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Walter (Wladyslaw) Skoczpiec
Neighbourhood Butcher, Ringleader of Kulbassa, Philanthropist;
Born in Poland, April 21, 1953; died January 28, 1998, aged 44.

If Metro Meats is the centre of the universe in Point Douglas, the oldest neighbourhood in Winnipeg, then Walter was its reigning King. When I first purchased a home here 10 years ago, I made it a point to introduce myself to the local merchants. Walking into the store my senses were assailed by the pleasant odours of garlic and the staccato voices talking in Polish, Ukrainian and English...all at once. I knew I would like this place. A real old-fashioned butcher shop where the proprietors know all their customers on a first-name basis is a rare commodity these days. Walter and his wife, Janina, shook my hands and welcomed me to the area.

One day, for the zillionth time, I was short of cash for my purchases and said that I would be by later after doing my banking. Walter said, “Why don’t you just keep a tab?...no more running around for you! I know you’re good for it.” It certainly came in handy when we had to do a 6 month stint on unemployment insurance. When Walter realized I was in a cash deficit situation, hey I wasn’t buying my usual Sunday prime rib anymore, he would save me bags of meat-laden soup bones, give me samples of his latest sausage concoctions to take home and do a “review” of and in turn I would give him some homemade wine and bread and extoll his meatly virtues to whoever would listen.

Our neighbourhood is old world working-class mixed with first nations and new Canadians climbing the professional ladder; just like it was over a hundred years ago. But as people got wealthier and moved away they still maintained a loyalty to the old stomping grounds. On Saturdays, the store was surrounded by Volvos, Mercedes, Beemers and the like while their owners were inside buying the week’s issue of Kulbassa, some to eat straight away and others to get vacuum sealed to send away to less fortunate friends. Walter’s meat was known as far away as some Canadian Embassies over in Europe. He had earned the right to boast. And when he was complimented his face would turn crimson and he would giggle profusely.

Once Walter discovered that my trade was journalism, I became his sounding board. A quick stop in the store would stretch sometimes to a half-hour as he ranted and railed at the inequities of the system, the welfare bums, our crummy politicians and of course, the small business man’s struggle to pay his taxes. But when I knew he was having a bad day all I had to ask was, “hey Walter, how’s your meat hanging?” He would burst out laughing and tell me if it was low or high. Janina would shake her head and wag her finger at us in mock admonishment. Older customers would roll their eyes and laugh with us. We never tired of the pun. It was our secret code.

Walter’s not-so-subtle racism would grate on my nerves from time-to-time but he could be forgiven and take the criticism from me. When it came down to supplying food for the needy kids so they could have a good party, he was there, no questions asked, no remuneration requested. When a local kid, regardless of race, needed to make a few bucks, he gave them a chance to work. Walter was the unofficial dad to a lot of youngsters. Perhaps, in some strange way, Walter’s honest irascibility made an impression on the little devils. He gave them the positive, stern attention that they lacked. You never heard him complain of shoplifters. And his store rarely got tagged with gang graffitti.

He could be stubborn. I remember a few occasions where my husband and I would have to play an elaborate game with him in order to extricate his car keys when he had imbibed more than he should. But that’s what friends are for. Or the time when he had a huge wad of cash on him, at the bar, and was not being too circumspect about it. On Main Street you do not flash cash. He knew that the money would be safe with us while he partied. And did Walter like to party.

Walter should have been Irish. Polish people, like the Irish, enjoy their spirits and their song. Prior to Walter’s untimely death he was engaging in one of his favourite pasttimes, sitting around with his buddies, imbibing, singing and playing his accordion. I’m sure that the humour was ribald and the songs sentimental. It does not matter how he died but that he died after having a good time with his friends.

When I walked into the store on Friday morning to give Janina a hug she told me what had happened. We agreed that the end was, in a strange way, fitting, for a man of such vibrancy. His laughter will be missed but the spirit of the market lives on through his children who will lovingly tend the old smokehouse and produce the sausage that he was famous for. God bless you Walter. You always gave good meat.

photo credit and artical Rosey Goodman

Submitted by: rosey goodman

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