It was April 1951 when Lt. Col. Jim Stone issued orders to his men. “No retreat, no surrender” was his call.
Lt. Col. Stone was the commanding officer of the second battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the PPCLI, or more affectionately the Princess Pats.
He surveyed the scene from atop Hill 677 at the northern end of the Kapyong valley at the height of the Korean war. An Australian regiment of similar size to the Princess Pats had just been overrun by Chinese forces.
They withdrew after suffering heavy losses. Now the only thing between the advancing Chinese hoards and Seoul was the Princess Pats. Despite being overrun themselves and heavily outnumbered they somehow managed to beat back the enemy.
It was one of the defining moments of the Korean war when the Pats held their ground during the Chinese onslaught.
Despite their withdrawal the Australians were still key players in that war, so much so that the battle of Kapyong is still commemorated annually in Australia to this day.
In Winnipeg though the only commemoration that I know of is here in River Heights where the old barracks that straddle Kenaston Boulevard were re-named Kapyong Barracks in their honour.
The Princess Pats have since moved west to Shilo and their old Winnipeg barracks and surrounding land have sat empty since 2004.
Long a bane of contention, the future of this land is once again coming to prominence. There have been proposals to convert it into an urban reserve, an industrial complex, a housing development and to widen Kenaston Boulevard which runs through it.
The issue has surfaced again with the opening of the new IKEA store and the anticipated extra traffic along Route 90. To alleviate congestion the City has plans to widen Route 90 to six lanes between Ness and Taylor avenues. But for this to happen, ownership of the land will have to be settled. Its current owners, the federal government, have been facing a protracted legal challenge mounted by several local First Nation groups.
The dispute arose when the feds tried to sell the land for development in 2007 and seven Treaty One First Nations claimed that treaty rights gave them a claim to it.
So began the second battle of Kapyong.
That legal challenge however could be resolved shortly and finally pave the way for future development of the site, which consists of 41 buildings sitting on 90 hectares of land.
The Princess Pats came to Winnipeg in 1969 after re-deployment from service in Germany and moved into what was known at the time as the Fort Osborne Barracks before it was re-named.
The original battle of Kapyong was arguably Canada’s greatest military achievement. People talk of Vimy Ridge, yet that was a bit of a disaster with the loss of thousands of Canadian lives.
Kapyong on the other hand was a military success. The Canadians were defending ground, their casualties were very low, ten men lost and twenty three wounded from a regiment of eight hundred men, and they inflicted heavy losses to the attackers and held crucial ground that would have influenced the course of the war had it been lost.
So the next time you’re driving to IKEA and you’re stuck in traffic on Route 90 because the City hasn’t widened the road yet, take a look around. Chances are you could be having one of your last glimpses of an old memorial to some of our bravest military personnel.
Originally published December 2012