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 which is located in the heart of Manitoba’s Northwest Interlake Region and 160 km or 2 hours north of Winnipeg on Highway #6.

Me dressed for action
Ashern Manitoba Detachment – Dressed for patrol

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.

Ashern town
Rural Ashern community in winter

The community of Ashern is the largest community in the Rural Municipality with around 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 BBQs.

My involvement with these was only in relation to callouts for fights at a hockey game or accidents or drinking problems. The Annual Ashern Rodeo with Street Dance, Fireworks, Parade, and Rodeo Social was 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, drunk 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 the 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 farmhand 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 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 partygoers 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 cowardly act.  I had a gash, was bleeding, and was 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 the Police.

The dance hall where I was bricked

Farm Bestiality case – A call came into the office from a distraught farmer who 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.

reservation patrol

Arrest During the 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 in the community.  We were always investigating injury accidents, assaults, break-and-enter, 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 residences (as they often failed to show up to court) and the usual routine was to pull over vehicles in search of 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 guests, 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, the 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, and 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 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 intertwined 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 were useless as nobody was listening or paying attention to the Mounties.

How to get everyone’s attention and get control – no time for any backup 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. 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 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 casework taking place on the reservations we were often patrolling and making inquiries with the residents of the first nation reservations of Lake St Martin, Little Saskatchewan, and another.  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.

Playing Chicken leads to death – Hwy 6 leads from Winnipeg north and is the main supply route for trucks taking goods to northern communities.  The roads aren’t busy and the large freight trucks often haul at speed up the desolate stretches.  We were having dinner one evening on a break from patrols in the northern Indian reservations when a truck driver stopped to inform us that there was someone playing chicken with trucks on the highway a few miles south.  He said that a fatal accident may occur if this person was not stopped.

We headed south to try to locate this maniac probably a local who was drunk.  Sure enough, a few miles sought we saw a truck stopped on the highway with lights flashing. The driver was outside the vehicle and in a state of shock.  He explained that as he was driving along a person had jumped out in front of the truck he was operating.  It was a large heavy hauler that had been traveling at the speed limit.  A person and a truck at speed do not mix well and we found the body of a well-known local some distance from the truck in a ditch.  He was deceased.

Having witnessed a number of deaths from vehicle accidents, suicide, or natural causes you do become less traumatized by these sights. An investigation into this fatal accident followed and the number of broken bones in this person’s body from the impact – was profound.  It reminded everyone of a case of jello – it is strange how one handles adverse situations and the jello scenario seemed to be a coping strategy when explaining it.  Enough of this.

The highway where the accident happened. I still recall it on google maps after all this time

High-speed pursuits – Driver training during the recruiting phase was to prepare you for the real world.  Here pursuits were usually on dirt or gravel roads that were dry and very dusty in summer or snow and ice-covered in winter making this task very perilous.  I recall a number of pursuits in our police car chasing wanted suspects or persons with warrants around the roads of the Indian reserves,  The dust would be billowing up everywhere and you would think you were chasing the dust cloud, not the car – one never knew what was coming at you through the dust.

One dark night drug suspects were trying to make an escape on the dirt back roads that they knew, but our team didn’t – a T intersection loomed too close at speed and we ended up in the forest with serious damage to our car.

Another time a long pursuit at speed up Hwy 6 for over an hour with no one else to help resulted in some gunfire across the hood of the fleeing vehicle to get it to stop. They turned out to be Winnipeg criminal types wanted on warrants. These were only a few examples of some of the exciting challenges of my chosen career. The satisfaction of successful arrest and prosecution were our rewards.

Winnipeg Detachment – July 1971 – April 1972

This was the sub-division communication and reporting office. It is funny but I don’t have a clear recollection of much of this posting.  I recall that we took calls, dispatched patrols at outlying detachments, checked vehicles for defect correction notices, took bail and court-ordered reporting requirements, received telex messages, and were the after-hours point of contact for a duty officer.  It had to be important to wake up the duty officer as I recall and received my fair share of dressing down for an unnecessary wake-up call – you learn fast.  I recall there was a lot of day shift support but the night shift was lonely and you were on your own for decisions.

I lived in a house full of RCMP officers in the city of Winnipeg. We had our own rooms and shared kitchen arrangements.  It seems we didn’t spend much time there as we were working out and enjoying ourselves, as you do.  A look at the house and my room remind me of an interesting time.  I still had my scuba equipment from my hometown days, a canoe and snowmobile in tow.  I was set for any adventure.

Flood support – We were all loaded onto the back of army vehicles and transported to the town of Lundar, Manitoba for support in flood relief efforts.  The local river had swollen to the degree that the town was flooding.  Filling sandbags and stacking them against the rising river is a vivid memory.  It was hard work in the heavy rain with long hours.  We would gain on the river and then it would gain on us.  Locals were preparing and sharing food and drinks as our group along with many others works a few days to try to save the town.  The rain stopped and the river subsided and the efforts of many had proven reasonably successful in preventing a total loss to the community.  There were appreciation activities at the end but I was thankful to return to Winnipeg and normality.

Hostage situation – On another occasion, a number of officers were tasked to support a nearby detachment with an armed and barricaded person situation. A group of us had driven in our police vehicle to the location.  We were briefed that we would be providing relief resources for a large cordon that was in place.  A person who Police had attempted to arrest was now barricaded in their house and was shooting sporadically at police.  We had to crawl into our appointed position around the residence. I was in a ditch with an observation of the residence.  Occasionally shots would ring out from a high-powered rifle.  A few of those came towards my location as I heard them pass by or into the ground nearby.

This was real and not that much fun. Negotiation was underway with loudspeakers and the house was surrounded.  We stayed in the location overnight as I recall with too many mosquitoes for company.  During the night shots would ring out and radios would communicate locations.  It was a tense night and a nervous one.  In the early morning hours, it was announced that the person had given up and an arrest had been made.  I was thankful not to be on the receiving end of any further bullets. Body armor was not something that we used.

Portage Le Prairie Detachment – April 1972 – March 1973

Main street of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba – many a patrol on this road

It was a small city in the Central Plans region of Manitoba. Today it has a population of about 13,000 covering about 25 square kilometers.  Portage la Prairie is located approximately 75 kilometers west of Winnipeg along the Trans Canada Highway and sits on the Assiniboine River. The city is surrounded by the rural municipality of Portage la Prairie that largely supports a vast prairie farming community.

The RCMP city office detachment used to be in the basement of the city hall when I was stationed there – it has a new building today. Our office was an old stone building and the basement that housed the police reminded me of a castle dungeon – particularly the cell area.  I was posted to the city patrol portion of the detachment. There was a separate group of highway patrol, rural area patrols, and specialist squads. It wasn’t very fancy as you can see and the entrance was not very appealing at all – but many of our clients weren’t into aesthetics.

Casework was generally routine with city crime prevention patrols. vehicle traffic stops and incident first response & investigation inquiries. Shift work of days, afternoons, and nights filled our roster.  The day shift was involved in court appearances, investigations, and follow-ups on events of the previous night. Nights were usually consumed with bar fights, drunks again, and prevention of break and enters and theft from businesses. Car accidents, loud parties, and disturbances of all manner were ever-present and required a response. City policing was different in some ways from the rural work previously due to the concentration of offenders.

A rape – The most traumatic event for me was a rape of a four-year-old boy sticks in my mind as the most heinous and brutal crime I was involved with.  The court and defense system began to weigh on my sense of justice.  Suffice it to say the investigation was sickening, the collection of evidence and statements made you want to vomit.  In court giving evidence was the most distressful with the defense lawyers trying every trick in the book to get their client off.  Cross-examination was grueling and at times you felt like you were the criminal and not the accused.  After a number of court appearances, you do get wise and cute with the defense and learn to protect yourself as I recall, The takeout on this case was a guilty verdict and many years in prison.  The young child required extensive medical treatment and trauma.

The Big Angry Brothers – A call for assistance at a local hotel bar for two brothers causing trouble – these two were trouble and had just been released from prison having done time for murder.  They were large, strong Indian lads who liked to drink, fight and be violent.  We were dispatched to handle the call – my small partner and I.  As we approached the hotel on the main street the two towering men were seen leaving the hotel bar and walking down the main street.  I was driving and parked the car to confront these two.  I thought my partner was with me but he had remained in the car to call for backup – gee thanks.  I can only remember him looking at me through the windshield of the police car – indicating he was on the radio?  I needed assistance – apparently, while I had left the car the dispatcher had advised that backup was en route and to wait before approaching due to their violent nature.  I didn’t get that little message, did I?

It didn’t take long before these two giants decided I would be the next bit of fun for the day – as I was attempting to question them and advise they may be arrested, they quickly scooped me up one under each of my arms and walked me down the main street with my feet high off the ground.  I tried to remain in control and calm with all this and it did draw a lot of attention from the town folk going about their business.  Lucky for me these boys weren’t too drunk, they were in a reasonably good mood and were just having some fun.  We had gone about a block when a few backup cars arrived with the help that made me feel like I would survive this.  A scuffle occurred as they were arrested and it took a number of officers to subdue and handcuff these two hulks and get them into our cars for a trip to the station.  They saw this as all good fun – a few charges were laid and they ended up back in prison for parole violations and other offenses.  My little partner never left the car that day – much to my annoyance, until backup arrived.  What happened to our teamwork?

Pub fights – there were a few hotels with large beer bars in town and it was generally a daily occurrence to get calls for drunks and fights. Sometimes they were minor and easy and other times there were large groups and those that wanted to have a go at or with the Police.  We always accommodated them and our cells always respected their presence the easy or hard way.  It was work that one quickly tired of – or at least I did.  This wasn’t what I wanted to be doing for years to come…

Otherwise, life in the small city of Portage was good.  It has a historic past sporting relics of long-gone forts and days of old. I had a room rented from the Gillan family at 21-7th Ave NE. My wheels of the day had changed and were rather fancy and I enjoyed canoeing and fishing. Check out the photo of my residence and wheels on a fishing trip to Sheeprock Lake in the summer of 72.

Community participation

This was something that was encouraged by our Detachment commander. I joined Big Brothers and took on the role of mentor to a 10-year-old boy, whose mother was a single parent.  It was a great time and we learned a lot from this experience.  Camping, fishing, canoeing, movies, and activities on my days off provided a great connection, and allowed me relief from policing and a break for his mother.

I think “giving back” in your life can have tremendous rewards and allows you to grow personally. My decision to leave the RCMP for travels overseas and breaking the big brother bond was difficult and we didn’t keep in touch, unfortunately – I recall his mother wanted it that way.