East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson, YRP services board chair, cuts ribbon

By: Mike Anderson

York Regional Police (YRP) officially opened its new marine unit headquarters in Jackson’s Point Harbour on October 5.

The 8,600 sq. ft. facility, located on the former site of Bonnie Boats Marina, provides office space for nine full-time officers, a training/meeting room, storage space, and three boat slips for police vessels, which include the 38-foot Naawij, the 34-foot Waawaatesi, and a new 24-foot rigid hull inflatable Zodiac, which can reach speeds of over 40 knots in shallow water.

The facility also operates in winter, with snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and a 24-foot custom airboat responding to emergency calls on the ice.

YRP vessels moored in new covered slips

According to YRP, the marine unit’s new location will improve efficiency and significantly reduce emergency response times in its patrol area, which includes 350 square kilometres of Lake Simcoe, as well as regional waterways.

Since 2001, the YRP marine unit has moored its vessels at Krates Marina in Keswick, while its officers were based at #3 District Headquarters at 3527 Baseline Rd, near Sutton — this meant that officers frequently had to drive 11 km to their vessels to respond to calls.

“Having officers in a building with a floating boathouse allows a rapid response to anyone that needs help on Lake Simcoe,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Busby, the marine unit’s commander, whose team responds to hundreds of calls each year, and so far has saved eight lives on Lake Simcoe this season.

According to Staff Sgt. Busby, the new facility will allow for increased patrols on the lake and shave as much as 10 to 15 minutes off emergency calls’ response times.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Busby

Const. Zach Goldman, who has served six years with the marine unit, mostly on Lake Simcoe, agrees the new location may help save lives.

“When we were based at Krate’s Marina, and we got a call that was further east on the lake, a lot of times, based on the water level, we might have to go all the way around Georgina Island to get to the Pefferlaw River. Now at least our starting point is midway. So our response time is much improved.”

CGIFN Band Councillor and artist Lauri Hoeg, whose paintings are featured prominently on the new building, also believes the new location will improve boaters’ safety, particularly around Georgina Island.

“We’ve found in recent years when there are people in peril that it’s been our people, either our police, ferry boat operators or just local guys who hop in a boat, that have gotten there first, before the police, to rescue people off the water. So I think this will be beneficial for sure.”

CGIFN Band Councillor Lauri Hoeg

“Minutes can be the difference between life and death when you’re involved in a situation on the water, particularly in the case of hypothermia,” added YRP Chief Jim MacSween, who said YRP had spent more than a decade looking for a suitable location for its marine unit before the region purchased the land in Jackson’s Point from MSR Holdings Inc in 2017.

Chief MacSween also sees the new facility helping YRP with community outreach and water safety education, and hopes to host an open house for the community once the pandemic is over.

“Sir Robert Peel said the police are the community and the community are the police,” Chief MacSween said. “It’s one of our hallmarks that we’re embedded within the community and that we invite the community into our facilities. That’s just the way we operate.”

YRP Chief Jim MacSween

But, while many residents are happy to see the new marine unit up and running, some are upset that YRP continues to oppose the construction of a public boat launch in the main channel.

Although the chief stated that this is still the YRP’s position, he indicated that the door is not entirely closed on the matter.

“Right now, we’re sticking to what was initially planned, but we’re always open to working with the community, having further conversations,” he said.

This is welcome news to Mayor Margaret Quirk.

“We’ve been asking that from day one of the marine unit. So if they can look to do that, that’d be fabulous,” said Mayor Quirk.

“If they’re willing to sit down and talk about it, we’re certainly willing to do that. If we can come to some agreement, that would be wonderful.”

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