In the end, all that remained were three bewildered campers and two trucks full of tarps, tents and trash.
It took less than an hour Wednesday for Winnipeg police and provincial parks officers to dismantle Canada's longest-standing encampment of the Occupy Wall Street movement. They swooped down on Occupy Winnipeg's Memorial Park site at 7 a.m., tucked the last three protesters into police cars and proceeded to shut down a demonstration that had survived for 67 days.
The province made the decision to move in Tuesday, citing fire and security reasons.
"It had become an unmanageable risk," Manitoba Conservation district supervisor Joe Johannesson said.
Several suspicious fires had been set in the past, Johannesson said, and hay bales were set on fire Saturday.
Conservation Minister Dave Chomiak told reporters the province acted after receiving a report from the Office of the Fire Commissioner Tuesday stating "conditions were unsafe" at the site.
"We respect people's right to their opinions. We respect people's right to protest," Chomiak said. "But when it comes to a situation that the fire commissioner says that it is not safe, it's our duty to protect people. And that's why the action was taken."
He said if the Occupiers put up more tents this winter, they will be immediately removed. He deflected questions about whether the province would allow the movement to set up more tents in the spring.
"I was surprised, actually," said protester Terry Weaymouth, who joined the Occupy Winnipeg movement just days after it began on Oct. 15.
"We've been very co-operative... They said we weren't under arrest, but they checked us for weapons, and put us in a police car."
Weaymouth said he had fully expected to hold his ground throughout Christmas. After an online fire threat Monday night, he said, supporters had taken turns keeping vigil over the site.
"This was the start, but it's not the finish," he vowed.
"I think it's important that we set up again to visibly show we're not going to be shut down as a movement."
Kristaps Balodis shared Weaymouth's surprise.
"We didn't think it was going to happen. Honestly, I didn't. We have the right to peaceful assembly and protest."
It was Canada's last "Occupy" encampment, part of a rallying cry that swept across the country Oct. 15 in more than 20 cities.
The movement began as a day of action to show solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City. Thousands of people from Moncton, N.B., to Vancouver set up tent cities to demonstrate for social and economic equality.
Each site, one by one, was shut down.
"(It) was the last one," said Clyde Moore, head of security at the Manitoba Legislative Building, where demonstrators were turned away from using the facilities weeks ago. In defiance, they added their own porta-potty.
Moore noted Winnipeg's protest differed from the others because it was located on provincial land. That's why the province had to make the call to shut it down, and Manitoba Conservation officers were on the scene Wednesday morning.
At its peak weeks ago, Occupy Winnipeg attracted as many as 100 supporters a day, Weaymouth said. It held about two dozen tents, including a kitchen/food storage area, and food donations poured in. A teepee was erected to serve as a library/free store, as well as an open-mic area for entertainers to rally demonstrators' spirits.
"Profs came here to give workshops and brought classes down" to observe and discuss the issues.
"It was really great," Weaymouth said.
"The whole country was watching us."
A Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman said she was not aware of any calls related to criminal activity at the site. However, the arson strike force is involved in investigating fires that happened there.
Battle of ideas
"The Manitoba government's surprise action this morning is inexcusable and illegal. The excuse provided today by the Manitoba government for forcibly detaining the Occupy protesters and removing their belongings from the protest campsite is totally lame and is a cover for what amounts to a heavy blow to the democratic rights of all Manitobans."
-- Darrel Rankin, leader Manitoba Communist Party
"The collective yawn over their ouster speaks volumes. They just do not have much in the way of public support, and in a democracy, that is the ultimate verdict. Believe it or not, the public just doesn't have a big problem with people being financially successful. It's called 'freedom.' "
-- Felix 1, commenting on the Free Press website
"The Winnipeg Police Service was in attendance today to assist Conservation while the Occupy site was dismantled, to keep the peace if required. There were no issues of concern; the individuals on site were co-operative."
-- Statement by Winnipeg Police Service
"During the economic meltdown of 2008, several very rich people screwed millions of us middle and lower classes out of billions of dollars. The Occupy movement was trying to bring that to the forefront. I feel many people criticizing Occupy feel some sort of insecurity in that they have never had the will or the wherewithal to stand up for something they believe in."
-- Gordo, commenting on the Free Press website
"Occupy Winnipeg is not over. They can push people around but they can't make them go away. Occupy Winnipeg is not a bunch of unintelligent 'hippies.' In solidarity with Occupies around the world, Occupy Winnipeg will stand up, dust off and persevere."
-- Faith 3, commenting on the Free Press website