, everything I could get a hold of. I suppose that’s why, even today, I have a great interest in reading."
He retired from the RCMP, aged 44. It had been a good 20 years: "I never once met with any violence," he told Inglis with obvious satisfaction in 1977.