By Makala Chapman
A special Christmas is in store for children living in northern Canada thanks, in part, to personnel at 8 Wing Trenton, Ontario, and 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador.
As in previous years, the wings helped the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) ensure their annual “Toys for the North” initiative went off without a hitch.
Each year, thousands of toys are collected by members of the RCMP and volunteers in hopes of giving children in some of Canada’s most northerly and remote communities a Christmas to remember. A lot of hard work and effort is required to ensure the donated toys make it from Toronto to the children receiving them. Even Santa himself was impressed by the large-scale operation and the collaboration that went into getting the job done when he saw the team in action at 5 Wing.
Beginning in the summer, toys are donated by corporate sponsors through the Canadian Toys Association and are then collected by the RCMP. Volunteers then sort and package the toys at the Toronto-based warehouse and shipping company Thompson Terminals in early December. Once prepared, the toys are loaded onto a tractor trailer and delivered to 8 Wing.
This year’s event organizer, Corporal Stacey Anderson from the Niagara RCMP, was on hand this year to ensure things went smoothly and to oversee the shipment of toys to 8 Wing.
“This took a lot of coordination, talking back and forth, emails, phone calls and a lot of volunteers,” she explained. “Everybody has worked so hard together to make this happen and it’s so uplifting to see it come together.”
Corporal Anderson said the importance of initiatives such as Toys for the North comes down to caring about those in communities outside of one’s own. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like for these kids who don’t necessarily have the opportunity to have anything like this and to receive these toys.”
While 8 Wing might not have magical reindeer to help transport the toys, they do have the next best thing: a CC-130J Hercules from 436 Transport Squadron. As part of a training flight in the early morning hours of December 10, 2018, squadron members prepared for departure to RCMP hubs in Happy-Valley Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Thunder Bay, Ontario.
“It’s awesome to be able to take part in this so close to the holiday season,” said the Hercules pilot, Captain Brian Stobbart. “It’s also a great way to give back to the community through our skills and abilities.”
Within 15 minutes of landing in Labrador, personnel from 5 Wing and the RCMP were hard at work unloading half the toys from the back of Hercules. With blankets of snow as far as the eye could see, it truly looked and felt a lot like Christmas.
Local RCMP officer Corporal Christine Soucy noted her team would spend a couple of days sorting and wrapping the gifts. Once ready, the RCMP would then deliver the toys via a DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft, snowmobiles or whatever was needed to get them to the communities located on the north shore of the Labrador coast. Having been a part of Toys for the North for the past three years, she added that the most rewarding part of the whole operation is getting to see the smiles on the faces of the children receiving the gifts.
“They’re all so happy and you can see the magic in their eyes,” she said. “They don’t feel forgotten. They are very grateful.” Looking at it from a policing perspective, she added that the charitable initiative is a great outreach tool for the RCMP in their efforts to better their relationship with the northern communities. “It’s just nice to bring joy to the children,” she said, “especially for the RCMP members posted in those communities. They know the children [and] they know the people, so helping to bring Christmas to them is a plus.”
Corporal Soucy added that it is extremely important to have the RCAF’s support and that Toys for the North wouldn’t be possible without their support.
Hopping back on the plane, members of 436 Transport Squadron then made the four-hour trek to Thunder Bay where they were once again greeted by the local RCMP. Overseeing the operation from their end was RCMP detachment commander Staff Sergeant Normand Roy. He said he was pleased to once again be receiving the toys and appreciated all those involved to make it happen.
“It’s all for the kids and the community,” he said. “It’s beautiful to see those smiles.”
In addition to Canadian locations, he explained that the RCMP would be joining forces with U.S. partners to deliver toys to Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, which shares a border between the U.S. and Canada.
Reflecting on Toys for the North throughout the years, Staff Sergeant Roy said he couldn’t think of a better way to spread holiday cheer and said it was always a highlight for the Thunder Bay RCMP.
“A child receiving a toy from the RCMP is just great,” he said. “It’s an emotional time and a joyful time for everyone.”