What it was like to search the dark corners of Winnipeg for a missing mother

Missing woman back in Kenora with her family.

A well-known Indigenous writer in Winnipeg who works at a women’s resource centre recently found herself looking for a missing family member and says the experience was eye-opening, scary, and lonely.

Viv Ketchum said she spent days in early March, pounding on doors in places most Winnipeggers wouldn’t go, looking for the mother of a young boy related to her.

Ketchum got emotional describing the woman’s condition when she was found. We are not naming the woman to respect her privacy.

“She was found in a hotel, in one of these places here,” Ketchum said. “They were shooting her up. She was too weak to do it herself. She was too weak to work.

“My hands were sore because I was physically pounding on doors and that was actually dangerous for me because these are known to be very  dangerous places, but I was determined to find her.”

The search for a missing mother took Viv Ketchum to some places in Winnipeg most people don’t go. Photo courtesy: Viv Ketchum.

The woman had been reported missing to Winnipeg authorities by family members in Ontario who believed she’d travelled to Winnipeg by bus. Then the woman stopped communicating.

Ketchum said when she went out to search, she did it for the woman’s son.

“Every time we went around and stopped, he’d stay in the car with his dad and put up a missing poster of his mum on the window, and then he was starting to show me video of his mum, and that really got to me and I said, ‘I’m going to go in these places for him. I’m going do what I can because he wants his mum.’”

Ketchum described the search with family and another person she called their “muscle” as eye-opening.

“I’m a writer and photographer. I’ve done stories on marches and vigils, I’ve always been on the other side of the story and to actually be part of a missing woman-it’s scary, it’s lonely, you don’t get no help,” she said.

Bear Clan Patrol posted the woman’s picture and information, and Ketchum and her family members went out searching after the usual patrols.

“I did talk to the police, showing pictures on my Facebook page, they did not come with us-to any of these buildings. We were on our own,” said Ketchum.

Viv Ketchum talks to APTN News about the search for a missing mother in Winnipeg.

According to the Winnipeg police, the woman Ketchum was searching for had been staying in shelters during her time in the city. Police put out a “be on the lookout for” notice to the Bear Clan and the Winnipeg Outreach Centre.

“(The woman) is an adult and is not designated a vulnerable person,” said the police in their statement. “She was again provided with contact information for her family and advised to phone them.

“We are mandated by law to balance the privacy of individuals with family concerns.”

Ketchum said the woman has a strong support system in Ontario and her young son and hopes she won’t go missing again.

As for recent measures announced to tackle the issues of missing and trafficked women, Ketchum said she’s not sure if it will help.

“There’s supposed to be a lot of money for trafficked woman.  That support-it won’t come to us-not after what I’ve been through,” Ketchum said.

In Winnipeg alone, there were 9,315 missing person incidents reported to police in 2022. The RCMP says it receives 10 missing person reports a day – mainly from northern Manitoba.

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