Vigilante justice

A costumed hero is patrolling Windsor, but he’s isn’t looking to fight crime. An anonymous Windsor man has taken on the moniker of Crimson Canuck in his fight against poverty.

A local superhero is tackling poverty in Windsor • photo Darryl Gallinger A local superhero is tackling poverty in Windsor • photo Darryl Gallinger

On crusade with real-life superhero Crimson Canuck

Darryl Gallinger

A costumed hero is patrolling Windsor, but he isn’t looking to fight crime.

An anonymous Windsor man has taken on the moniker of Crimson Canuck in his fight against poverty. He collects food, bottled water and clothing to give to Windsor’s impoverished while patrolling the streets.

Like many comic book superheroes, Windsor’s mysterious hero’s focus on helping others is defined by significant events in his own life.

“I want to help others who are living on the streets because that is somewhere I almost could have been,” he said. “I was very low in my life … I was depressed, I had lost my job, I had moved back in with my parents,” said Crimson Canuck.

He was ready to give up, sell most of his belongings and turn to the Salvation Army when he finally landed a job and turned his life around.

“You always look back at what you went through and you see what others are going through now,” he said of his experiences.

This hero has foregone the typical spandex in favour of a mask, leather coat and red and white clothing. The colours of his costume are a symbol of his national pride. “I’m in love with Canada, I love being Canadian,” said Crimson Canuck.

“I’m a big fan of Captain Canuck,” he said of the Canadian superhero who first appeared in comic books in 1975. “I feel we are so Americanized in this city, that someone needs to give them a sense of what it means to be Canadian.”

The Lance joined Crimson Canuck on his patrol through the downtown core, during which he quietly but passionately spoke of his experiences reaching out to people, as well as long-term plans of networking with others like himself. “Ultimately, my goal is to get a team of four or five superheroes in Windsor that want to learn how we can educate children on bullying, diversity, helping others,” said the masked man.

As Windsor’s real-life superhero made his way about his usual route, people stared and grinned as they drove by. One asked him if he was a luchador, (a type of professional wrestler well-known in Spanish-speaking countries for their brightly coloured masks). Those he approached to help were confused and stand-offish at first, but Crimson Canuck took all of it in stride as he explained his purpose.

The less fortunate Windsorites take to him quickly, thanking him for the warm gloves and bottles of water that he shares with them.

Crimson Canuck is just one member of a worldwide movement known as “real-life superheroes.” According to Milwaukee, Wis. writer Tea Krulos, who has been studying the phenomena since 2009, the movement has spread like wildfire because of the rise in Internet and social media use. The idea snowballed around 2005 to 2006, growing from an estimated 12 superheroes to about 200.

Krulos has traced the movement back to the 1970s, but he likes to think it might go further. “I like to think that someday someone is going to be going through their grandparents’ attic and find a neatly folded costume.”

Krulos estimates there are about 10 to 25 active real-life superheroes in Canada, with many more scattered throughout the world. He is currently working on a book about the movement, “Heroes of the Night,” which will be released in the fall of 2013.

When he first heard about the movement, Krulos looked around to see if there was anyone in the area and found the Watchman. “We arranged this meeting one night near a city park by my house. I was waiting and, all of a sudden, I see him walking through the park in his superhero gear and I was like, ‘Oh wow!’” said Krulos, a lifelong comic book fan. “It doesn’t sink in until you see these guys in person.”

Krulos echoed Crimson Canuck’s statements about real-life superheroes being normal, everyday people. “After a patrol with the Watchman, we went back to the parking garage, and we couldn’t find his car. We couldn’t remember where he’d parked it. That’s not something that happens in the comic books.”

Krulos said that many superheroes aren’t interested in fighting crime. Instead, they use the superhero persona to promote charity or humanitarian efforts. Some patrol neighbourhoods, but only to observe and report– much like a neighbourhood watch.

Phoenix Jones of Seattle is a rare kind of real-life superhero. He will physically engage wrong-doers, and his actions have attracted some controversy. While many in the movement are fundraising for various charities, Phoenix Jones is attempting to raise funds for a crime-fighting super suit.

Crimson Canuck made it clear that he has no interest in fighting crime, saying he’ll leave that to the police. He explained that he first became involved after reading about the movement online. Thanatos, another real-life superhero from Vancouver, has served as an inspiration to him.

Shawn Cousineau, owner of local Rogues’ Gallery Comics, has partnered with Windsor’s superhero. Windsorites can bring clothing, bottles of water, food or cosmetic supplies such as deodorant to his store for Crimson Canuck to pick up.

“I’m like his Commissioner Gordon,” said Cousineau, who’s been serving as a drop off point for Crimson Canuck for the last month. “I love what he’s doing, he’s all about community … he’s someone local for kids to look up to as a role model.”

Crimson Canuck now wants to help Windsor’s homeless prepare for winter. “Right now I’m looking for any type of warm weather gear or even something as simple as granola bars, which can go a really long way.”

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