Renfrew – The sound of roaring engines coming from the Harley Davidson motorcycles driven by members of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) was replaced with disappointment from Renfrew Fair patrons this year after the show was cancelled on the Friday night of the fair.
Those who arrived early at the grandstand prior to the scheduled six o’clock performance likely figured it would be cancelled as they watched various members of the team attempt to park their bikes, finding when they released the kickstand it sunk into the soil and many bikes came close to falling over.
Tom McIntyre, one of the hundreds of volunteers who help stage the annual fair, said the track did not meet the requirements set out by the OPP.
“With that heavy downpour we had last night (Thursday) it was a big muddy mess back here afterwards,” he said. “We had machines in here last night and today trying to flatten the track and bring it up to where it needs to be. It’s too bad, but some things you just can’t control and we know weather is one of them.”
Just before 6 p.m., a line of motorcycles made their way from the area in front of the cattle barns toward the grandstand. With lights flashing and sirens blaring over top of the loud engines, it appeared for a brief moment the show might go on.
As the 15 members of the group followed Constable Elizabeth Newton to the grandstand, there was a sense the show might occur. However, when Const. Newton, who leads the group and is referred to as the Ride Master, got off her bike and went to talk with Paul Neville, chair of the Renfrew Fair Board, it was obvious the show was cancelled.
One of the Golden Helmets went to the grandstand to make the unpopular announcement; the crowd was disappointed, but polite. The officer informed those in attendance there would be an extended meet and greet with the team members and everyone was invited to Pakenham the next day where the group would be performing.
Despite the cancellation, Const. Newton said events like the heavy rains the night before cannot be stopped; the chance to spend extra time speaking with residents is something the officers look forward to.
“I joined the Helmets in 2009 and it was one of the best decisions I ever made and although our show tonight was cancelled, we all enjoy just being able to relax and talk to the folks,” she said. “We have members from all over the province and many of us have been here for a number of years.
“All of us are regular patrol officers and my detachment is Wasaga Beach,” she added. “We spend our days patrolling our catchment on motorcycles and when we get together in May of each year, it is like our second family.”
With only 16 members, it is a competitive process to become a member of the elite squad. Constable Newman said this is a year of transition with six new members joining the squad. This year is the first time since 2019 they have performed due to the pandemic and the six rookies, like all team members, must meet strict qualifications to be a Golden Helmet.
The “OPP Motorcycle Precision Team” was officially founded in 1963. Unfortunately, their first performance did not go as planned and two members, Provincial Constables D.H. Pursley and G.H. Winter, both broke their legs in a crash. After a group discussion, they voted to continue on and the team attended the Norwood Fair several weeks later.
The Golden Helmets program was suspended following the death of Provincial Constable John Verral after he and another rider collided during a performance at the Simcoe Fair on October 8, 1971. The OPP officially reinstated the Golden Helmets Precision Motorcycle Program in 1975. There were over 200 performances from 1975 to 1984, most of which were at community fall fairs.
In June of 1991, due to front-line police service delivery issues, the program was once again disbanded, but it was re-established in 1997 and continues to this day.
Although Chatham-Kent OPP motorcycle Officer Const. William “Bubba” Van Wyk is a few days short of his 40th birthday, he is the second youngest member of the Golden Helmets. He has been patrolling the roads of Chatham-Kent for several years and he has enjoyed every moment of his time with the Helmets.
“All of us have to complete a three-week motorcycle course and at least one season on motorcycle patrol, he said. “We have to be in good physical condition and have earned a police fitness pin. I plan to be a member so long as I am physically able. The men and women are fantastic and this year is the first time in almost four years we have trading cards with all our members on them and it is a real treat for the kids.”
As soon as Const. Van Wyk mentioned trading cards, Qwyn Lanthier, 4, made her way and asked for a card. He is a large man and passed his trading card on to the girl and she immediately began to giggle and point at the card. He looked down as she asked him if his name was really “Bubba.” He nodded, picked her up and placed her on the seat of his bike.
“This is the reason I am so proud to be a Golden Helmet,” he said with a big smile. “The chance to bring my motorcycle, which serves as my desk, to the folks all across the province is something we all look forward to. Instead of interacting with residents in what is usually a crisis of some type, we can meet them here and talk with them about pretty much anything. I hope I get to keep driving this bike until I retire.”
By Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 20, 2023 at 08:24