Amidst a solemn sea of red serge, punctuated by the quiet lament of a bugle, family, friends and law enforcement personnel gathered in the heart of Winnipeg to pay respects to fallen RCMP Const. Allan Poapst.
About 2,800 people filed into Bell MTS Place to bear witness Friday to the public regimental funeral for Poapst, who was killed Dec. 13 in a head-on collision on the Perimeter Highway. The 49-year-old was returning to the office near the end of his shift when a truck crossed the median and struck his RCMP vehicle.
Mourners included family and friends, who in eulogies and interviews after the service described Poapst as a gregarious and deeply loyal friend — a man who, his uncle, Rob Poapst, said, would "go to the ends of the earth to help those he loved."
Chief among those were his beloved teen daughters, Krystal, Chelsie and Caitlyn.
The audience also included hundreds of colleagues from the Manitoba RCMP, who attended in formal red uniforms, as well as delegations from the Winnipeg Police Service, Ontario Provincial Police, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, Canadian and American border services, and other law enforcement agencies.
In the difficult days after the death, brother Greg Poapst said in a eulogy, the family was "stunned" by the outpouring of support from across Canada. As condolences flooded in, he said, they realized the scale of the public sorrow extended far past even the popular Poapst's large circle of loved ones.
"My family realized that we had to share his passing, and share the grief with an entire community," he said. "It was not ours alone."
And so, Friday's funeral unfolded with full RCMP ceremonial dignity. Before the service, RCMP and Winnipeg police marched in procession through downtown Winnipeg, escorting Poapst's casket to the venue. Inside, officers carried the casket onto the floor of the arena, where they carefully lowered it to sit draped in a Canadian flag.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki later presented that flag, carefully folded, to Poapst's parents, Doug and Pat. Manitoba RCMP commanding officer Jane MacLatchy presented the officer's Stetson hat to his daughters, who at the start of the funeral had laid a trio of white roses on their father's casket.
The official show of support stood as testament to what Lucki described as a unique bond between RCMP across Canada. Although Lucki had never met Poapst, she said, she'd learned a great deal about him over the last week, including how he'd taken his troopmates under his wing during training and served as a trusted mentor.
"The RCMP is a family, and losing one of our own hurts each and every one of us across the country," Lucki said, addressing the mourners at Bell MTS Place. "Our hearts are broken."
Through the grief there was also mirth, as Poapst's brother, uncle and cousin stood to share their memories of various youthful hijinks and grown-up adventures. Everyone who knew Poapst had an "Al story," his uncle Rob said.
On the edge of the arena floor, the Grey Cup sat on a pedestal, catching the light from the rafters. In a eulogy, Greg Poapst described how, just weeks before, he and his older brother had watched the Winnipeg Blue Bombers soar to victory in the CFL title game in Calgary.
After the game, the elder Poapst helped the brothers finagle their way into the team's afterparty, where they drank a toast from the Cup poured by Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler. For brothers who had bonded in the 1990s over cheap season tickets to Bombers games, it was the experience of a lifetime.
"I consider that weekend possibly the best weekend I've ever spent with him," said Greg, who lives in Calgary. "It was amazing... I was in awe all the week after, how lucky I was that he came out and shared that weekend with me. That memory now feels like it was a decade ago."
Poapst, who was a diehard Bombers and Winnipeg Jets fan, was also an avid hockey player who helped organize charity police games. Among the hundreds of friends and members of the public in the stands were longtime beer-league teammates, who play Monday nights at Allard Arena.
The team, dubbed the Five-Holers, came dressed in their jerseys. Rick Froese, who had known Poapst for almost three decades, blinked back tears as he described seeing the outpouring of support for a man who always tried to make sure everyone around him was having a good time.
"He was such a fun guy," Froese said. "Everyone talked about Al being bigger than life, and he definitely was. He was just a person that would always be there for you. He was always there for the team, for us, for all of us."
On Monday, the team is planning to hold a fundraiser to support Poapst's daughters. An online fundraiser managed by Poapst's uncle has already soared past $34,000.