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OPP's historic journey reaches Timmins

Event marks milestone year for province's police service

Two Ontario Provincial Police time travellers were in Timmins over the weekend to talk about what life was like for OPP officers 100 years ago.

Constables Guy Higgott and Erik Howells left Hearst at the start of February dressed in replica OPP uniforms from the 1920s.

The pair, along with a guide, are heading on a 1,000-kilo-metre trip to Moosonee, 700 kilometres, by dog sled and the remainder by rail.

The officers are expected to reach their destination by Feb. 22. The event is being held to mark the OPP's 100th anniversary. Many historians believe the OPP has its roots in Northern Ontario.

The police service was born Oct. 13, 1909, the same year the Porcupine gold fields were discovered.

In November 1912, a general miners strike was called in the Porcupine district. It began when mine managers and owners tried to reduce wages.

The OPP was brought in to restore order after special detectives hired by the company fired on the strikers in front of the Goldfields Hotel in Timmins.

The earliest known photograph of OPP officers using a dog sled was taken in front of that hotel and dates back to 1912.

"Back then, the OPP travelled by dog sled, snowshoe and rail," said Sgt. Pierre Chamberlain, who came from Orillia for the celebration, held at the Shania Twain Centre on Saturday.

"If they didn't adapt to the way of the First Nations people, they perished."

Higgott and Howells are averaging about 50 kilometres a day. Each has about six Alaskan sled dogs and although they don't look very large, they're bred to run.

The two men have been friends since they worked together in Barrie in 1999.

Since they began their dog sled trip, they've been sleeping in a tent heated by a stove, experiencing life as an OPP officer from the 1920s.

"Back then technology was almost non-existent" Higgott said. "Once they left the railroad or the plane, there were no radios, cellphones or satellite phones."

In the OPP's early days, one officer did everything. Now there are special divisions for different incidents and issues.

They left Timmins on Sunday morning headed for a similar presentation in Cochrane.

The experience has been humbling for the two constables. At one point, when it was -40 C they used their bare hands to warm the dog's paws.

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