It may have been a cold and blustery day, but that didn't stop dignitaries and uniformed officers alike from celebrating the official opening of Ontario's newest OPP detachment.
Gathered at the brand new facility located at 901 Colonization Road West on Tuesday afternoon, members of the Rainy River District OPP, Treaty Three Police and community leaders joined with Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford, OPP Deputy Commissioner of Field Operations Chris Harkins and OPP Chief Superintendent for the northwest region Dave Lucas to celebrate the grand opening of the state of the art detachment in Fort Frances thats been years in the making.
“We had an opportunity to visit Fort Frances with the Solicitor General back in 2019 and we had a great announcement,” Rickford said.
“We knew that it was time for a new building, and [detachment commander] Insp. Nathan Schmidt and I and some other members had a chance to talk about what that does, not just for strong, effective policing which is a critical foundation for ensuring safe and healthy communities and ensure growth opportunities for Fort Frances, but when families and businesses are making decisions about where to live, work or operate they need to know their future is safe and secure.”
At that point, Minister Rickford and Solicitor General Sylvia jones announced that Fort Frances would be the home of a new $20-million detachment building. The new building replaces the former detachment building located on Portage Ave. adjacent to the Fort Frances Civic Centre, which Rainy River District OPP had occupied since the mid 1990's.
Rickford noted the detachment building had been designed with the officers who use it in mind, offering a number of state of the art upgrades to help them in their job to police one of the largest districts in the province.
“Among the state of the art amenities that this new detachment offers is more than 19,000 square feet, the latest infrastructure designed to support ever changing technology requirements, a secure multi-storage evidence vault, seven holding cells and closed circuit TV cameras and other advanced security features,” Rickford said.
“It's time that policing got modern in Fort Frances, and this building and the fine officers that we're here with today are a testament to just that. It's building that brings the OPPs capital resources in the region up to the same gold standards as their human resources... With this modern new facility, the Ontario Provincial Police detachment, we're ensuring our front line police officers have access to the leading edge tools they need to serve and protect the wellbeing and growth of Fort Frances and surrounding communities.”
Rickford also extended his thanks to Couchiching First Nation chief Brian Perrault and the officers of the Treaty Three Police force for the work they do in the district. Chief Perrault and several members of the treaty Three police were in attendance at the grand opening.
Following MPP Rickford, deputy commissioner Harkins addressed the gathered assembly and also remarked on the upgrade from the former detachment building and how it will benefit the OPP officers of the district.
“I want to thank the civil leaders, civic leaders, special guests, friends and media partners to help officially open the Rainy River District new detachment, Harkins said.
“I can say [OPP commissioner Carrique] and I were here back in the summer, I believe it was around July, and to see your old building compared with what you have today, what a great piece of kit for your folks. I'm sure there's parts of the old facility you may miss, but I'm sure you'll really appreciate this new facility.”
Harkins also noted the new facility keeps the mental and physical wellbeing of officers in mind, with a weight and exercise room providing a number of pieces of equipment for them to use, which adds to the overall morale of the officers who work out of the building each day, something many of the speakers touched on during their opening remarks.
“The health and safety of our detachment personnel and visitors remain an important OPP priority, and the design of this building strongly reflects that priority,” Harkins said.
“This modernization project is the latest example of the shared commitment with our government, to safe communities and a secure Ontario. the project is a culmination of countless hours of planning, design, construction that has brought us here today, and on behalf of Commissioner Carrique, I'd like to thank the minister solicitor general and the capital planning branch, the project managers at infrastructure Ontario and RPL architects for meeting our needs for the new detachment. Bird construction, obviously, who does a great job of our facilities, I've seen a few of them now as I said earlier, and they're just awesome. And our facilities team for their hard work in making this facility a reality.”
Lucas, himself a former detachment commander Rainy River District OPP, reflected back on his time in the district as he also congratulated the officers on the new building they would be working out of.
“Being a Rainy River District alumni, I do know that it's a very challenging district to police, if not one of the most challenging detachments in the province to police,” Lucas said.
“It's a huge area... we police a huge rural area, waterways, trails, highways and if you actually go and stand in the back parking lot here, you look 200 metres away and there's the United States, so we have a huge international border to police here as well... I just wanted to end off by saying I have been able to walk into two new facilities throughout my career, and for me it was a huge refresh, a huge boost of morale, and I know everyone that's here that works here right now, you're going to really enjoy this building. I don't want to repeat everything, but it's a great modern facility with all the features that you need to provide a very high level of policing in the district, and this is a good facility not only for our officers, but for the communities, for everybody in the district.”
Fort Frances mayor June Caul and councillor John McTaggart also extended their thanks to the government for funding the build, as well as the officers of the OPP for the work they do in the district.
“Thank you Minister Rickford, and especially please thank Minister Jones for me for ensuring this building did come to fruition,” Caul said.
“It took many years trying to get a new building here and it's nice to finally see it here. As I think about this new building and think about the old building, I can't help but think about Staff Sergeant McLean, the office staff and other members of the force that must be very excited to finally get out of the office of doom that they were in for so many years throughout their careers. So congratulations on having this new detachment, and thank for you your continued service to our community and district.”
McTaggart then proceeded to present a framed memento recognizing the police forces who have and continue to serve the district to Insp. Schmidt for display in the new detachment building.
“Ron Scofield, who was the last RCMP detachment commander in Fort Frances, when he left the community was presented with a framing of shoulder patches of OPP and all area First Nation police services,” McTaggart said of the framing.
“Ron returned to the community and after his retirement, served on the Fort Frances Police service board for a number of years. Ron has again left the community, but he asked that I would present to you that framing for use here, because it has a bit of history for the district. So I would like to present this to you, and hopefully it will hang here. It's the shoulder patches of eight First Nations police services, which are now Treaty Three.”
Closing out the ceremony after accepting the framed patches, Insp. Schmidt offered his own thanks to those in attendance, and noted the building will allow the force to continue to serve the Rainy River District to the best of their ability.
“On behalf of the OPP, I'd like to thank Minister Rickford for coming here today and demonstrating your support and commitment for not only this project but for public safety in general,” he said.
“It is truly an exciting time for all the members of the Rainy River District Detachment. Our detachment is committed to working with the community, First Nation, provincial and federal stakeholders to enhance public safety and support for all victims of crime. This new modern facility will provide us with the necessary infrastructure to be efficient in the delivery of policing services for the citizens and visitors within the Rainy River District.”