When Julie Payette was suspended above the Earth, hurtling around the planet so fast that the whole of Canada flashed past the International Space Station's window in just nine minutes, she saw part of the truth of Manitoba.

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This article was published 26/11/2018 (1277 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Julie Payette was suspended above the Earth, hurtling around the planet so fast that the whole of Canada flashed past the International Space Station's window in just nine minutes, she saw part of the truth of Manitoba.

The fertile spread of the plains. The north, spangled with lakes. Life, spreading from prairie to tundra.

It was so beautiful, the Governor General said, speaking to a crowd gathered to meet her at a Government House reception on Monday evening. She wished that everyone in that room, wrapped with golden wallpaper, could see.

Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, met and walked with the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg's North End, Monday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, met and walked with the Bear Clan Patrol in Winnipeg's North End, Monday.

"Luscious forests. Lakes, and not that many people," she said, of the unforgettable view. "There is so much room here, in this country, and that's why we continue to be so welcoming. So beautiful indeed, but resilient Manitoba."

That's the big picture, though. To understand Earth, maybe you have to rise into space; but to understand people, you have to get down on the ground. On the ground, in the snow, to the worn-down places where real lives unfold.

So when Payette left Government House on Monday night, she went to the North End, for a 30-minute walk with the Bear Clan Patrol. There, she would see another part of the truth of Manitoba: struggle, survival and strength.

The contrast between the two evening destinations was vivid. There is no golden wallpaper in Bear Clan Patrol's new headquarters on Selkirk Avenue; only people, gathered to heal a community they belong to and believe in.

Payette, centre, met with members of the Bear Clan Patrol at their headquarters on Selkirk Ave. in Winnipeg's North End.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Payette, centre, met with members of the Bear Clan Patrol at their headquarters on Selkirk Ave. in Winnipeg's North End.

There was patrol volunteer Vanessa Roulette, 38, who blinked back tears as she talked about how joining Bear Clan helped her fight free of the grip of crystal meth: the volunteers are her brothers and sisters now, she said.

And there was patrol founder James Favel, who strode next to the governor general. As they walked in the bitter cold, he pointed out gang houses, corners where women are sexually exploited, spots where lives slipped away.

"There was a young man murdered just here, this summer," Favel told Payette, pointing to a patch of snow-covered green space near the corner of Flora and McKenzie where, in July, 35-year-old Kenneth Wood was shot and killed.

The Governor General looked at the site with sad, searching eyes. This was what Favel wanted her to see.

Members of the Bear Clan Patrol help Payette put on her patrol gear, Monday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Members of the Bear Clan Patrol help Payette put on her patrol gear, Monday.

"I wanted her to get an idea of what we come across, what we're dealing with on a day-to-day basis here in this community," Favel said, speaking to media afterward. "It's not all fun and games here. We need supports here."

It's strange to think that, when the International Space Station passes directly over southern Manitoba, it is much closer to us than Regina in terms of raw distance. In spirit, it is a world away, existing on a whole different plane.

And in a way, in her first official trip to Manitoba as governor general, Payette played the same role as when she was in space: the eyes from on high. The watchful emissary from halls of such privilege that, relative to the lives of many struggling in Winnipeg's North End, they may as well be another planet.

So if the ceremonial work of the governor general is, in part, to direct the gaze of the state to the ground-level details of its citizens, then walking with Bear Clan Patrol during her short two-day visit was a striking vantage.

Julie Payette, left, listens to patrol founder James Favel, right, give details about the streets they patrol several nights a week.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Julie Payette, left, listens to patrol founder James Favel, right, give details about the streets they patrol several nights a week.

It's not just that the patrol embodies the best of Manitoba's volunteer spirit. It is also how, every night, it makes reality of a vision that communities can heal themselves, and weave safety nets to hold each other protected.

Before the walk, Payette told volunteers that what they were doing is an "amazing initiative," one she hopes will make "waves all over the country." They provide hope, she said, and belonging; now, Canada sees the stakes.

"I had no idea of all that is happening in the neighbourhood," Payette said, after the walk was over. "The volunteers, the engagement, the generosity, the perseverance.

"When we get together as a community, when we put our effort together and our will to help others, we can achieve anything," she continued. "That is a lesson for us all. We have always a role to play, in any community."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.