Albert Johnson header.

Routine Patrol

There were two kinds of patrols carried out by Constable Edgar Millen and his two-man detachment of Royal Canadian Mounted Police stationed at Arctic Red River, a tiny settlement located two spits and a jump south of the Arctic Circle. The first was "routine" patrols during which they visited isolated cabins, checked the animal crop, delivered mail, discreetly and tactfully kept tabs on men who wanted to be left alone and performed a hundred and one civil service duties throughout the region. The second was "special patrols"; that is, trips for a specific reason, such as a mercy mission to rescue an independent individual who had suffered an injury, escort duty for some visiting dignitary, or an investigation into a reported crime.

An interesting aspect of the work was that they were never certain until the patrol was completed whether it was a routine or a special mission.

The patrol of July 20, 1931, started as a routine mission.

Constable Edgar Millen, the officer in charge of Arctic Red River, had been born in Belfast, England, on May 29, 1901, the second of four children of Hugh Rankin Millen, a contractor. Together with his older brother, John, he had attended the tough Curragh Camp, a military school for boys - but his sole legacy from Camp had been a lifelong distaste for routine, spit and polish.

Emigrating to Canada with his family, Edgar had completed Grade 8 at Parkdale School in Edmonton, Alberta, and had taken some extra vocational training before going to work variously as a farm hand, an office boy for the Hudson's Bay Company and an orderly in the veteran's hospital. On November 22, 1920, he had joined the famed force as Regimental Number 9669.

After several postings to Regina, Winnipeg and Edmonton, the 6 foot, 1/2 inch, 175-pound constable had volunteered for northern duty and had been posted first to Aklavik in June 1923. From then forward, most of his service had been spent in the North West Territories, except for brief holidays spent with his family in Edmonton. One of the interesting sidelights of his career had been the discovery by his superiors that he was the finest pastry cook in the northland; a talent which did not go unused when the Governor General and other notables visited Aklavik.

Constable Edgar Millen had just completed his holiday in Edmonton on June 17, 1931 - scarce a month before - and on his return to the north he had been offered a Corporal's stripes and the post at Arctic Red River. He had declined, because of his dislike of paperwork, but - with the grim humour of the R.C.M.P. - he had found himself posted in charge of the small detachment, minus the stripes, but saddled with the paperwork.

Among the duties to be performed by Constable Millen on this patrol to Fort McPherson, 50 miles to the west, was to check into the arrival of a newcomer to the district, a man called Albert Johnson.

According to the report which he had received via radio from Aklavik, Millen understood that the man Johnson had arrived at Fort McPherson on July 9, 1931 - having floated down the Peel River from the direction of Dawson on a crude raft made of three logs lashed together. News of his arrival had been carried to Aklavik by Bishop Geddes and subsequently, an order to investigate had been issued by Inspector Alexander Neville Eames, Officer Commanding the Western Arctic Sub-District. However there had been no urgency about the order.

The primary concern of the Police was that with the deepening of the Depression throughout Canada and especially on the prairies, men with a distaste for civilization and its bread lines were constantly seeking escape by venturing north. Unfortunately, many of these men arrived ill-equipped and without money and had to be discouraged from "going it alone" in the rugged, demanding Territories.

Edgar Millen.
Edgar Millen.

Arriving at Fort McPherson on July 21, Edgar Millen learned a little more about the newcomer. Johnson had beached his crude craft about 3 miles above the settlement and had walked into town. He had little in the way of an outfit, but appeared to be well-supplied with money. On July 12, he had purchased a 16 gauge, single barrel Ivor Johnson shotgun and a box of 25 shells from Mr. W. W. Douglas of the Northern Traders Limited store.

Constable Millen had no difficulty locating his man, camped a short distance from town.

Albert Johnson was approximately 5 foot, 10 inches in height, weighed a sturdy 170 pounds; had light brown hair receding at the temples and crown; pale blue eyes; snubbed, upturned nose; moderately prominent cheekbones; lobed ears set close to the head. His arms were a little longer than usual for his height. He appeared to be between 35 and 40 years of age.

From the little accurate information available, it appears that Johnson informed Constable Millen that he had spent the previous summer, 1930, on the Canadian prairies and that he had entered the country via the Mackenzie River system. He made no mention of where he had spent the previous winter, but indicated that he now intended to go up into the Rat River country - some 20 miles north and west of Fort McPherson. His original outfit seemed to have been lost, and he was then in the process of gathering a new one.

Constable Millen advised him that if he planned to trap in the Rat River district, he would have to obtain a license from either Arctic Red River or Aklavik.

During the remainder of his visit to Fort McPherson, Constable Millen made a few more inquiries and learned from the Hudson's Bay Post that Johnson was indeed gathering together an adequate outfit. However, in his dealing with the Company, Johnson had been close-lipped about his past and his immediate plans. There the matter rested.


A week after the interview with Millen, the man who called himself Albert Johnson, having amassed an excellent outfit, purchased a large canoe from one of the local Indians and left Fort McPherson on July 28, 1931, paddling leisurely down the Peel River.

The next day, he passed the little trading post operated by Arthur Netterville Blake at the mouth of the Husky River, but did not stop to visit.

Four days later, he returned upriver, paddling his large canoe skillfully against the current, and beached at the post. He informed Mr. Blake that he was looking for the turn-off to the Rat River and had evidently missed the main branch. However, he was confident that he could reach the Rat by travelling up a small creek behind the trading post and reach his destination by making a series of small portages.

Arctic Red River.
Arctic Red River.

Arthur Blake was doubtful. He knew the country. Blake, born in England, had come to Canada in the late 1890s and on the outbreak of the Boer War had served in Africa with the Canadian contingent. After the war, he ranched in South Africa for several years before returning to Canada and joining the R.N.W.M.P. on June 4, 1906. After some 6 years of service in Northern Alberta and the North West Territories, he had taken his discharge on August 24, 1912, and had set up this small trading post at the junction of the Husky and Peel Rivers.

Although he voiced his concern for his visitor - advising him that he should return up the Peel and follow the south branch of the Husky to the Rat River - Blake was unable to dissuade him. Johnson seemed supremely confident in his abilities and after checking his outfit left that afternoon, paddling his heavily laden canoe up the creek towards the sparsely inhabited wilderness of the Rat River country.

Rat River.
Arctic Red River.

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