If it’s possible to imagine a pre-Second World War Selkirk, and knowing what we know now, your imagination should take you to Dufferin Avenue.
An ordinary street in an ordinary prairie town. The men and women who lived there were likely friends, some were related, and they were living ordinary lives before 1942, when they went to war.
You might say a Selkirk identity was forged by the 31 young souls whose commitment to their country is now legendary. They are known as the Dufferin Gang, and they are believed to be the largest contingent of enlistees in the Second World War all from the same block.
The legacy lives on
The City of Selkirk, along with friends and family of the Dufferin Gang, unveiled a new interpretive sign at the corner of Dufferin and Main Street so their legacy has one more opportunity to never be forgotten.
“This installation is reflective of our vision for the Selkirk Museum. It’s not just a museum for the city but is actually the city as a museum,” said Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol.
“It’s taking our heritage and our history, the things that make us proud to be here, and creating something that’s not just for the mind, not something that you just read, but something that you take into your heart and your soul, something that you feel And I can’t think of a better example of that purpose , of our museum, than this situation. To be here at this historic site, to experience the street and to recognize the contribution. To not just know about their bravery, but to feel a deep connection to these heroes.”
The interpretive sign is located across the street from the newly repainted mural that also depicts the Dufferin Gang.
Selkirk Mayor Larry Johannson takes great pride in honouring the Dufferin Gang and knows the interpretive sign will tell their story for years to come.
“The thirty-one men and women that enlisted, they had pride, they had courage, they had dedication and they knew what they had to do to keep Canada the best country, to keep Manitoba the best province and as far as I’m concerned to keep Selkirk one of the best places to live in,” Johannson said.
“There will be residents and there will be non-residents that will come by this corner and they’ll see the mural, they’ll stop to look at the historic street here and they’re going to read the sign board and they’re going to have that with them for the rest of their lives. It’s something that’s going to go on, generation to generation.
“So, as we unveil this today, take a look at it, and what we can do is we can always remember what it stands for, remember the men and women whose names are on there and never forget. Generation to generation.”
Freedom is what the Dufferin Gang gave us
Neil Zebinski, First Vice President of the Selkirk Legion, made clear what made the ordinary men and women from Dufferin Avenue the legends they became.
“I believe we’re all just men and women, just like me and just like those men and women on the board behind us or on this plaque, but 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. I can’t say much, some of them came home and some didn’t. Who were the lucky ones? We don’t know. Maybe the lucky ones are still there. Because 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, our freedom, and for this I thank them and I salute them.”
Family and friends pay tribute
Glen Laye, whose father Jack Laye was a member of the Dufferin Gang, is part of the small committee that has been dedicated to getting the Gang the recognition it deserves. Laye, along with Mae Gulewich, Gay Karandiuk and Brooke Kell, reignited the drive to erect a monument that began around 2010 but had stalled.
Their efforts resulted in the monument and benches at the Legion and the repainting of the mural, originally created by students from East Selkirk Junior High, that had started to peel.
He says his father and other members of the Dufferin Gang never talked about the fact they were the largest group from one street to enlist.
“They knew but they never made an issue out of it. My dad never talked about it, none of them really,” Laye said.
“I always said if they were looking down on us they’d be saying ‘what the hell is the fuss about’.”
Johannson congratulated the committee on getting the job done, and said they have the same characteristics the Dufferin Gang had – pride, courage and dedication to see the task through.
“The committee and family members also had those three attributes. Over the last few years it really shone and it really showed and it led to where we are today and I really applaud them for that,” he said.
A group that defied the norm
Wayne Bird, a member of the Selkirk Legion, spoke on behalf of the families on the day of the unveiling.
“We stand here and we’re reminded of a world engulfed in the turmoil of the Second World War and in that era it was common to see friends and family members from the same neighbourhood enlist side by side, bound by a shared commitment to their nation,” Bird said.
“Yet in Selkirk, there was a group that stood out. A group that defied the norm. They were known as the Dufferin Gang. Thirty-one men and women who called Dufferin Avenue home. All enlisted to serve their country during these trying times.”
Most enlistees from one street in the war
Bird acknowledged that there is no official confirmation that the most enlistees from one street in the war were from Dufferin, but it is widely acknowledged, including by military historians.
“It is a testament to the extraordinary bond that tied these individuals together. Dufferin Avenue remains a vibrant part of Selkirk to this day, but we must never forget the sacrifice and the unity of the Dufferin Gang. Today, we not only commemorate their service, we also gather to showcase the newly repainted mural that bears the name of these exceptional individuals,” Bird said.
“As well as the accompanying new interpretive panel that has been installed with their stories, ensuring that their legacy lives on for generations to come. Moreover, last September the Dufferin Gang monument was erected and stands proudly on the grounds of the Selkirk Legion, Branch 42 at the corner of Morris Avenue and Eveline Street, serving as a lasting tribute to their memories.
“As we remember this group of Second World War veterans who once called the same block on Dufferin Avenue their home let us also reflect on the values they embodied. Loyalty, unity, unwaning dedication to their country. May we never forget the Dufferin Gang and may their memories continue to inspire us all.”
The committee now has its sights set on official recognition for the 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. That’s the last thing we’re hoping to get settled,” Laye said.
To learn more about the legendary Dufferin Gang, visit the Selkirk Museum online.