“Two Mounties and the Christmas Spirit,” Ensign, Dec. 1982, 6
My most memorable Christmas occurred in the mid 1950s, when I was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
For several years our division, headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, took Christmas to needy families of the province. Months before Christmas, we began to gather, repair, and build all sorts of gifts for the children.
Members of the Force were asked to donate anything that could be renewed, and clothing and toys came in from detachments all over the province. Money and gifts came in from other people, too.
Some of the men built wooden toys—sleighs, wagons, and wheelbarrows—from donated lumber; the ladies donated sewing and knitting. Lists of the needy were gathered from town offices, schools, and churches, and then the gifts went out to detachment personnel for delivery.
In 1955 I was in charge of a detachment in the interlake area of Manitoba. We had received very heavy snow in November and December, and travel in some rural areas was quite difficult. But on December 24, true to our commitment, we went around the area delivering gifts—clothing, toys, festive food, and turkeys.
We had very little difficulty reaching most of the homes via police car, but the most difficult one we left for the last—a family living on a little-used bush road about four miles from town. The family consisted of the mother and four children, ranging in ages from 1 1/2 to 8 years. There was no father. They had no telephone. I had one of the junior constables with me, and we drove to the store to inquire about the roads and the exact location of the home.
The storekeeper drew a map for us and said we would be able to drive about three miles north, but from there the family lived on a side road that had not been plowed out, as they were the only family living on it. He was quite concerned because he had heard nothing from them for about two weeks. He gave us some candy and nuts to add to our gifts and requested that we report back to him with a list of their needs.
By this time it was nearly seven o’clock, and dark. It was cold, but fortunately there was no wind. The sky was clear and there was a bit of a moon. We managed the three miles without difficulty, but at the side road our hearts sank. The road was filled with snow; there was not even a trail through it. We studied it carefully and wondered whether we should even try to walk through it. If only we had brought our snowshoes! We were about ready to turn back when my companion said, “It’s going to be a bleak Christmas for those kids.”
I agreed. “Let’s give it a try,” I said. “We can put the box of toys on the sled, and one of us pull and the other push and balance the load on the sled.”
We started out, but the snow was over our knees in most places, and it was hard going. Often we considered turning back. Besides, we could scarcely see, and we were afraid we would miss the house. The journey of only a little over half a mile seemed like a hundred. I guess the thoughts of my own young children kept up my determination. Finally my companion thought he saw a light through the trees, and a short time later we saw a small cabin with a dim light in the window. We had found them!
Almost exhausted, we struggled through a gate in the wire fence and up a bit of path to the house. Inside we could hear children’s voices. After we knocked, there was complete silence for a few moments, and then the door slowly opened.
It must have been a shock to them to see two burly policemen dressed in buffalo coats. They looked apprehensive, but when they saw the sleigh and box of presents, the expressions changed to amazement and joy. One little voice cried, “See, mama, Santa Claus did come!”
The mother burst into tears. Then she threw her arms around us and kissed us soundly. “You are an answer to our prayers,” she said. “It’s a miracle—nothing else—just a miracle!”
Through her tears she told us she had tried to explain to the children that Santa would not be able to find them this year with all the snow, and there wouldn’t be any presents or any Christmas dinner. But the children couldn’t believe it. The oldest boy said, “We can always pray,” and he insisted they all kneel together. Because the other children wanted to, the mother agreed, but she dreaded the disappointment they would suffer when their prayers were not answered.
“We had hardly said ‘Amen’ when you wonderful men knocked on the door,” she told us.
With joy in our hearts we laid out the big turkey and other food and gifts, and then we were smothered with hugs and kisses from four little children. Everyone shed tears of joy, including the two big policemen.
The family had not dared leave the home because of the deep snow. Although they still had flour and home-grown vegetables, they were getting low on other important items. Before we left, the mother gave us a list of things they most needed, and the children showered us with more hugs and a thousand “thank you’s.” The trip from the car to the house had been a struggle every step of the way, but on the return journey we were so overwhelmed by the Christmas spirit we just about floated back.
Christmas the next day with my wife and three little boys was made even more joyful by the memory of four little faces in a humble cottage way out there in the bush, and their faith in the spirit of Christmas.
Adapted from an article first published in the Brandon Sun, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, 26 December 1981. Used by permission.