Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/9/2015 (1446 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
He is the most beloved person in Winnipeg.
No, not Mark Chipman.
But you're close.
Chipman wrote the introduction to the just-released biography of Dancing Gabe Langlois, who's my choice as the city's one, and only, MBP.
In fact, the co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets was among the first people Gabe thanked by dropping by Wednesday with an autographed hardcover copy of Dancing Gabe: One Step At A Time.
Gabe dropped by to see Chipman at the MTS Centre on a daylong book-launch tour that was partly a show of gratitude, mostly promotional and sometimes unannounced. It was all three of those that landed him in the Free Press atrium around midday without an appointment and asking to see me. But I wasn't the only one he had an autographed book and a "thank-you" for, because several Free Press journalists have written about Gabe during the more than 30 years the intellectually challenged, now-52-year-old, child-like man has made cheering for the home teams that are both his passion and his purpose. Free Press writers — including the late Lindor Reynolds whose words about Gabe grace the front of the book jacket — have told his story, in part.
We have written about Gabe not speaking until he was 10, about his Rain Man-like knowledge of sports and gift for spelling, and even the way, on occasion, he has been treated in not-so-beloved ways by bullies at games.
But Gabe's story has never been told with all the detail first-time author Daniel Perron could fit into 280-plus pages of words and pictures in the self-published book.
It was Gabe's older brother, Mike, who chose Perron to tell the story. Mike is a former professional hockey referee who once had a supervisor of officials criticize him between periods of a Manitoba Moose game for gazing up into the stands during stoppages in play. Until Mike told him who he was looking for in the crowd.
Mike was the one who first got Gabe dancing by taking him to a hockey game, and it was Mike who, nearly a decade ago, came up with the idea of a biography.
Yet it was only a little more than a year ago mutual friends introduced Mike to Perron, the former RCAF navigator he would choose to do the research and writing. And, in the telling, make the story almost as much about family, as it is about a man. Maybe more.
"The story to me," Perron said, "is about love and human kindness and community. I know for most people Dancing Gabe is about sports and dancing and jiving at games. Sports, at least in my assessment, gives Gabe the platform. But it's all of the people around him, from the day he was born, until today even... to me, that's what the story is about."
To learn that and more, Perron went digging in places the family didn't even know were there.
"He surprised the whole family with his research," Mike said of Perron when we all sat down Wednesday in the Free Press atrium. "Because he found things that, we went, 'Wow. Where did he find that.' He's like a private investigator."
For example? "My mother's history as a nun," Mike said.
It wasn't that the family didn't know their mother, Angelina, had been in training to be a nun, essentially since she was 12, when she went under the tutelage of an order from Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, in rural Manitoba. But, again it was the details Perron uncovered from her personal file that were buried in the Chanoinesses order's archives in St. Boniface. By 16, for instance, Angelina had chosen the name Sister Denis-du-Christ-Roi and was on the way to two years as a novitiate, followed by the taking of temporary vows. But when Angelina was 22, and the time came to make the vows permanent, she couldn't do it. Her faith was still strong, but she wanted more out of life.
Angelina would go on to marry and have six children within seven years, Gabe was No. 3.
The book is dedicated to Angelina.
And while Perron might not have placed the thought on the page, I have a feeling Angelina's time as a nun-in-training helped prepare her for the child born so different from the rest. The little boy with autism who made so much of his life and has given so much to others with his three greatest gifts: loyalty, enthusiasm and perseverance. Not a bad trio in life.
The last word in this column, if not the book, should go to Gabe. So I asked Winnipeg's No. 1 fan what his happiest moment in life has been.
"May 31, 2011," he said without pause. "The day the NHL came back to the city."
Ah, yes. The day the other Jets fans were dancing in the streets. Just the way Dancing Gabe taught them.