New honour for Selkirk's Dufferin Gang shouldn't be its last, says committee

It’s a remarkable story of more than 30 men and women who all lived on the same block in a small prairie town, and who all enlisted and served in the Second World War, and a new addition in the city of Selkirk will now ensure that the legacy of the Dufferin Gang will not be forgotten.

In recent years, Selkirk has become recognized for a group of 31 men and women who have become affectionately known to many as the Dufferin Gang.

They all lived on the same single block of Dufferin Avenue in Selkirk between Main Street and Jemima Street, and they all enlisted and served in the Second World War.

It is believed that the Dufferin Gang makes up the most soldiers from a single city block in all of Canada who all served in the Second World War.

Last week, city of Selkirk officials joined with the grassroots Friends and Family of the Dufferin Gang organization and unveiled a brand new interpretive sign that sits at the corner of Dufferin and Main Street in Selkirk to honour the legacy of the Dufferin Gang.

Glen Laye, whose father Jack Laye served in the Canadian Army and was a member of the Dufferin Gang, is part of a committee that has been working for more than 10 years to see the men and women honoured but said he is not sure if his father were still alive today if he would understand why they are getting so much attention.

“My dad never talked about it, none of them did really,” Laye said in a media release. “They never made an issue out of it. I always said if they were looking down on us they’d be saying ‘What the hell is the fuss about?’”

But Selkirk Legion first vice-president Neil Zebinski said this recognition is well deserved.

“They all did one thing, they volunteered to fight for freedom, and freedom is what they gave us,” Zebinski said.

“They had to follow rules and regulations. They had to do what they were told. Some of them came home and some didn’t, and the ones that came back were scarred for the rest of their lives. And for this, their scarring, their sacrifice, we owe them our lives.”

Selkirk Mayor Larry Johannson said the monument will ensure generations of Selkirk residents and non-residents will know the story of the Dufferin Gang, saying, “Now their legacy has one more opportunity to never be forgotten.”

“They’ll stop to look at the historic street here and they’re going to read the signboard and they’re going to have that with them for the rest of their lives,” Johannson said. “It’s something that’s going to go on, generation to generation.”

The sign is located just steps from a newly repainted mural in Selkirk that also depicts the Dufferin Gang, and that lists the names of the 31 men and women. And just blocks away last September, a Dufferin Gang monument was erected on the grounds of the Selkirk Legion.

The committee says they are not done yet, as they refocus on getting official recognition from the Government of Canada.

According to Laye, there has never been official confirmation from the government of Canada that they represent the most enlistees from one single block in the Second World War, but he said that fact “is widely acknowledged, including by military historians.”

He said it is time to get that official recognition for Selkirk’s Dufferin Gang.

“It would be nice to be acknowledged. Just to get something in writing, it could be a small plaque that could hang in the Legion,” Laye said. “That’s the last thing we’re hoping to get settled.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun