With the outbreak of hostilities between the Métis and the North-West Mounted Police at Duck Lake, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald decided to send a military expedition to the North-West Territories to quell the rebellion. Major-General Frederick Middleton, General Officer Commanding Canadian Militia, commanded the Canadian force.
The Canadian militia mobilized very quickly. In a first test of Canadian defences, the dominion's Ministry of Militia produced minor miracles in mobilizing troops and overcoming shortages of equipment and supplies. Although the railway proved invaluable in shipping troops and equipment to the North-West Territories, the troops were obliged to negotiate a very difficult passage through the rocky forests north of Lake Superior. Railway construction in the region was not yet complete, and several gaps existed in the line. Troops, horses, guns, and wagons had to be off-loaded and moved over the gaps on foot in bitterly cold winter weather. In addition, once the Canadian forces reached the end of the railway line, they had to overcome difficult obstacles in order to transport forces to the main centres of Métis and Cree resistance. The North-West Territories was subject to fierce spring blizzards, and the rivers were swollen with treacherously high water and ice floes.
The Canadian force was divided into three columns. The first, commanded by Major-General Middleton, advanced toward Batoche. The second contingent, commanded by Colonel William Otter, moved northward from Swift Current toward Prince Albert. The third column, under Major-General T.B. Strange, moved from Calgary to Edmonton, then east along the North Saskatchewan River toward Prince Albert.
Both Colonel Otter and Major-General Strange demonstrated superb organizational skills and planning during their operations. Otter managed to direct a mobile force using wagons to transport men and equipment. Due to the harsh spring conditions, Otter also had to arrange for the transport of forage for the horses. Strange's contingent forded the frigid torrents of the Red Deer and Battle rivers without any loss of men or equipment during the march north from Calgary to Edmonton. He then organized a train of wagons and barges for the eastward advance along the North Saskatchewan River.