Ken Hansell didn’t intend on becoming a cop — it was something that just happened.
When Hansell, a West End resident, was 20 years old, he was walking in downtown Winnipeg with a couple of his friends until they passed a drug store at Beverley Street and Portage Avenue. There, Hansell saw two men get out of a car and pull out handguns, holding up the store.
"I waited outside and when they came out, I tackled them," Hansell, 99, said.
That citizen’s arrest landed Hansell a job in the police force. The retired cop said the following day, a policeman knocked on his door and said the chief wanted to see him.
"I went down, and he asked me if I wanted to be on the police force. I said, ‘I’ll take any job I can get.’ And that’s how I became a policeman," Hansell explained. "A couple days later, I was walking the beat."
At 99 years of age, Hansell claims to be the oldest living retired member of the Winnipeg Police Service. (The Metro contacted the Winnipeg Police Service in an attempt to locate his service record, but was told those records are not available).
Hansell is the only one of his generation of his family (he had five siblings — four brothers and one sister) still living. Though his wife, Catherine, died in 2010, he is still as active as ever. Reliant upon but not restricted by his walker, he keeps himself busy by making wooden crafts for friends and neighbours and attending the Winnipeg Lions Club, an adult day club at Lions Manor (320 Sherbrook St.). Although Hansell has a car, he has someone to drive him around.
"I don’t trust myself," Hansell said. "I’m gradually going down a little as I get older."
Although Hansell had a fulfilling life as a police officer, his childhood didn’t start out on a positive note. He was one of six children of a single mother and spent a lot of his childhood years in St. Joseph’s Orphanage at 1476 Portage Ave. (now St. James Presbyterian Church).
"My mother had six kids, I guess she couldn’t handle it," Hansell said. "I still remember being locked in the attic there. If you cried, they locked you in the attic. I don’t know when I got out of that place, but I must have cried a river there."
Hansell became a policeman in 1936, during the Great Depression. He got the job while he was still underage; at the time, the minimum age to become a cop was 21. In 1939, Hansell worked in the North End, which was then called the ‘punishment division,’ because "you never had any life there at all, no life at all," he said.
Hansell said the North End was a rough place to work during the Depression and the war years.
"Guys didn’t care if they went to jail. They were better off in jail than they were out – at least they got three meals in jail," Hansell said.
Hansell remembers that if one wanted to relieve himself in the North End, it had to be done in a back lane — even during the harsh winters.
"If you needed to defecate in the North End and it was 30 below zero, you went in the back lane and dropped your pants in the back lane like an animal," Hansell recalled.
Hansell enjoyed riding a motorcycle as part of the job because it meant he never had to do the night shift, only working 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. Hansell was eventually promoted to sergeant, a position he held for 15 years, where he taught young policemen how to ride a motorcycle.
"He was a good supervisor," said 87-year-old Don Morrison. "He was my sergeant, and I was just a young guy. He had been on the job for quite some time and he gave me a lot of good information."
Morrison and Hansell still keep in touch, often to reminisce about their days in uniform.
"He phones me, I phone him," Morrison said. "We’re always jogging each other’s memories about how Winnipeg was back in those days."
Hansell said Morrison played the bagpipes for him on his 90th birthday.
"His wife (Catherine) was of Scottish ancestry," Morrison said.
Hansell also keeps in touch with 82-year-old Bob Taylor, who had been a policeman working in downtown and District 6 (Fort Rouge) starting 60 years ago.
"He was fair, but firm," Taylor said. "He was always well-liked, always a quick whip. He’s as sharp as a tack for that age."