The Birth of Winkler
Between 1874 and 1879 there was a mass migration of Mennonites from Russia, most of whom settled in the “West Reserve” in Manitoba. They were the first settlers to demonstrate that it was possible to live and farm well upon the open treeless prairie. The reserve of 612 sections of land became dotted with over 50 small villages, each consisting of 20 to 30 families. When the Canadian Pacific Railway constructed a spur running through the northern most edge of the reserve, settlers were drawn to start a new community alongside the railway in 1892. The land, on which this community sprang up, belonged to Mr. Valentine Winkler and it was officially incorporated as the Village of Winkler in 1906.
Early Law Enforcement
Law enforcement was first officially carried out by the Mounted Constabulary Force, established in 1870, which covered the entire Province of Manitoba. They were later named the Provincial Police Force and then renamed again to the Manitoba Provincial Police. In 1906 the need was felt to retain the services of a full time constable for Winkler alone, and on June 16th of that year, Council appointed Jacob J. Schulz to that position at a rate of 25 cents an hour.
The duties of subsequent constables varied from time to time to include such responsibilities as bell ringer, pound keeper, traffic control, night watchman, fire chief, weed inspector, building inspector, and license inspector. On special occasions, such as a sports day, special constables would be hired to assist for that particular day.
In May of 1907, August Graefer was hired to replace Jacob Schulz at a rate of $35 per month. The constable position was re-evaluated regularly and appointments varied from one month to over a year in length. The rate of pay would also vary from month to month fluctuating from $25 – $35 per month, depending on the duties included.
In 1913 William Leiding took over the position of constable. Leiding filled that role until the end of 1917 when August Graefer was hired as town constable for the second time.
In 1910 the first cell for imprisonment was built in the Fire Engine room of the Municipal Office situated at the corner of Main Street and Mountain Avenue. No need for a police office existed at that time; however a resolution was passed to build an overnight holding facility to sober up the drunk and disorderly. In 1946 a new municipal office and fire hall was built directly half a block west of the first site and at that location (571 Mountain Ave.) in 1959, the town renovated the waiting area of the Municipal Office to create a space for the first police office. Later in 1966, when space was not sufficient, the Police Department was moved down the street into the basement of the Winkler Library located at 664 Mountain Avenue. This was the location until 1971 when they moved back into the Municipal Office after the Fire Hall was removed from that location renovating it once again to accommodate the Police Department. 10 years later a new facility was built and the Police Department along with the Civic Offices were moved to their current location at 185 Main Street.
The Infamous Bank Robbery
On the early morning of October 13th 1920, five bandits robbed the Union Bank of Canada on Main Street in Winkler, and made their get-away with $19,000.
Claude Williams, teller in the bank, was awakened at 2:55 a.m. with a revolver and flashlight stuck in his face and the words “hands up” in his ears. Williams was ordered to open the safe and was treated quite roughly until he told them he was a returned soldier. He opened the vault door, which opens into the room where he slept, but said that he did not know the combination of the inner safe where the money was stored. He was bound and put in bed again, while the robbers worked leisurely at the safe, charging it with nitroglycerine. While working, they carried on a discussion with him on the war, saying they were ex-American soldiers. “Our government did not give us any bonus,” one said, “so we’re going to get it out of Canada.” When the safe was ready for explosion, the men carried Williams, in his bed, to the yard and advised him to cover his ears as he said he had been shell-shocked during the war.
The first and second explosion failed to open the safe, but the third charge sent the heavy safe door flying a distance of 20 feet and through the bars of the tellers cage as well as blowing a hole through the two foot thick brick wall of the safe.
William Graefer, aged blacksmith, who lived directly across the street, was awakened by the blasts and immediately got out of bed to see what was happening. A fifth bandit guarding the front of the bank ordered him back into his house, threatening to shoot. In a heroic attempt to warn the villagers, Graefer made a dash for the village bell, 100 yards away from the bank, but the bandit shot at him three times, the third shot wounding him in the legs. Graefer would survive the 50 pellets of shot lodged in his legs. Other residents who left their houses were ordered back under threat of death.
Mean while, one block away, Mrs. George Hiebert was awakened by the shots and awoke her husband, the village police constable. Another citizen also ran to the Hiebert residence to urge him to go out. Constable George Hiebert remained in his house however and later explained that he did not go out as his wife made him stay with her and he admitted that he’d been afraid.
After working for over one hour and 30 minutes and taking all the money in sight, the bandits dashed for a high powered car which had been left standing just outside the village, several blocks away from the bank.
It was half an hour after the bandits left before anyone dared approach the bank. Williams had to extricate himself from his bonds and attended to the constable’s house to advise him that the coast was clear.
The robbers were never located but were believed to be Americans who had been engaged in running liquor across the border. They had a thorough knowledge of the town, and had cut the telephone and telegraph wires as well as taken the precaution of cutting the rope on the village bell.
When news of the big robbery in Winkler reached Winnipeg later that morning, Cecil Lamont of the Manitoba Free Press, chartered an Avro-5 biplane and in less than one hour was in Winkler “covering” the story. The Free Press set a precedent in being the first to use air route to gather news for its readers. On October 13th 1970, exactly 50 years later, this historic flight was commemorated by re-enacting the plane flight in a biplane similar to that used in the original flight.
Research into this famous robbery has left the Winkler Police Service with some unanswered questions. Original Council Minutes show that all police constables throughout all years were appointed by resolution. August Graefer was penned as the appointed constable from 1917-1922. Where was he at the time of the robbery and why is his name not mentioned in any of the newspaper articles? The officer, George Hiebert mentioned in the news articles, is not mentioned in any minutes of council, as being appointed the position of constable. Why not? If anyone has any information about this and can assist, please contact the Winkler Police Service.
The Tragedy of Constable John F. Loewen
In 1923, February 7th, John F. Loewen was hired to replace August Graefer. Tragically, Loewen’s term was cut short, the result of an accidental fire that started at his residence on 4th Street.
On October 16th of that year, Mr. Loewen got up at 7:00 a.m. and quietly hurried into the summer kitchen to light a fire in order to prepare a light breakfast before leaving with friends on a short trip to hunt prairie chickens. In his hurry, he mistook a can of gasoline for kerosene and when he poured the contents of the can onto the burning embers the resulting explosion spattered gasoline on his clothing which burst into flames. In order to extinguish the flames, Mr. Loewen dashed out of the kitchen and rolled around on the street. However this had little effect and therefore he ran down the street to ring the town bell and thus summon the volunteer fire brigade to extinguish the flames which he evidently assumed were destroying the summer kitchen. Fortunately, the only damage to the kitchen was that the inside walls were covered with smoke and soot, but in running about a block to the belfry tower, all the clothing except for the shoes on his feet were burned from Mr. Loewen’s body. After pulling the rope and ringing the bell, Mr. Loewen in great agony fled across Mountain Avenue to the residence of Dr. G. F. Weatherhead. When the doctor’s wife opened the door she was so frightened by what she saw, that later she too became ill due to shock. As there was no hospital in Winkler, Mr. J. A. Kroeker provided the transportation and his brother Mr. A. A. Kroeker gave physical and spiritual comfort to Mr. Loewen in the back seat of the car on the way to the Morden Hospital. Mrs. Loewen awoke later on to find that her husband had been taken to the Morden Hospital.
That evening Mrs. Loewen and her 2 year old son Johnny were taken to the bedside of her husband. Because of the swelling, Mr. Loewen asked his wife to open his eyes so that he could see his infant son.
At 7:00 a.m. the next morning Mr. Loewen died and Mrs. Loewen and her family planned to hold the funeral service in the Winkler Mennonite Brethren Church. However, since Mr. Loewen had served as a policeman there was considerable objection and discussion by the Church membership as to the propriety of permitting the family to conduct the funeral service in the M.B. Church. Fortunately, good will prevailed and the doors of the Church were opened for a fellow-citizen who in life had performed his duties of protecting not only the church membership but also their building.
After the funeral, the Winkler Village Council suggested to Mrs. Loewen that if she and her 14 year-old son Abe would continue the duties of her deceased husband and ring the town bell regularly in the morning, at noon, and in the evening until the end of the month, the Council would pay her the $25.00 salary that was due her departed loved one. As her young son did not have the courage to ring the bell because the rope in the belfry was still covered with blood and skin from the hands of his father, Mrs. Loewen rang the town bell herself.
Finding a Replacement
The day following Mr. Loewen’s death, Winkler Village Council met and appointed John D. Dyck as policeman while they began their search for a full time replacement. John Dyck continued as constable until the end of January 1924 when August Graefer made a short return, being hired for the month of February. On March 4th council was able to find a full time replacement and appointed Fred Hill as constable for the remainder of the year at $25 per month. Hill served the citizens of Winkler as village constable until his departure in early 1928.
The Saga of Officer Jack Felde
On April 3rd 1928, Village Council appointed Jack Felde as “policeman” to take Fred Hill’s place. Jack Felde, age 33, could not have known that he was about to enter a career that would lead him to become the longest standing police officer in Winkler’s history. Not only did his legacy span four decades but even to this day, he is remembered and revered as being a “good and fair” officer, one of compassion and understanding. Throughout his tenure as policeman, he also at times wore many other hats; that of public works foreman, cemetery caretaker, weed inspector, ice-maker at the skating rink, building inspector and even fire chief. In late 1928, council passed a resolution that they would pay Mr. Felde an additional dollar for every person he fined and put into jail. This would have been an opportunity to pad his salary; however people remember him as an officer who would often give people a second chance; lecturing drunken persons and often taking them home instead of locking them up.
In the 1940’s Jack Felde purchased a 1926 Model T Roadster which he used to patrol the streets of Winkler, receiving a small mileage allowance for its use. Felde was also known for having a constant companion in his canine partner. Whether on patrol by foot or car, “King”, a German Shepard, was always at his side, until he was one of five dogs poisoned by an irate citizen.
During the earlier years, policing was a part of the Felde household, as troublemakers and witnesses alike were often interviewed in the kitchen of the Felde home. Mrs. Anne Felde made meals for prisoners which she delivered to the holding cell in the municipal office. Jack Felde had policed for 31 years before space for town constables was provided for in the municipal office.
In October of 1953, an agreement was entered into between the Village of Winkler and Jack Felde for the creation of a retirement fund in which each party would place an amount equal to 5% of Felde’s annual salary. Jack Felde continued on with part time duty, even after his official retirement on February 1st 1964 and eventually left policing for good in 1967 after 39 years of service.
Expansion of the Police Department
As the demands of the position increased, so did the complement of police officers. The Town of Winkler hired Chief Felde’s son-in-law, Walter Nauer on July 21st, 1958 to work as a Constable under Chief Felde. Nauer later was appointed Police Chief in 1964 when Felde entered semi-retirement. In the fall of 1963, the hiring of Herb Klassen brought the number of officers up to three. Klassen also was later promoted to the position of Police Chief in 1973. In 1974 a fourth officer was added, and then a fifth in 1975 and a sixth in 1977. The years following saw a tremendous employee turn over but additional staff was not added until much later when finally in 1989 a seventh officer was added.
Expanded Policing Agreements
In 1967 the R.M. of Stanley hired Walter Nauer to provide police protection in their municipality, in addition to his full time employment as Chief Constable with the Winkler Police Department (WPD). Sighting a number of concerns with this arrangement, in January 1969 the Town of Winkler and the R.M. of Stanley came to an arrangement whereby the WPD would provide police protection for the rural municipality as a whole. In 1970 the Village of Plum Coulee also placed a request for patrols and law enforcement. This resulted in an agreement reached on Sept. 27th of that year whereby the WPD would make three patrols per week for a retainer fee of $100 and extra calls to be calculated at $4.00 per hour, covering man and mileage.
On Feb. 28th 1971 the R.M. of Stanley terminated their agreement with the WPD as they were able to receive coverage from the RCMP at no cost. In January 1972, the Village of Plum Coulee also withdrew from their agreement as they were also of sufficient population to receive RCMP protection at no cost.
In summary, members of the Winkler Police Department provided police protection to the R.M. of Stanley for four years and to the Village of Plum Coulee for two and a half years. WPD still did respond to needs within the R.M. whenever the RCMP were not available, and billed the R.M. on these occasions.
A Homicide in Winkler
A sad case of one alcohol abuser living together with another alcohol abuser led to Winkler’s first homicide. Sixty-eight year old Abraham Janzen Wall of Winkler was charged with second degree murder in connection with the death of his wife in November 1984. Cause of death was asphyxiation. Wall plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter and was eventually sentenced to two years less a day in Headingley Jail.
The couple, both extremely inebriated, had been arguing about her alcohol consumption when the altercation occurred. An autopsy showed that direct pressure on the windpipe caused the asphyxiation and that a blood/alcohol reading of nearly .34 was recorded for Helen Wall.
A New Millennium – A Time of Change
It was 1999 and the seven officer police department had remained virtually unchanged for over 20 years. Only an independent Victim Services Unit was added in 1998 which greatly enhanced the quality of service provided to victims of crime. The community continued to grow, but the contingent of officers only increased by one during this time.
Concerns over pay and working conditions led officers to form a Police Association which resulted in the signing of the first collective agreement in April of 2000. Within a two month period following this signing, Chief of Police Bernie Miller retired and three police officers resigned to accept employment with other police services.
Town council drew from within its ranks, promoting Rick Hiebert to the Chief of Police position. One trained replacement officer was found immediately and the police service functioned with a skeleton crew of four officers for the remainder of the year.
In order to better understand the functionality and the needs of the police service, a Police Committee was created, consisting of three members of council, the town CAO, and the Chief of Police.
In 2002, Winkler officially received City status and growth in all areas continued at record rates.
A five-year plan was struck and hiring began in earnest. Over the following five years, the Winkler Police Service grew steadily, as it held seven separate processes to locate and hire officers. 11 officers were hired with the last two additions graduating from Police Recruit Class in May of 2006. The 15 officer police service now had the numbers required to become proactive in its approach, conduct thorough investigations, and implement a special two officer Traffic Section dedicated to combat the ever increasing complaints of traffic violations. For the first time ever the Winkler Police Service matched the national average of police officers to population ratio. Also implemented during this time was the hiring of a second office clerk and the creation of an entirely new Inspector rank.
The Winkler Police Service was growing and was now in a position to maintain the positive reputation of the City of Winkler. An indicator as to the success of an adequately staffed, properly functioning police service was the immediate drop in criminal code statistics. In 2004 Criminal Code (C.C.) offences reported were 996. This dropped to 966 in 2005 and then fell by another 19.25% in 2006 to only 807. Such a dramatic reduction in numbers coupled with a 62% clearance rate are extremely rare in any community and one that Winkler can be extremely proud of.
Historical Points of Interest
Did you know…?
That the Halloween of 1969 reached proportions which required the Fire Department to assist in using water to gain control of the 100 plus person crowd which unleashed extensive damage to property. Vehicles and camper trailers were over turned as well as business windows smashed. Winkler Council made a public statement commending both the police and fire departments for the fine manner in which they handled a very serious and difficult situation that Halloween night.
The minutes of a Council meeting held January 10, 1967 indicate a resolution to advertise for a “third policeman”, that he must be married, and over the age of 21.
Back on December 9th, 1969 Council served notice prohibiting over night parking on streets during winter months because of the snow problems created. This was therefore the first Snow – Parking Ban.
Winkler issued licence plates for bicycles. The metal plates measuring 5 ½ x 3 inches each bore individual numbers and were first issued in 1960 at a cost of 50 cents. This fee was increased to $1.00 in 1976 and then increased further to $2.00 in 1981. The Bylaw was rescinded in 1990.
Winkler’s former Chief of Police, Rick Hiebert, is a Grand Master, the highest level a handgun shooter can achieve in Police Pistol and Revolver Combat shooting competitions. As a member of the Canadian Police Combat Association (CPCA), Hiebert is the only police chief to shoot at these sanctioned events.