Ashern Detachment – August 1970 – July 1971
After my protective security stint in Ottawa my first community Policing posting was to the Province of Manitoba and the Town of Ashern that is located in the heart of Manitoba’s Northwest Interlake Region and 160 km’s or 2 hours north of Winnipeg on Highway #6.
Ashern was named after A. S. Hern, a timekeeper of the firm that constructed the railway that served the Western Interlake. The region supported the agriculture (beef in addition to pork/chicken farms), fishing, mineral extraction, recreation, and tourism industries.
The community of Ashern is the largest community in the Rural Municipality with around a 700 population and is the regional service center with a trading area of approximately 8,000 people. When I arrived the fall weather had set in and it wasn’t long before the winter was upon us. After the city of Ottawa this was a very big change to a very small town. The locals were generally seasoned and tough farming folk.
The RCMP Detachment office hasn’t changed since I was there it seems. There was a Corporal in-charge with 3 constables. I note today they have a Cpl and 4 constables and share a Sergeant from a nearby detachment and their patrol area is about half what it used to be when I worked the area. No wonder we were busy and thought we needed more staff.
The area of policing coverage was very large when I was there and much of our work centered on Indian reservations a long drive to the north at Fairford, Lake St Martin, Little Saskatchewan and the pubs that served them around the very rural Gympsumville area. We also patrolled the main highway 6 north and the rural farming communities to the east and west. Towns of Camper, Moosehorn, and Steep Rock were all within the patrol area.
It was very much a rural, farming area with sparse populations but a fair few pubs where the excitement never was far away. Ashern was a very small town with a western style main street with few shops, a bar and roadside dinners where I generally ate. During the winter months, it was cold, windy and snowy. Like any small town, there were various winter activities such as hockey, curling, skating, snowmobiling, ice-fishing, and cross-country skiing. Summer was fishing, golfing, baseball and BBQ’s.
My involvement with these was only in relation to call outs for fights at a hockey game or accidents or drinking problems. The Annual Ashern Rodeo with Street Dance, Fireworks, Parade and Rodeo Social were a big deal and part of Labour Day Weekend in Ashern. This last event I remember vividly due to what happened to me in the parking lot after inspecting the event on duty in uniform – ouch it hurt.
The main work was criminal investigations for assault, robbery, sexual assault, break and enter, motor vehicle accidents, drink driving and the like. From time to time there was involvement in drug investigations and surveillance. Policing took all our time and a day of rest was the break we took when we could.
Paperwork was always a pain and there were no computers – only typewriters so if you got it wrong – you did it all over again. My first NCO (the boss) was ferocious with a red pen and enjoyed seeing you have to retype pages of reports – sadistic bastard. It was his red pen that improved my writing skills – to some degree? I wish we had computers back then it would be so much easier.
Detachment life was all-consuming and you were on-call all the time. I lived at this Detachment in the single quarters; we had cells for those incarcerated and it didn’t matter if you were on or off duty, you were always required to support the operations. Our day off was usually involved with vehicle maintenance and general cleaning of the detachment. While we were on roster shifts they were usually long days of day shift inquiries and night-time patrols.
While Ashern and surrounding area were not that densely populate the major workload came from the Indian reservations to the north with some spread around the district. Casework was varied and covered a wide range of matters but here are some events that I recall:
First Arrest – I remember shortly after arriving at the detachment, it was the first Saturday, and a call to the office that reported a disturbance on the main street of town. The senior constable directed me to attend the incident – on my own – to pick up a routine and known town drunk. How difficult could this be – they told me he was a peaceful and compliant type – just ask him to get into the car and bring him back to sober up.
Upon arrival on the main street, I quickly identified a rather large but very drunken native man. He was staggering all over the street and being somewhat abusive. Ok – not sure about this but let’s give it a go. I pulled up in the police vehicle and with the bravado of a young constable, I alighted from the car to speak with the man. He was cooperative but very drunk but when I suggested that he would have to accompany me to the office his response was swift – ok, if you can put me in the car then I will come along. I questioned the statement and tried to convince him to simply sit in the back of the car for the short ride to the office – again if you can get me into the car then I will come along peacefully.
So it was on – as I stepped forward to try to maneuver him into the back of the patrol vehicle he began what was a very long and exhaustive wrestling match on the main street – perhaps the weekend entertainment in town. He was a very large, strong farm hand that wasn’t willing to comply. We wrestled standing, rolling and in various positions for what seemed an eternity and every time I got him near the car he would simply brace against the car. He was too big and strong to control on my own. Eventually, the game was over and we were both exhausted so he simply said I was a good sport and that he would come along now. He poured himself into the vehicle and we headed back to the office.
Upon arrival at the office cells, I was met with the loud laughter and jokes from my fellow RCMP member who had known what would transpire. It turned out to be my initiation into the detachment and test of initiative and guts – I believe. There would be many more of these types of incidents as I was to learn over the coming years.
Ashern Rodeo – All communities had a hall where big events were hosted. The rodeo weekend was big and involved a social dance night where the locals and people from the rural district let loose to drink, dance and have fun. This was known to be a place of fights and minor crime so visiting the event was part of the patrol duties. We would attend and speak with the organizers and mingle with the party goers to judge the mood and general sobriety of the crowd. Mixing with the locals was good for relations and I decided that in the spirit of fun I would have a few dances in uniform with locals at the community hall. This plan seemed to go down well, everyone got a laugh and enjoyed the good spirit of the Police.
All seemed well until we went to leave to get in our car in the parking lot – then I got hit in the side of the head and went down, out cold. I was hit with a brick in the parking lot that was thrown from the shadows so nobody saw who had taken the cowards act. I had a gash, was bleeding and very dizzy. After coming around and making inquiries no further suspects were located. The rodeo committee was told they needed to watch the behavior and that we would be back to ensure the closure of the bar and alcohol service as stipulated on the permit – without the brick incident, we probably would not have worried much about closing time. A lesson learned was that while you might think you are friendly with the locals – it may not be the case – or it was just a jealous boyfriend of a girl I had danced with. These were young and tough rodeo and farming community people who didn’t always take kindly to Police.
Farm Bestiality case – A call came into the office from a distraught farmer indicated one of his cows had been sexually assaulted. The story sounded bizarre but certainly required follow-up inquiries. A patrol to the very isolated farm with a veterinarian was organised. The details of the event were explained and an examination showed that this alleged act had indeed occurred. So how did the witness come to know who was involved and could they provide any evidence? The claim was that from an upper story bedroom window the witness could see some considerable distance into the open barn door while the act was in progress. The witness claimed to then have run to the barn to confront the perpetrator and stop the violation.
The person who apparently was offending the cow was a teenage neighbor boy. So how to prove this and could a credible case be made for court proceedings. First, we had to prove that the witness could, in fact, see into the barn at the distance and actually see the act. So cut out of a phallus was made and it was determined that this level of detail could not be made out from the window but the scene and actions might have been observed. Armed with statements from those involved the young offender was confronted and arrested. He eventually admitted to the act and a court date was set. Unfortunately, the young man didn’t get to have his day in court. A tragic farm accident occurred just a few days before the court hearing that took his life. It was a very sad situation for everyone involved but a situation that remains in my mind to this day.
Arrest during wedding – The Indian reservations in our jurisdiction were large, rough and rugged. Scattered throughout the desolate and wooded fields were run down government provided houses. Life on a reservation was often brutal with too much alcohol and violence among the community. We were always investigating injury accidents, assaults, break and enters, thefts and domestic violence. One weekend we were on evening patrol as usual around the reservation roads when we saw a few cars leaving a local community hall. We always had arrest warrants for various area residence (as they often failed to show up to court) and the usual routine was to pull over vehicles in search those wanted. Darkness had just fallen and the roof lights of the police vehicle were like a beacon in a storm – it could be seen for miles.
As we searched the vehicles it was apparent we had pulled over a wedding party and the groom was unfortunately wanted for serious offenses. We had no choice but to make his arrest which of course upset his bride and the party. We had been busy with the arrest and dealing with the vehicle occupants who were resisting our efforts. We were too busy to notice that the rest of the wedding guest, maybe 200, were fast approaching us. All of a sudden all hell broke loose as the large crowd descended on us – we began to fend off the attackers the best we could but the level of violence escalated and it was clear that if we didn’t get out of there, serious injury would result. Our police car had been left running and we made a dash for the car with the natives after us – we opened the doors and I hit the gas pedal to get out of there.
Gravel was flying from our wheels, our doors were open as the mob tried to pull us out of the car as it accelerated away. Our metal flashlights were our defensive tools that flayed around for our protection. Bodies were diving out-of-the-way and the noise of the crowd was defining and very scary. We had run for our lives – successfully. This area was about 2 hours north of our office and that was the closest backup. Our plan was to leave the wedding party in peace and to return the following day with some help to arrest our man. The result was a few arrests the next day for obstruction, assault, and resisting arrest. That was a wedding to remember.
The Big Hotel brawl – The call was for assistance at the pub; it was being demolished by about 200-300 involved in a mass fight. When we pulled into the dirt parking lot and it didn’t look like trouble was involved. We were soon advised the action was inside the large barn-like hotel beer parlor. Upon entry, there was a sea of people intwined with each other, fists flying and chairs being thrown or used to smash a fighter. There were two of us against the crowd and all attempts to take control, communicate or try to resolve the situation was useless as nobody was listening or paying attention to the Mounties.
How to get everyone’s attention and get control – no time for any back up as they were an hour away and would only 2 more at the most. Other detachments could assist but they would be an hour away. An action was needed before the place was destroyed and some serious injuries or worse would need to be investigated. I hadn’t used my revolver since training other than for annual qualifications. I wondered if I was to release a couple of shots into the large wooden ceiling if that might attract some attention – so out came the 38 and bang, bang – the fight stopped and I had everyone’s attention. Oh boy – now what.
All these drunken angry individuals that were now focused on me. I had managed to get the attention and support of some tribal elders and I loudly and confidently declared that the hotel bar was now closed and everyone would have to leave. They backed me up in their language. To give them an incentive I declared that “off sales” (or beer for sale over the counter which had been suspended) would be available to those that were prepared to leave and that we would be busy investigating this matter and not checking on who was driving in what condition.
I am sure I made other outlandish claims that could never have been carried out. This seemed to work as the crowd then slowly managed to leave the pub, get into their vehicles or buy more beer and leave. There was considerable damage to the place and many injuries but no complaints were filed and all ended. I think we had a couple of beers to regain our composure after all this before patrolling off into the dark of a Manitoba night.
Patrols & Investigations – With much of the case work taking place on the reservations we were often patrolling and making enquiries with the residence of the first nation reservations of Lake St Martin, Little Saskatchewan and xxxx. The conditions and the life of many were clearly difficult. These pictures depict a common vista when I was working and the conditions we often encountered during our policing activities. It clearly was a human services challenge for all involved.