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Remembering the first battle of Kapyong...
It was April 24, 1951 when Lt. Col. Jim Stone issued orders to his men. "No retreat, no surrender", was his call.
Stone was the commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the PPCLI, or, more affectionately, the Princess Pats.
Stone had surveyed the scene from atop Hill 677 at the northern end of the Kapyong valley at the height of the Korean War. An Australian regiment of similar size to the Princess Pats had just been overrun by Chinese forces and had withdrawn after suffering heavy losses. The only thing between the advancing Chinese hordes and Seoul was the Princess Pats. Despite being heavily outnumbered they somehow managed to beat back the enemy.
That the Pats held their ground in the face of the Chinese onslaught was one of the defining moments of the Korean War.
Despite their withdrawal on that day Australians were key players in that war, so much so that the Battle of Kapyong is still commemorated annually in Australia.
In Winnipeg, the only commemorative of this battle is here in River Heights, where the old barracks that straddle Kenaston Boulevard were renamed Kapyong Barracks in honour of the battle.
The Princess Pats have since moved west to Shilo and their barracks and surrounding land have sat empty since 2004.
The future of this land is once again coming to prominence. There have been proposals to convert it into an urban reserve, an industrial complex, a housing development and to widen Kenaston Boulevard which runs through it.
The issue has surfaced again with the opening of the new IKEA store and the anticipated extra traffic along Route 90. To alleviate congestion the City has plans to widen Route 90 to six lanes between Ness and Taylor avenues. For this to happen ownership of the land will have to be settled. Its current owners, the federal government, have been facing a protracted legal challenge mounted by several First Nation groups.
The dispute arose when the feds tried to sell the land for development in 2007 and seven Treaty 1 First Nations claimed that treaty rights gave them a claim to it.
So began the second battle of Kapyong.
That legal challenge however could be resolved shortly and finally pave the way for future development of the site, which consists of 41 buildings sitting on 90 hectares of land.
The Princess Pats came to River Heights in 1969 after redeployment from service in Germany and moved into what were then called the Fort Osborne Barracks before being re-named.
The original battle of Kapyong was arguably Canada’s greatest military achievement.
The Canadians were defending ground, their casualties were very low — just 10 men lost and 23 wounded from a regiment of 800 men — and they inflicted heavy losses to the attackers and held crucial ground that would have influenced the course of the war had it been lost.
The next time you’re driving to IKEA and you’re stuck in traffic on Route 90 because the City hasn’t widened the road yet, take a look around. Chances are you could be having one of your last glimpses of an old memorial to some of our bravest military personnel.
Trevor Smith is a community correspondent for River Heights. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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