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How a lost hunter prompted a movement

In this week's edition of Remember This, we look back on the formation of Sault Search and Rescue
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Sault Search and Rescue 2 SSMPL
The Sault Search and Rescue headquarters is pictured in this Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

In December 1958, Harold Patrick, an experienced wilderness guide and hunter went moose hunting with two companions near Pancake River. 

Once they arrived at their destination, he opted to go off by himself but he never returned to meet up with his hunting party.  His two companions returned to the Sault and reported him lost. 

A group of men prepared to return to the area the next morning to begin a search for Patrick. There was snow on the ground so it should have been fairly easy to follow his tracks however a blizzard blew in during that day and all trace of his tracks were lost.  Those who were searching also became confused by the snow and struggled to find a trace of him.  On the day after the blizzard they found his packsack and rifle and on the fourth day they found his tracks heading to the shoreline and found evidence that he had tried to cross the ice and had fallen through the ice.  It was at this point that they found him collapsed on the ice and covered in snow.  He was alive when they found him but he died later that night without ever regaining consciousness.  

For three years in a row men were lost in the Algoma wilderness and died before they could be rescued. In one instance, a man was found 22 miles away from where he had last been seen and only 300 yards from a main highway! 

By this point a group of outdoor enthusiasts had become convinced that with the proper equipment and training, people could be organized to get better results when it came to searching for people who became lost in the bush.  

Maynard (Mac) McCracken was the president of the Rod and Gun Club and along with Wilfred Jarrett they set up a committee of 16 charter members who each paid $14.50 to start a fund for the new search and rescue group.

Within six months, they were called into action to find a young German man who had become lost in the Garden Lake area while deer hunting. They started with 50 men on the first day, 75 men on the second day and by the third day a helicopter was called in.  The lost hunter, Peter D’Huk was located by mid-afternoon and was rescued in good condition. This successful rescue demonstrated the importance of this effort and support for this group significantly increased as people recognized the value of this unit. 

Sault Search and Rescue 1 SSMPLThe Sault Search and Rescue headquarters is pictured in this Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

New members joined the unit so that soon they were forced to separate from the Rod and Gun Club and they became Sault Search and Rescue. Four years after they began they applied for incorporation. Each member brought a variety of skills with them including experience in the bush, diving, air rescue techniques, medical expertise and skiing so the members were organized into squads in order to have a well-balanced team attending each rescue mission. 

In the early years, they spent time fundraising in order to buy and maintain equipment but by 1968 they had joined the United Way so that they were not spending so much of their time fundraising. Search and Rescue Units are common across the country now but the Sault was unique because they trained to carry out rescues by land, water and air.  Their services are requested by the Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, local police services and the OPP.  

Malcolm (Mac) Nicholson, another of the charter members and a long-time director of the group had a personal connection to the unit when they had to search for his own brother-in-law who drowned in Lake Lauzon in 1961. When a new headquarters for the Sault Search and Rescue was opened in 1985 it seemed to be a very fitting tribute to name the building, the Mac Nicholson Rescue Centre to honour his long service to the organization.    

The members are all volunteers who have a strong will to be available when the next call comes. They spend a lot of time training for the next emergency which means that they are away from their families but they know that every moment counts when there is an emergency and they want to be ready to help. 

The motto for Sault Search and Rescue Inc. is “to faithfully serve” and they have certainly demonstrated this through their actions when they are called into action.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here