Award recalls shades of B.C.’s Wild West

Kerry Widsten, centre, receives the District Commander’s Certificate of Appreciation from Staff Sgt. Maj. Marc Lavergne, left, and Jim Faulkner, assistant district officer for the Island.  - Photo Contributed
Kerry Widsten, centre, receives the District Commander’s Certificate of Appreciation from Staff Sgt. Maj. Marc Lavergne, left, and Jim Faulkner, assistant district officer for the Island.
— image credit: Photo Contributed

Even in the 1970s, echoes of the Wild West still rang in some of B.C.’s remote communities.

It was a cold, foggy September night in 1977 when Kerry Widsten was swept into the aftermath of a major dust-up between two men in the tiny coastal town of Bella Bella.

The task of investigating the violent confrontation and apprehending one of the two men fell to RCMP Cpl. Hunter MacDonald, who was in charge of the recently established Bella Bella detachment at the time.

Both men had fled the scene of the altercation – the local pub. Four or five shotgun blasts had been heard afterward and the man MacDonald was after was reportedly armed and headed for his adversary’s address to kill him.

MacDonald, the sole representative of law enforcement in town, decided having a little backup could be handy, so he asked Widsten if he wouldn’t mind lending a hand. MacDonald handed Widsten a loaded, RCMP-issue shotgun with instructions to apply it as required should the situation go south when they encountered the suspect, whom they came upon not long into their search.

The suspect had stopped in his tracks and was pointing what appeared to be a firearm at them. After a few tense moments and determining the suspect was holding a 1.2-metre length of lead pipe, they had their man in custody.

Widsten, a 24-year-old charter float plane pilot at the time, had already established a working relationship with his neighbour MacDonald.

“We worked together and our families knew each other and I’d say that we were friends…” Widsten said. “We trusted each other well enough and it didn’t seem like an odd request at the time.”

Widsten said living in a small, remote B.C. community, people had to be self-reliant and every so often could find themselves in risky circumstances.

“It’s just something that you do when you grow up in that environment,” Widsten said. “It wasn’t a huge deal to me. I trusted Cpl. MacDonald and we just went out there and did it.”

MacDonald, who retired as a sergeant in 1992, eventually moved to Victoria and Widsten moved to Nanaimo. MacDonald never forgot the incident and believed Widsten should receive recognition for stepping up when called upon. He pressured the RCMP for two years to make sure Widsten got it.

Last Thursday, nearly 37 years after the incident, Widsten received a District Commander’s Certificate of Appreciation. Supt. Jim Faulkner, assistant district officer for Vancouver Island, made the presentation at the Nanaimo RCMP detachment.

“Without the assistance and calm demeanor of Mr. Widsten, this situation would not have been resolved peacefully and successfully,” MacDonald said in a press release, adding he is eternally grateful for Widsten’s help and happy he finally received the recognition he deserved.

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