By Peter Moon
The Canadian Rangers have completed a highly successful year aiding the people of the Far North of Ontario, according to their commanding officer.
They have saved numerous lives in search and rescue operations, evacuated First Nations threatened by fire and flooding, and helped prevent suicides.
“We punch above our weight with the resources we have in a huge area of this province,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Shane McArthur, the Canadian Army officer who commands the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (3CRPG), which commands the Rangers of Northern Ontario. “We are on call 24-7 and we are the busiest and largest reserve unit in Ontario.
“It is an honour and a privilege to command this unit. I’m doing my best to continue with the great success and the great history this unit has and the traditions the Canadian Rangers bring to it.”
Canadian Rangers are part-time army reservists. The first Ranger patrol opened in Moose Factory in 1994. There are now almost 700 Rangers in 27 First Nations across the province’s Far North. New patrols were added in 2019 in Aroland, Cat Lake, Long Lake, and Pikangikum. Detachments, which are smaller subunits, were opened in Ginoogaming and Marten Falls.
In 2019 they rescued hunters, trappers, boaters, and fishermen, as well as lost community members in search and rescue missions in all kinds of dangerous and challenging conditions on land and water. Rangers played key roles when out of control forest fires forced two major evacuations of Pikangikum First Nation. They also assisted in evacuations when river floods threatened Bearskin Lake and Kashechewan.
Rangers flew into Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation to prevent suicides after a house fire killed five people. They did the same thing in North Spirit Lake when the community declared an emergency after a number of suicides and setbacks brought community chaos.
The Rangers were called on to provide a range of social supports for a number of troubled First Nations in 2019, Colonel McArthur said.
“Because of the isolation of our communities and the lack of resources in them Rangers become a useful tool to provide a range of assistance while giving other government departments time to sort themselves out and get themselves organized,” he said. “The Rangers bring traditional skills, knowledge of the land, and life experience. We are able to respond quickly, using Rangers in the community if it has a Ranger patrol or flying them in to provide skilled assistance.”
The army provides training throughout the year for the Rangers. It includes ground search and rescue provided by the Ontario Provincial Police and the army, first aid, navigation, enhanced firearms instruction, ice rescue, and a number of other skills.
“They already have unique skills when they become a Ranger,” Colonel McArthur said. “We provide them with additional skills training that most soldiers never receive.”
The work of the Rangers in Northern Ontario was recognized last year by the award of national honours. 3CRPG received a prestigious and rarely awarded Canadian Armed Forces Unit Commendation for saving lives. Two Rangers were awarded the Order of Military Merit, the military equivalent of the civilian Order of Canada. Six members of the headquarters staff received senior Canadian Army commendations for helping to save lives
The unit also leads the Junior Canadian Ranger program in the province. It is a culturally appropriate program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18. There are close to 800 Juniors Rangers in 22 First Nations in the Far North.
The headquarters of 3CRPG is at Canadian Forces Base Borden, near Barrie, where it is staffed by 52 military personnel. The staff includes the army Instructors who travel regularly to the North to train Rangers. “Without the headquarters staff we would be unable to provide the support we do to our Northern communities,” Colonel McArthur said. “They do a tremendous job.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)