Commissionaires, the first line of security

By Martin Zellig, Voxair Photojournalist.

When he worked as a dispatcher at 17  Wing some years ago, Chief Warrant Officer of Commissionaires Dean Smith sometimes received unusual requests from base members.

One request in particular stands out in his memory. It was a call from a women, the wife of CAF member, in the PMQs (Permanent Married Quarters).

"She wanted us to remove a dead rabbit from her lawn. “ recalled CWO Smith during and interview in his office in the Military Police Headquarters near the Wihuri Gate.

"I ended up telling.her to call 311, as it’s a city problem and not something we deal with.”

If it had been some other type of concern, one related to security matter, CWO Smith or one of his Commissionaire co-workers would have obliged.

Commissionaires Manitoba is a member division of Commissionaires, Canada's premier security services provider, says the organization’s website.

“We provide a range of security services to Winnipeg and Shilo, Manitoba, as well as to our Northern communities,” notes the online information. ‘With a staff of over 1,200 well-trained, dedicated employees we provide a variety of security solutions, including guarding services  and enforcement to many high profile clients such as the Federal Laboratories, 17 Wing and CFB Shilo.”

There are 45 Commissionaires working on rotating shifts at 17 Wong, said CWO Smith, 62, a retired CAF member, who has worked with the Commissionaires for just over five years now.

They provide a variety of services including, most noticeably, being in charge of the three entrances: The Wihuri Gate, North Gate and Air Force Way Gate.

Commissionaire Corporal Arlene MacDonald, 65, a retired CAF reservist, who has been working as a Commissionaires for 20 years, says her favourite time is in the morning when she waves to people as they drive in through Wihuri Gate.

“Everybody brings me a smile,” said this diminutive and always cheerful bundle of energy, who was working with Commissionaires Nestor Conti on the afternoon shift during an interview in the gatehouse. “they drive in and I have a two fisted wave.’

“We also have a vehicle mobile patrol, and we have dispatchers for the MP’s in the Building 95,” added CWO Smith, who worked for Combined Insurance Company of America for 10 years after 44 years of service with the Princess  Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and then for Intelligence Branch.

The Commissionaires also have a couple of people who handle Wing Construction and Engineering escorts, he said.

“If they’re in a sensitive area, then the contractor has to be escorted by a Commissionaire.” CWO Smith explained. “We also do building security for 1 CAD (1 Canadian Air Division).”

The Commissionaires also work as clerks with Wing Accommodations at the Dakota Inn, as well as providing access control to Hanger 16, he observed, mentioning that Commissionaires Sergeant Linda Murray is the base Identity Officer responsible for passes, fingerprints and identity cards.

“Although many of us are military veterans, we work for a private company that is a non-profit organization,” CWO Smith said, noting that the best thing about his job is meeting new people and trying to make them happy.

“We contract out for the jobs we bid on, and pay our employees’ wages and other expenses from that contract. I have enough people to do the tasks I’m assigned. I also have a stable of spares to call on if needed.”