Safety patrols mark 75 years

Past, present guards laud proud history

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What do Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Mayor Sam Katz and more than 1,300 cheering children have in common?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/05/2011 (4123 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What do Justice Minister Andrew Swan, Mayor Sam Katz and more than 1,300 cheering children have in common?

Answer: They’ve all been pint-sized safety patrols — and they all flocked to the steps of the legislature on Thursday to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the classic safety program in Manitoba.

On a day that saw downtown Winnipeg turned more orange than the inside of a Quebec ballot box, more than 1,300 kids from more than 50 different schools paraded from The Forks to the legislature, decked out in their neon-bright safety vests.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Hundreds of school patrols march from The Forks to the legislature to honour 75 years of the program.

Of course, that’s just a fraction of the 10,000 school patrols across Manitoba, but the group — led by a drum-rattling pipe band — roared loudly enough for a group seven times their size. “I like the field trips and it’s fun,” exclaimed energetic Grade 5 patrol Adut Deng, as her group from Forest Park School gleefully skipped down the street. (No jaywalking here: Police officers marched right alongside.)

The event kicked off a year-long celebration of the patrol program’s 75th year. It was launched in Manitoba in 1936, when a Greenway School teacher named Louise Staples decided to round up 15 kids and install them as crossing guards; CAA jumped on board shortly thereafter and the program spread like wildfire.

Has it saved lives? It sure looks like it. In 75 years, not a single person has died from an accident in a Manitoba school-patrol zone, CAA president Mike Mager said over excited shouts from the amassed students.

“You don’t get much better testament to a program,” Mager said. “It’s outstanding for this program to have grown as it has — the program does so well, we are committed to doing this for another 75 years.”

Indeed, the orange vest and crossing-guard stance has become a ritual of one’s senior year of school. In some schools, the patrol program is so popular there are even tryouts to make the street-crossing team.

Why so popular? According to many of the kids marching Friday, the field trips and the hot chocolate are a major draw. Thursday’s bash, which included a chance to walk with celebrities like Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill and Blue Bombers Obby Khan and Michael Cvitkovic, would also be considered a plus.

Hey, gotta have some rewards for what can be a pretty gruelling gig.

“It’s not easy when it’s snowing and blowing,” Swan told the crowd, recalling fondly his memories as a school patrol at Strathmillan School. “It’s not easy on those crisp Manitoba mornings when it’s -30 C… the Government of Manitoba is very proud of you.”

Proud enough to make it an official proclamation: Swan declared May 5 as School Safety Patrol Day.

Katz then offered CAA Manitoba a special city recognition for their role in running the program, along with help from Manitoba Public Insurance. The mayor also remembered his own days as a school patrol — though he thinks pedestrians probably listened more to Swan, he said.

“You know why? ‘Cause he was six-feet (tall) in Grade 6,” Katz joked, looking up at the much-lankier justice minister.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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