Thomas J. Kempster



In the fall of 1884, three former British Cavalry Sergeants were brought to Regina to instruct North West Mounted Police officers and recruits in the finer points of military riding. They were Sgt. Pat Mahoney, Sgt. Robert Belcher (later Lt. Col. Belcher) and Sgt. T. J. Kempster.

The three Sergeants soon decided to drill the men and their mounts in a fashion similar to the military tattoos to which they had been accustomed in their British military regiments; with musical accompaniment. Thus a great Canadian tradition was born; The Musical Ride.

The practice of the musical ride was not originally for any ceremony or display but solely to (in Kempster's words), "smarten up the men", and was considered one of the most efficient ways of turning rookies into accomplished horsemen. Prior to this time, recruits had been required to know how to ride, but little attention was paid to the finer points of horsemanship. Kempster and his colleagues found that the training of young horses was considerably different in Canada than it was in the British Military and they first had to train the horses, then the riders.

In 1885, Kempster found himself training both Mounted Policemen and mounted soldiers for action in the North West Rebellion. All the soldiers coming from the East to fight in the rebellion were given their horses in Regina. In 1887, Sgt. Kempster was transferred to Calgary to take charge of the police riding school. Later that same year he left the force after suffering a serious dislocation of his shoulder when a horse fell on him. He and his wife raised horses in Manitoba and retired to Calgary in 1910. Mrs. Kempster moved to Vancouver following her husband's death.

This story is related through the recollections of Mrs. Kempster who returned to Calgary for the Exhibition and Stampede in 1935. She said that the manoevers all seemed exactly as they had appeared in Regina a half a century previously.

Kempster's tour of duty with the Mounties wasn't all training. Immediately following the North West Rebellion, Inspector MacDonell sent Sgt. Kempster and 20 policemen on a hunt for a gang of horse thieves led by a desperado named Frank Wilson. They had a had a report that the gang was in the Moose Mountain area. The report came from a fellow officer who was on leave at the time and had been fired upon by the gang and wounded in the leg.

Kempster and his men scoured the East and North sides of the mountain for several days with no results. They then searched the East side of the mountain, again with no results. Their investigation then took them further North East to the Pipestone Valley, but the gang of thieves still eluded them.

Why relate a tale where basically nothing happened? It shows the careful watch being kept by the Mounties even immediately after the Rebellion and the lengths they had to go to to maintain this watch; in this case travelling hundreds of miles merely to check out tips.

A point to note about Sgt. Kempster's monument: the two medals depicted at the top, in each corner, are the Egypt Medal (for service during the Egypt Campaign of 1882-89, made famous by "Gordon of Khartoum") and the Mounted Police Veterans Service Medal. Also note the date of his NWMP service inscribed on his monument indicates that he joined the force after the Rebellion. This is probably because he was still on secondment from the Royal Life Guards during the time of the Rebellion but served with the NWMP.

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