SASKATOON - He was one of the most recognizable residents in Saskatoon and some people consider the Prairie city a little different now that he's gone.
Alvin Cote wasn't a well-known politician, businessman or hockey player, but a ragged, homeless alcoholic whose tough talk would easily melt into a hearty chuckle and a big smile short on teeth.
He spent that past couple of decades living in Saskatoon. He could be seen curled up on floor of a bank foyer, sleeping on park benches or reading worn copies of National Geographic in the drunk tank.
He died April 19, a few days shy of his 60th birthday.
Saskatoon police officers are still talking about his death, even though they considered it an inevitable fate. It's believed Cote had been arrested more times for public drunkenness than anyone else in the city's history. Some officers put the tally at close to 1,000.
Although his obituary does not list an official cause of death, police say Cote was in hospital with pneumonia when he died.
Downtown beat officer Const. Derek Chesney was surprised and saddened when he heard the news. He saw the man almost every day over the past five years.
"It's not often that you can arrest somebody on multiple occasions and end up being friends with them. But such was the case with Alvin," Chesney recently wrote on his official police blog, Cops and Bloggers.
The officer confesses that he had a good cry after writing the online tribute. He fights back tears again as he talks on the phone about the important life lesson Cote taught him.
"You realize that people can fall through the cracks," says Chesney. "And just as much as a good person can have a bad day, things can happen to people in their lives where they end up going on a path that perhaps they didn't choose."
Cote was from the Cote First Nation in the Kamsack area, east of Saskatoon near the Manitoba boundary. He was carted off as a child to a residential school on a neighbouring reserve and suffered years of abuse, says Chesney.
He says Cote never talked about it, but the abuse likely set him on his destructive path. Cote has a sister in Saskatoon and she tried to look after Cote for a while, says Chesney. But he wouldn't stop drinking.
Chesney remembers meeting Cote for the first time in the winter of 2009 outside the old train station downtown. Chesney had just earned his badge and saw the man with a scraggly beard tapping and flexing his arms, yelling his catch-phrase: "I'm a fighter."
Chesney calmed him down by asking, "I heard you were a lover, not a fighter."
"Well, I'm that too," Cote laughed.
Chesney and his partner then put Cote in their cruiser and, as they were heading back to the police station, Cote knocked on the dividing window with $5 in his hand. He said he was hungry. Chesney ran into a McDonald's and got him two double cheeseburgers. Cote happily devoured his meal during the rest of the ride.
Chesney says he and many other officers looked out for Cote. They checked on him at night and made sure he had enough to eat. Sometimes, when Cote was hanging out on his usual bench in the public lobby of the police station, officers changing shifts would hand him their lunches as they walked by.
One time, when Cote was in detention on his birthday, staff rummaged up a cupcake and stuck a candle on top. "They actually had everybody on key and everybody else in cells sang Happy Birthday. He blew the candle out through the bars."
Chesney says he last saw Cote a few weeks before he died, sitting outside a Tim Hortons. Chesney patted him on the back and they ended their chat the way they always did.
"OK, Bud. See you later," Chesney said.
"You will," Cote replied.
Chesney says he and other officers have made their way in recent weeks to the home of Cote's sister to drop off sympathy cards and kind words about the man they miss. Some even say they thought of him as family.
But the police aren't the only ones mourning Cote. Chesney's blog has received hundreds of clicks and comments from people who had seen Cote on the streets, even though they never knew his name.
A McDonald's manager wrote about how she will miss waking Cote up outside the restaurant in the mornings and asking him to move along. Another woman said she'll miss buying him lunch. One man talked about how he once saw Cote sleeping inside a bank foyer. He slipped some money under the pile of clothes the man was using as a pillow.
"Sounds like this guy may have been an angel in disguise?" wrote a woman named Amy. "He seems to have brought out the best in humanity."
Const. Robbie Taylor often sat and had coffee with Cote. He laughs as he recalls his favourite stories about the man, like the one about how Cote used to wear a second-hand sweater from the Salvation Army. On the front it read, "What the world's greatest mom looks like."
Then there was the time when Cote pitched a fit in detention because officers gave him a magazine with singer Anne Murray on the cover. "I hate her!" he ranted.
Taylor says Cote loved to read but was always losing or breaking his glasses. So officers usually grabbed him glasses from boxes of used, donated pairs that were supposed to go to Africa.
Taylor once gave Cote an amateur eye exam. He had him read an oatmeal box while trying on different glasses. If he squinted, Taylor had him try on another pair. The ones Cote liked best were large and red and made him look like TV talk show host Sally Jessy Raphael. Cote suspected they were women's glasses but he still tucked them away in his pocket.
"I still have a couple of pairs in my locker. They were ready to go if he broke them again."
Cote was such a character that a worker at the police detention centre sketched his picture, put his mug on some T-shirts and gave them to other staff. Orders for more are now rolling so people will have something to remember him by.
The workers tried to give one of the T-shirts to Cote last year for Christmas but he didn't want it. He grumbled that he looked too much like Santa Claus.
Cote's celebrity grew after reporters at the local newspaper, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, spent months piecing together the details of his life. The resulting feature netted the daily a National Newspaper Award nomination.
Even Saskatoon's police chief knew Cote. Clive Weighill recalls seeing him at a Tim Hortons just a few weeks before he died. Weighill slipped him some cash.
"I think most people thought I was telling him to leave but I was just giving him a five dollar bill so he could go get himself something to eat."
Weighill says a study completed last year tracked Cote and 22 other homeless people with substance abuse problems. It showed that they cost the city $2.8 million over one year in policing, ambulance and hospital costs.
That's why police, health officials and other agencies hope to build a wellness centre in the city to house the group. Weighill says it's a more dignified solution than sticking them in police cells.
The centre could also provide faster access to treatment services, but Weighill concedes some people just don't want help.
Chesney says he did everything he could for Cote. "I couldn't make him sober up. I couldn't bring him home and put him in my basement and give him a bath. He lived the way he wanted to and you almost have to respect somebody for that."
Some officers say they would have gone to Cote's funeral but he was buried on his home reserve some 350 kilometres away. There's talk of a local memorial, but nothing has been organized.
Chesney hopes the bench in the police lobby that Cote sat on for countless hours will be decorated with a plaque in his name and moved into the new police station that's under construction. That way Cote will always be there.
"He was a fighter. He was a survivor. And he'll be remembered."
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton
Driver's Helping Hand
A Russian dashboard camera recently caught a heartwarming act of kindness that took place on a bustling street. An old woman was in the midst of crossing a road with obvious difficulty when an SUV stopped mid-intersection. The driver exited the vehicle and grabbed the woman's bag, offering her an arm to help her get across safely.
Fallen Soldier's Tribute
To honor the memory of a soldier who was killed in action, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/facebook-user-sends-beer-on-behalf-of-fallen-navy-seal_n_1375924.html" target="_hplink">Jeff Beurline corded off a special spot</a> at his local bar in Connecticut for Lt. Michael P. Murphy. Beurline bought Murphy -- or "Murph," as he was known by friends -- a Guinness and propped a reserved sign on the beer alongside an American flag. The bartender not only agreed to pour random strangers a Guinness throughout the day, but also offered to pay the costs. Read Beurline's account of the act of kindness in his <a href="https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=151522458303677&id=182249954768" target="_hplink">post on Seal of Honor's Facebook page</a>. (Image via Facebook, <a href="http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1732927463" target="_hplink">Jeff Beurline</a>).
Officer's Final Act
A McDonald's surveillance camera caught a San Diego police officer's small -- but powerful -- act of kindness on tape. What makes the moment special is not the act itself, but that it happened mere minutes before the officer, <a href="http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Officer-Henwoods-Final-Act-of-Kindness-127886453.html" target="_hplink">Jeremy Henwood, was gunned down</a> in his patrol car.
Texas A&M Students' Silent Vigil
To protect the family of Lt. Col. Roy Tisdale from anti-gay protesters on the day of his funeral, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/06/texas-am-students_n_1653002.html" target="_hplink">Texas A&M students and alumni donned maroon</a> and formed a human wall. Westboro Baptist Church members, who often stage demonstrations military funerals, were planning to stage a protest outside Tisdale's funeral, but never showed up. Fortunately, an estimated 650 people in maroon were there to make sure the family could mourn in peace. (Image via Facebook, Leslie Mott)
Sara Tucholsky's Unusual Home Run
Sara Tucholsky, a softball player for Western Oregon University, scored a three-run homerun for the first time in her college career in a game against Central Washington University. But while touching first base, she injured her knee. The rules stated that none of her teammates could assist her. So instead, two players from the opposing team -- Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace -- carried Tucholsky to each base. All three players received a standing ovation.
Disabled Fan's Helping Hand
Wheelchair-bound Patrick Connelly began to cry when he couldn't see over the standing fans at a Blake Shelton concert. His mother, Cheryl Connelly, and her daughter, tried to pick Patrick up so he could see, but were unable to hold his weight for long in the sweltering heat. It wasn't until <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/16/strangers-help-disabled-f_n_1677391.html" target="_hplink">two strangers hoisted Patrick up</a> and held him aloft for a half-hour that Patrick was able to finally enjoy the concert.
A Young Fan's Act Of Generosity
It was the fourth inning of the Milwaukee Brewers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks game. A player tossed a ball into the stands and <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfF1m3-Dl_Q" target="_hplink">12-year-old Ian McMillan</a> ended up catching it while a younger baseball fan cried on the sidelines. Seeing the young boy's reaction, Ian handed over his prize, later explaining "it was the right thing to do."
Track Star's Team Effort
After winning the state title for the 1600 meter race, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/meghan-vogel-ohio-track-star-carries-runner-video_n_1570857.html" target="_hplink">Ohio track star Meghan Vogel</a> intentionally finished in last place in the 3200 meter race by carrying an injured competitor over the finish line.
French Fry Brother's Kind Offering
While in China, Jason Loose, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/american-french-fry-brother-jason-loose_n_1559531.html" target="_hplink">who is now known as "French Fry Brother,"</a> sat down to chat with a homeless woman and offered her some of his fries. Loose's random act of kindness, caught on camera by a passerby, made waves among Chinese microblogging sites for his altruism. (Image via Matt Cao/Sina Weibo)
Waitress' Big Tip
Aaron Collins' family fulfilled his final wish by giving a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/aaron-collins-family-leaves-500-tip-pizza-last-wish_n_1668533.html" target="_hplink">$500 tip to an unsuspecting waitress</a> at Puccini's Smiling Teeth in Lexington, Ky. "Are you serious?" the waitress asked after being handed the hefty cash tip. Yes, the Collins family is serious and plans to continue handing out $500 tips in Aaron's memory.
A Knight's Reliance On Kindness Of Strangers
Vincent Gabriel Kirouac is making his way across Canada with his horse Coeur de Lion in a crusade to promote manners and chivalry. While the 22-year-old has saved up for the journey over the past two years, he told <em>CBC</em> that <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/offbeat/story/2012/07/12/sk-quebec-knight-kirouac-saskatchewan-120712.html" target="_hplink">he has never spent a night outdoors</a>. In fact, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/14/vincent-gabriel-kirouac-chivalry-canada-knight_n_1672126.html" target="_hplink">Kirouac relies on kind strangers</a> to provide free room and board each night.
Terminally Ill Man's Letters Of Support
Sean O'Connor <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/rjkoy/hey_reddit_my_47_year_old_uncle_scott_widak_has/" target="_hplink">posted a call-out on Reddit</a> on behalf of his uncle Scott Widak, who was terminally ill and had Down syndrome. "He is currently bedridden and living out his last days at home with my 85 year old grandmother. One of his favorite things to do is open mail...anyone feel like sending him a letter or card?" O'Connor wrote in a post. Within days, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/scott-widak-reddit_n_1514338.html" target="_hplink">Reddit users sent hundreds of letters and gifts</a> to the bedridden 47-year-old. O'Connor <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/pics/comments/w8hes/dear_reddit_my_uncle_scott_who_had_down_syndrome/" target="_hplink">returned to Reddit in July</a> following his uncle's death to thank users for reaching out.
Neighbor's Lemonade Fundraiser
When 8-year-old <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/johnny-karlinchak-neighbor-lemonade-stand_n_1687656.html" target="_hplink">Johnny Karlinchak saw his neighbor's house crushed</a> by a 60-foot-oak, he ran to his piggy bank and emptied its contents into his neighbor's hands. Unfortunately, the $1.25 would not cover Elissa Myers' $500 deductible so Johnny took to what he knew best -- selling lemonade -- to cover the deficit. (Image via Getty)
Homeless Man's Free Lunch
Cyclist <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/05/19/caring-cyclist-homeless-youtube_n_1529649.html" target="_hplink">Lewis Dediara captured his random act of kindness on tape</a> during one of his bike rides through London. Dediara, who wears a head-mounted camera, offered to buy a homeless man whatever he wanted to eat from a nearby convenience store after he found him sifting through a trash can.
Tennessee Man's Generous Gift
Customers at a particular Tennessee gas station got quite a surprise when they learned that their gas was already paid for by a generous stranger. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/23/tennessee-man-buys-gas-fo_n_402179.html" target="_hplink">Don Reed decided to fill up 80 strangers' cars</a> with money out of his own pocket and send them on their way. His generosity was all part of a plan to spread holiday cheer in December.
Woman's Runaway Vehicle
Sacrificing the safety of her own vehicle, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/11/lezlie-bicknell-woman-saves-kids-runaway-car_n_1664973.html" target="_hplink">Lezlie Bicknell acted on instinct</a> and rushed to the rescue of two children left unattended in a van that was slowly rolling out of a New Mexico parking lot toward a busy intersection.
Businesses' Auto Overhaul
Local businesses in Aurora, Colo., banded together to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/21/aurora-businesses-fix-stolen-jeep_n_974141.html" target="_hplink">restore a woman's Jeep that had been stolen and destroyed</a> following news reports of the unfortunate theft. After two weeks of nonstop work, Jovan Williams' Jeep was returned to her in 'better-than-new' condition.
5-Year-Old Girl's Well Wishes
Following a post on Reddit by her dad, Kyle, 5-year-old Alexis Blackburn received a flurry of cards and well wishes from caring strangers. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/alexis-blackburn-reddit_n_1680641.html" target="_hplink">overflow of support for Alexis</a> inspired someone to create a Reddit thread seeking other sick children in need of encouragement. (<a href="http://imgur.com/niLv8" target="_hplink">Image via Imgur</a>)
Blind Dog's Rescue
Fiona, a poodle mix, was sick, blind and infested with fleas when she was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/26/blind-dog-fiona-in-trash-rescue_n_1379889.html" target="_hplink">rescued from a trash heap</a> by Eldad Hagar and his wife Audrey. After a nationwide fundraising effort that raised $4,000 for an eye surgery, Fiona is now able to see in one eye. She was adopted by a caring family and is reportedly "doing amazing." <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> This slide has been updated to show the correct spelling of Eldad's last name.</em>
Bassett Hounds' 1,000-Mile Journey
After receiving a phone call from a Georgia animal shelter, Brenda Travis and her husband Tom Shield were overjoyed to learn that their basset hounds, who had been missing for five years, had been found. However, the couple, who had relocated to Kansas, did not have the means to pick up the dogs, so they <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/17/stolen-dogs_n_1678733.html" target="_hplink">turned to volunteers on Facebook</a> who offered to bring the dogs nearly 1,000 miles from the Georgia animal shelter to the couple's home in Kansas.