‘We’ll fire our guns’: Rideau Ferry shooting range to be excavated by Ontario Provincial Police

Martin Whyte will fight for his day in court regarding a shooting range on his property in Rideau Ferry that he wants to open as a commercial range – a place where veterans can legally shoot their handguns. – Laurie Weir photo

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify the OPP will perform remediation work at the site of the gun range, but will not rebuild the berm. According to the OPP’s Media Relations Coordinator Bill Dickson: “Remediation work is expected to begin in June. The site will not be reinstated as a range as part of the OPP-funded work. The project work will consist of removing soils impacted by metals caused by historical OPP firing range activities, and then importing clean soils to replace what was removed. The site will be returned to its existing grade level, as is standard practice. Since the soils making up the current range berm were sourced from the property originally, they will also be replaced with an equivalent volume of clean soils. This material will be dumped at the site for the landowner to use and will not be built or shaped into a berm.

Martin Whyte wants his day in court.

And he vows to continue shooting on his property, regardless of its commercial zoning.

The Rideau Ferry resident requested the Township of Drummond/North Elmsley to rezone a portion of his 120-acre property nearly two years ago to allow a commercial gun range, and after the request was denied, he appealed to Ontario Land Tribunal. The case was dismissed on a technicality – he didn’t have his paperwork filed correctly.

When Whyte purchased the property, he said “it was a bonus” to have a former gun range on the land that had been used by the Ontario Provincial Police as a target practice range.

Whyte supports a group of veterans. “I wanted to be able to open it for veterans to have a place to shoot,” Whyte said from his shop on Highway 7, Whyte’s Maintenance, on Friday, April 19. “I never thought it would be such a fuss to keep the range open as the OPP have used it since the early 1970s.”

Whyte is a dual citizen, born in the United States, but has lived in Canada for most of his life. Not having his day in court is the frustrating part, he said.

“If I had some legal help with this, it would be a different story,” he said. “The court system is so convoluted it’s near impossible for the average citizen to represent himself and if you can’t get your day in court, it’s impossible to get justice.”

Whyte said he’s aware of the neighbours’ concerns and has reached out to address them on several occasions. He wants to have conversations with them to see if they can come up with a compromise. “Yet, to this day, no one has responded,” he said.

“The township didn’t listen to their planner, who advised that they defer their decision until they had all their facts,” Whyte said, as they were securing noise studies and environmental assessments.

“We can continue to use the range for non-restricted firearms without the township’s permission or the CFO (Chief Firearms Official) supervision,” Whyte said. “The only reason for the zoning change is to be able to fire handguns … it will continue as a private not-for-profit range, regardless of the zoning.”

A turn of events now has Whyte securing affidavits of former users of the gun range – long before 1995. Whyte has launched a case with the Superior Court Justice on the grounds of historical or legacy rights.

“Mr. Whyte has named the township as a respondent in a Superior Court of Justice application, in which he is seeking a declaration that a gun range use is a legal non-conforming use on his property. The court file number for the case is CV-23-00000114-0000,” Steve Fournier, Reeve of Drummond North/Elmsley Township shared with Lanarkist.

His date in court hasn’t been established yet, but Whyte believes it will be by September this year.

In the meantime, the OPP will be looking after the remediation of the property.

“The OPP is in the final procurement stages to secure the vendor to complete the excavation work. The intent is to start remediation as soon as possible, likely in June,” Bill Dickson, media relations coordinator for the OPP East Region, told this publication. He said the range was used by the OPP from 1995 to 2021.
As for a cost, the police have not confirmed that number, but Whyte said he believes it’s about a half-million dollars to complete the remediation.

“The range is not going anywhere” Whyte said. “The law in Ontario allows every Canadian to go fire a gun in your backyard if you so desire.”

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry has also confirmed that the gun range was in use between 1995-2021.

“In December 2021, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) contacted the ministry about the Rideau Ferry Road site and shared a third-party environmental report prepared on behalf of the OPP,” Gary Wheeler, communications specialist with the ministry, told this publication.

“As is typical of gun ranges, elevated lead and copper are present in the berm at the end of the shooting range. Although the levels were found above natural background concentrations in soil and groundwater, they are below provincial drinking water standards.”  

Wheeler said that since there are no reported environmental contamination impacts affecting neighbouring properties, the ministry is not involved in overseeing the environmental site assessment or remediation proposed by the OPP.

Fournier further stated that “if a land is used in the township in contravention of the zoning bylaw, then bylaw enforcement measures would be utilized.”

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