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I’M FROM THE PEG… SO WHAT!


July 2, 2013
By Robert Lunney

656 words – MR

I’m from the ‘peg, so what?

by Robert Lunney

I was born and raised in Winnipeg. My first contact with policing was through my uncle Albert, who for years was the stentorian-voiced constable in the Magistrates Court, calling the courtroom to order and bellowing out names in his Northern Irish brogue.

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Uncle Albert was a local character in his own right. The only other policeman I encountered in my junior school days was a long and lanky bicycle officer known to the kids as “Speed,” for his leisurely patrols through the leafy streets of our quiet neighbourhood. All that changed when my family moved from the upper middle class south side of the city to a working class district in the west end and I joined a loose group of friends known as The Boys. We prowled the weekend dances in all sectors of the city, occasionally becoming involved in dust-ups with territorial rivals.

Our back up was the Winnipeg Police, as its arrival resulted in all disputants instantly departing the scene. A uniformed police officer visited my parents home after one of these incidents. Lucky for me I had an air-tight alibi. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

The Dew Drop Boys, named for their North End café hangout, was the dominant street gang during those years and a fearsome aggregation they were until police forcefully dismantled them. Many served jail terms for weapons offences and violence. I left home at 19 to join the RCMP, marking an unlikely end to my misguided youth.

The tough and demanding policing challenge was unchanged in Winnipeg for many years following. In the 1980’s author Carsten Stroud wrote . His research in Winnipeg included ride-alongs with front line officers and forays into unlicensed clubs and bootleg joints with the vice squad. Stroud admitted that conditions confronting police there were the most challenging he had seen anywhere in the country.

Returning to Winnipeg today is a trip back through time. With the combination of good civic planning and economic happenstance the city has done an admirable job of maintaining its heritage building stock – but it is on the move. The downtown features a new arena, home to the NHL Winnipeg Jets, and a spanking new stadium for the CFL Bombers opened this season.

A strikingly impressive Human Rights museum is soon to open at the Forks, confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. The Winnipeg Police Service (WPS) still contends with difficult social conditions, but the modern service takes a back seat to no one. It earned accredited status with the Commission for Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in 1992 and proudly maintains that professional distinction to this day. Always closely associated with law enforcement cousins south of the border, the service has strong ties with the regional chapter of the FBI Academy Associates.

In the modern era, two chiefs, Herb Stephen and Jack Ewatski, served as presidents of the CACP. Responding to widespread pressure to find effective and economical methods of cost control, the WPS recently launched a cadre of auxiliary cadets as a visible symbol of social control on downtown streets. It also pioneered a vulnerable persons unit to protect the elderly and physically challenged and those suffering from mental health issues.

The City of Winnipeg lies on the bed of the ancient Lake Agassiz, a remnant of the Ice Age. When the ice receded, the land rebounded. Thus so is Winnipeg rebounding today from difficult years in which a slow-growth economy delayed a resurgence of the vitality that marked its heyday as a major rail junction and distribution centre for all of Western Canada, a time when Winnipeg was known as “The Chicago of the North.”

Back in the day tough-talking Winnipegers met civic detractors with the challenge: “I’m from the ‘Peg, so what?” No more. Today it’s a confident, “I’m from Winnipeg. Come see us!”