SASKATOON -- He was one of the most recognizable residents in Saskatoon and some people consider the Prairie city a little different now that he's gone.
Alvin Cote wasn't a well-known politician, businessman or hockey player, but a ragged, homeless alcoholic whose tough talk would easily melt into a hearty chuckle and a big smile short on teeth.
He spent that past couple of decades living in Saskatoon. He could be seen curled up on floor of a bank foyer, sleeping on park benches or reading worn copies of National Geographic in the drunk tank.
He died April 19, a few days shy of his 60th birthday.
Saskatoon police officers are still talking about his death, even though they considered it an inevitable fate. It's believed Cote had been arrested more times for public drunkenness than anyone else in the city's history. Some officers put the tally at close to 1,000.
Although his obituary does not list an official cause of death, police say Cote was in hospital with pneumonia when he died.
Downtown beat officer Const. Derek Chesney was surprised and saddened when he heard the news. He saw the man almost every day over the past five years.
"It's not often that you can arrest somebody on multiple occasions and end up being friends with them. But such was the case with Alvin," Chesney recently wrote on his official police blog, Cops and Bloggers.
The officer confesses he had a good cry after writing the online tribute. He fights back tears again as he talks on the phone about the important life lesson Cote taught him.
"You realize that people can fall through the cracks," says Chesney. "And just as much as a good person can have a bad day, things can happen to people in their lives where they end up going on a path that perhaps they didn't choose."
Cote was from the Cote First Nation in the Kamsack area, east of Saskatoon near the Manitoba boundary. He was carted off as a child to a residential school on a neighbouring reserve and suffered years of abuse, says Chesney.
He says Cote never talked about it, but the abuse likely set him on his destructive path. Cote has a sister in Saskatoon and she tried to look after Cote for a while, says Chesney. But he wouldn't stop drinking.
Chesney remembers meeting Cote for the first time in the winter of 2009 outside the old train station downtown. Chesney had just earned his badge and saw the man with a scraggly beard tapping and flexing his arms, yelling his catch-phrase: "I'm a fighter."
Chesney calmed him down by asking, "I heard you were a lover, not a fighter."
"Well, I'm that too," Cote laughed.
Chesney and his partner then put Cote in their cruiser and, as they were heading back to the police station, Cote knocked on the dividing window with $5 in his hand. He said he was hungry. Chesney ran into a McDonald's and got him two double cheeseburgers. Cote happily devoured his meal during the rest of the ride.
Chesney says he and many other officers looked out for Cote. They checked on him at night and made sure he had enough to eat. Sometimes, when Cote was hanging out on his usual bench in the public lobby of the police station, officers changing shifts would hand him their lunches as they walked by.
One time, when Cote was in detention on his birthday, staff rummaged up a cupcake and stuck a candle on top. "They actually had everybody on key and everybody else in cells sang Happy Birthday. He blew the candle out through the bars."
Chesney says he last saw Cote a few weeks before he died, sitting outside a Tim Hortons.
-- The Canadian Press