A helping hand and safety watch to boost enjoyment on city pathways

Venerable patrol organizer Barry Marchand is recruiting volunteers for Winnipeg’s first Pathway Patrol program, to bring advice, stepped-up security, medical aid and more to people walking and biking along riverside routes.

By Jo Simon

Winnipeg’s citizen’s patrol group – Urban Knights.

Urban Knights, Winnipeg’s pioneering citizen’s patrol group, is now in its thirtieth year. This summer it is taking on a new role and form and, if its founder’s hopes are realized, a new generation of community-minded helpers, with the launch of a squad of bikers to patrol the bike and pedestrian pathways along the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

Venerable patrol organizer, Barry Marchand, one of Manitoba’s 30 recipients recently of Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee medal for community service, is recruiting for the city’s first Pathways Patrol program.

Offers friendly assistance

He hopes to bring his volunteer group’s distinctive brand of friendly help, safety reminders, watchfulness and community appreciation to people along the lengthy stretch of public pathways that run from Kildonan Park to The Forks and from there westward to Assiniboine Park and the bike trails reaching into its core.

The duties of volunteers, which Barry sets out in a Kijiji ad, include reporting suspicious activity, advising about helmet use for young people, reporting pathway hazards, keeping a safety watch on behalf of runners or bikers operating alone on the pathways, fixing flat tires, administering first aid.

Marchand calls the bike volunteers ambassadors. There is a special, friendly flavor to their interventions. “If they see a stranger walking round,, they can be ambassadors and help them with directions. If they see a youth under 18 riding a bike without a helmet they can approach in a friendly way and remind them they should be wearing one. It’s not about being a snitch, or aggressive. It’s about, in a friendly way, just helping each other. So we live in a much safer community”.

This is in many ways a time of new beginnings and new goals for Barry Marchand’s Urban Knights.

He started the group in 1983 when a looming strike by the city’s police department appeared to be putting the safety of Winnipeggers at risk. The ‘knights”, as he tells it, walked the streets seeking to bring reassurance to local residents.

The work never ceased although the assignment would change as the years passed. “We patrolled the Main Street strip, walking. We worked closely with the Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army. We escorted people who were intoxicated and got them medical assistance ifr they needed it. We broke up a lot of fights, rendered first aid in a lot of situations,” he recalls.

They spent their first 20 years on those tasks, as one by one other bodies – including Downtown Winnipeg BIZ and very recently the Winnipeg police – had workers walking the pavement with their own patrol programs.

In 2003, Barry’s Urban Knights replaced their street safety program with a bike patrol that has seen 30 or so volunteers roaming various city areas each summer, offering help, advice and encouragement to citizens in need.

Now, inspired in part by the city of Ottawa and its 20-year-old Pathways Patrol program, Barry has reset the challenge for his own bike group.

He is hoping, first of all, for new blood and new sense of mission in the recruitment now underway. “A few of the old members are interested,” he says, “but we mostly deal with seniors these days, escorting and providing advice about home safety issues, along with helping out with small projects they need done.”

Beyond this, he has a goal that could over the long haul impact the living habits of our community as a whole. “We want to focus the pathway patrol so we can assist people who are actually using the pathways. We will do minor bike repairs. We can call for medical assistance. We can act as ambassadors, trying to be friendly. It will comfort the lone walkers, the lone runners to know there is somebody out there.

The city is spending thousands and thousand of dollars creating these bike paths. They want people to use them.” In fact, the three levels of government were set to spend $20 million in a one-third-one-thirdone-third sharing arrangement set up three years ago. “There’s going to be a lot of people out this summer trying those pathways out, and if they see us physically on those paths they will feel encouraged to use them.”

Watching the enterprise grow

Today, at least six large Canadian cities have bike patrols operating and Barry is taking a personal interest. “The idea,” as he tells it, “is to see those numbers grow, and maybe get bike patrols going all across Western Canada.”

But don’t think that this community benefactor’s efforts stop with bikes. Sets of “Knight Watch” volunteers stroll Kildonan Park, The Forks and Assiniboine Park ready to be of service, and a corps of additional helpers could be there this year if summertime mall walkers heed his invitation and sign up to instead stroll the streets and byways outdoors, to keep an eye on the workings of their communities.

There will be “Urban Angels”, high school and junior high kids, signed up through the school system, poised to help seniors in their own communities, maybe just to get across a busy street or to maintain their yards in summer.

“They’re reshaping relationships in the community,” Barry explains proudly. “I’ve seen it work, it’s like old-fashioned, boy-scout stuff and the kids love it.”

Readers interested in signing up for the bike patrol or other Urban Knights operations can contact Barry Marchand at 204-786-5000, Ext. 1380.

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