Canadian Rangers a growing community resource in Northern Ontario

Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Richardson ~ Le lieutenant-colonel Matthew Richardson

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By Peter Moon

The Canadian Rangers have created an impressive record of service to the First Nations of the Far North of Ontario, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson, their commanding officer.

“The Rangers are a success story in Northern Ontario,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Matthew Richardson at the Royal Canadian Military Institute’s annual conference on defence and security studies in Toronto.

There are 640 Rangers, who are part-time army reservists, in 27 First Nations across the top half of Ontario. Every year, he said, they go to the rescue of hunters, trappers, fishermen, and others who get into trouble in a vast and challenging area bigger than the size of France. They assist in evacuations and help, when necessary, to deliver emergency equipment.  Almost half the Rangers are female.

Colonel Richardson said the army is adding new Ranger patrols in two additional First Nations in Northern Ontario this year and two more next year.

The Rangers are commanded by the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, with its headquarters at Canadian Forces Base Borden. It is the largest army reserve unit in Ontario.

In 2018 they rescued 13 people in 16 search and rescue missions. They rescued 22 people in 20 missions in 2017. In 2016 they rescued 32 people in 25 search and rescue operations. In 2015 they conducted 18 searches and rescued 23 people.

“The Rangers do a great job, they really do,” he told his audience, which gave him an ovation after his presentation.

He told them that in July and August, 2018, Rangers from several communities flew to Wapekeka and Nibinamik when the two Oji-Cree communities faced youth suicide crises. They remained for a total of 51 days and conducted around-the-clock patrols to prevent deaths. They also organized activities to keep youth occupied. They provided similar organized activities in 2017 when Attawapiskat faced a youth suicide crisis.

Last December Rangers travelled by snowmobile from nearby communities to assist in the delivery by a military helicopter of a replacement generator for Wawakepiwan when the small
First Nation’s  generator broke down during a period of bitter cold. The Rangers went door to door ensuring people had food and heat. They also assisted when Muskrat Dam’s generator had issues during the same cold snap.

In the last five years, he said, Rangers played key roles in the evacuations of a number of First Nations because of flooding and forest fires. Rangers are currently assisting in the evacuation of Kashechewan which is facing possible flooding during the spring break-up on the Albany River.

Last November many Rangers responded as trained volunteers to a call for help from the Cree community of Waskaganish in Quebec when four hunters went missing. The Canadian Army recognized the value of their contributions in the search by placing them on duty retroactively and paying them for their service.

The Rangers also manage the Junior Canadian Ranger program for youth aged 12 to 18. There are now more than 1,000 Junior Rangers and the program is being slowly introduced into schools in Thunder Bay, Timmins, and Pelican Falls. “It is a very successful program,” he said.

(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at CFB Borden.)

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