Faron Hall getting a hero's day in Winnipeg

Faron Hall doesn't want to be called a hero, but on Wednesday the homeless man received the Mayor's Medal of Valour for diving into an icy river to save a teenager who fell off a bridge.

Faron Hall doesn't want to be called a hero but he was treated like one on Wednesday.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz presented the Mayor's Medal of Valour to Hall at noon while Eric Robinson, the province's acting aboriginal affairs minister, was also set to honour Hall at the Manitoba legislature.

The homeless man dove into an icy river on Sunday and saved the life of a teenager who had fallen off a bridge.

'All us homeless people, we're not all stupid idiots. We're not all bums who dress dirty. Don't judge the way we dress, judge right here, in the mind and in the heart.'— Faron Hall

While he shrugs off the hero label, Hall, 44, is hoping the attention he is receiving will help change the public perception of homeless people. He wants people to see the homeless the way they are seeing him now.

"All us homeless people, we're not all stupid idiots. We're not all bums who dress dirty," he said. "Don't judge the way we dress; judge right here, in the mind and in the heart."

Hall, who has been homeless for years, lives on the banks of the Red River. That's where he was Sunday afternoon when he saw a teenage boy fall from the Provencher Bridge in the St. Boniface neighbourhood.

Jumped into the water

Hall jumped into the frigid water, swimming on an angle against the current. He calmed the panicked boy and pulled him to shore. Another homeless man, Wayne Spence, helped pull Hall and the boy out of the water.

Reports of Hall's actions have been replayed on national TV and radio newscasts this week and have appeared in newspapers across the country.

'I enjoy my privacy. I just hope things will get back to normal.'—Faron Hall

People who have commented on the website for Manitoba have overwhelmingly lauded Hall for his bravery, calling him an inspiration and rallying other readers to fill out forms to nominate Hall for the Governor General's medal.

Comments have come from people around the world.

On Wednesday, Hall was in the CBC Winnipeg studio, where he offered thanks to everyone for the kind words and support.

A few hours later, he had lunch with Katz and his staff and was then whisked to the banks of the Red River where the rescue took place. There, Katz presented him with the Mayor's Medal of Valour.

Attention nice but nerve-wracking: Hall

Surrounded by a sea of cameras and reporters, Hall admitted the attention he's been receiving has been a bit nerve-wracking.

"I enjoy my privacy," he said. "I just hope things will get back to normal."

Asked if that meant he wanted to continue living on the riverbank, Hall said he just wants to be able to go back to being a quiet person living a quiet life.

"But I'm happy to be here," he said, smiling as he stood next to Katz, holding a certificate and the medal in a velvet-covered box.

Hall was also wearing a new jacket, emblazoned with the logo of the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the city's baseball team. The mayor, who is president and owner of the Goldeyes club, provided the jacket along with two sets of season tickets.

Hall, whose makeshift home is across the river from the Goldeyes ballpark, told Katz earlier this week that he has always wanted to see a game.

New shoes and a ride home

The Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO), an advocacy group for First Nations people in southern Manitoba, offered earlier this week to help Hall and Spence reconnect with their families and find them proper housing.

Earlier this week, SCO Grand Chief Morris Swan Shannacappo visited the men at the riverbank, as did Katz. After Katz promised the Goldeyes season tickets, Shannacappo asked Hall, "Is there anything else that you need?"

Hall replied with a short, simple list: new running shoes, a warm bed for the night, and a bus ticket to go back to his reserve to see his dad, whom he hasn't seen in nine years.

Hall's mother was murdered years ago and that greatly affected Hall, who turned to alcohol. Prior to that, he had worked as a teacher's aide and was studying at university to become a teacher.

The bed was provided by Marion Willis, a woman who was walking on the bridge the day of the rescue and witnessed the drama unfold. Following the incident, she gave Spence a meal and clean clothes and let him take a hot bath at her house.

She offered the same to Hall, but he couldn't take her up on it at the time because he had to go to hospital to be checked out. On Tuesday, Hall accepted a renewed offer of hospitality from Willis.

He told reporters on Wednesday that he slept "a good 13, 14 hours." He said he has been exhausted and that he thinks he caught a cold from being in the cold water.

He was also sporting new sneakers, which he said were nice to have "because mine were kind of destroyed in the river."

Medal will be given to dad

Arrangements have also been made for Hall to visit his dad, who lives on the Sioux Valley Dakota First Nation, 260 kilometres west of Winnipeg. One of Hall's nieces, who heard about the rescue, got in touch with her uncle and is going to drive him to the reserve.

That's where Hall intends to leave his medal — on his dad's mantlepiece.

"So he can tell people who come over to visit him, 'That's my son's,'" Hall said.

As the medal presentation and press conference wrapped up, Katz turned to Hall, patted him on the shoulder and said, "Remember what I told you: Anytime you need anything, you call."

Among the crowd of onlookers were two of Hall's cousins, who had not seen him since they were all children. Like Hall's niece, Diane Shota and Carla Taylor heard about Hall through news reports.

"We just thought, 'He's our hero and he'll probably be our hero from now on,'" said Shota. "We're happy that he done what he's done. And he does have a good heart, we know that.

"This proves that there needs to be equality because they [homeless people] all have hearts. They all have good hearts. I'm very proud of him and I support him," she said, fighting back tears.

Teen tried to leap across bridge gap

According to witnesses, the rescue was prompted after a leap gone bad. The teen boy and a group of other boys were running across the bridge, dodging traffic and hopping over the railings between the eastbound and westbound lanes.

The teen tried to jump across a gap from the traffic lanes of the Provencher Bridge to an adjacent pedestrian bridge, but didn't make it.

The condition and identity of the teen, who was also taken to hospital by ambulance on Sunday, remains unknown to Hall and Willis.