By Charles Hamilton, The Star Phoenix April 26, 2013 - He was the kind of guy many people would pass by without even noticing, but in a strange way Alvin Cote was one of the most recognizable people in Saskatoon.
He could most often be found on benches or on corners, begging for pocket change. Behind his stringy grey beard and moustache and smudged glasses, he was often smiling. Beat cops and downtown regulars knew him by name.
The Saskatoon Police Service is reporting that Alvin passed away last week.
We at The StarPhoenix got to know him while researching a feature story called "The Trouble with Alvin," which raised complex questions about a system ill-equipped to deal with chronically homeless alcoholics.
Officers working in the city police detention cells knew Alvin's birthdate by heart, because he'd been arrested for public drunkenness more than any other individual in the last two decades - 843 times.
But what we learned about Alvin was more than just that staggering statistic.
He was a survivor who called the streets home. He was a man who had lived through unimaginable abuse and coped daily with a crippling addiction. But Alvin was also a man who still knew how to laugh.
Const. Derek Chesney, a downtown beat cop who befriended Alvin, said it best in a blog post this week: "As an officer, you encounter many individuals, but you remember certain people because they are special, and Alvin was one such special person. Alvin was not a rich or well accomplished man. He drank daily and chose to make the street his home, but he was tough, he was a fighter, and he was a survivor," Chesney wrote.
Most of what we knew about Alvin's past came from his sister Helen. She told us Alvin was a middle child in a family of 13 brothers and sisters who grew up near Kam-sack on the Cote First Nation. She showed us photographs of Alvin as a younger man, looking handsome, healthy and happy. She told us about the childhood abuse Alvin suffered in the residential school system.
In the weeks and months since that story was published, we saw Alvin often. He spent many of his nights in bank lobbies, reading, and we always stopped by to say hello. The streets of Saskatoon will be changed without him.
"The Trouble with Alvin" was nominated for a National Newspaper Award. It can be found here