Circa 1977 and I have 4 years of service with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. During that time, I have been posted at a three-man detachment at Whitemouth, Manitoba. Whitemouth is the largest of several small mixed farming communities within the East-Man Region of Manitoba, hence the chosen location for the regional police office. Whitemouth also guards the western border of the Whiteshell Provincial Park. Hard working and law abiding, the population in all communities within the region was very pro-police and the local police officers were in turn very pro-community. Generally, the incidents of crime ranged from minor traffic accidents to personal and public disputes, while the “clients” most often encountered were more characters than criminals. For the most part, single man work-shifts were conducted throughout the region covering 16 hours of the day. The remaining coverage was on a call-out basis. Many complaints or calls for service were routed to us through the headquarters detachment in Winnipeg. Any overtime worked was unpaid and rarely rescheduled.
The RCMP is Canada’s national police service, whose mandate is to provide federal law enforcement to all Canadian provinces and territories. With the exception of Ontario and Quebec (who have their own provincial police) 8 provinces and three territories also contract “The Force” to offer policing service to provincial, municipal and aboriginal communities. The RCMP training academy (Depot Division) is located in Regina. I was accepted as a 3rd Class Constable to “Depot” in May 1973.
In 1973, employment in the RCMP was restricted to single men only. A rigorous recruitment criterion was used to select young males with a demonstrated work ethic and a personality suited to a para-military environment.
Law enforcement is no stranger to tragedy and working in a provincial park environment brings the focus of accidental death to the forefront. The recreational use of lakes, rivers and highways, back country roads and winter snowmobile trails increases the possibility of accidents for weekend enthusiasts who choose to stray beyond their levels of expertise and their boundaries of safe practice in pursuit of an enjoyable pastime. Such was the case in the following story; family names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Cross Lake is a small community situated approximately 800 kilometers North of Manitoba’s capital city of Winnipeg. The population of 3000 Cree First Nations inhabitants is divided into four suburbs, delineated in one part by the Nelson River that flows through it and in the second part by a cultural and legal status of the residents who live there.
The banks of the Nelson River were a historical settlement choice of many Cree communities in Northern Manitoba, giving them easy access to traditional hunting grounds. Later day settlement factors were also determined by the extensive hydroelectric development of the Nelson watershed ranging from from Lake Winnipeg North to Hudson Bay.
While I plan to shift the focus over a wide range of my life’s experience in this blog, I need to stay in the moment or rather the year 1973 to introduce your Mom and the circumstance of our meeting, courtship and marriage.
Rural Manitoba in 1973 was very pro-police. That being true, the citizens of Whitemouth had stronger regard for the 3 working Members of Whitemouth Detachment. While RCMP Members in Whitemouth served the entire municipality, they were a stronger part of the community in which they physically lived. The Reeve of the Municipality coveted the regional police office and neighbouring towns within the municipality were envious of the in-town police presence, and while there was no requirement to live “in town”, it was certainly politically preferred.
In this first story, it is November 1973 and I am a newly minted police officer, a graduate of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police training academy in Regina, Saskatchewan. My first posting was Whitemouth Manitoba, a mixed farming community located 100 kilometers East of Manitoba’s capital city Winnipeg and 30 kilometers from the largest provincial park in the province, The Whiteshell. The population of Whitemouth was 900 persons at this time and the town hosted the regional RCMP Detachment. Three members were stationed there.
As a city boy born and raised, it was a bit surreal arriving at my first posting as a rookie police officer. The area was decidedly rural; houses were interspersed, small and generally located well back from the two lane provincial highway that joined the big city to The Whiteshell provincial park, a seasonal and commercial tourist area that meandered through numerous lakes over a geographical area of 2800 square miles. The largest structures that stood out on the landscape during most of my drive were dairy barns and feed silos.
April 25th; my birthday. I opened my eyes to my 65th year of living a wonderful life. Lying in bed, not yet stirring, I looked out through my fifth storey window; the reward and magic of my life was apparent in the things I saw. Below me, bordering the river, barren trees stood waiting for that first brush of warm weather, protecting their leafy buds until completely sure that winter’s frosty hand had been withdrawn. Above, a flock of gulls soared majestically, riding the thermal currents formed from newly heated patches of dark earth uncovered by the receding ice and snow. In between, dark and dusty buildings awoke and stretched, unburdened by the many months of cold, and ice, and snow; elements that would have killed any entity more human than they, over the same period of time. And stretch they did, turning lifelike before my eyes. One resembled a dog, no, was a dog, rising and stretching from his sleep on a soft white pillow.