Thursday was an emotional day for those in the policing community, including Sgt. Matt Hanes.
He was at Ontario Provincial Police General Headquarters in Orillia for the unveiling of the Pathway of Memories, a collection of “memory stones” honouring OPP members and spouses and others associated with the force.
Greeting people on the pathway is a cornerstone donated by the Andy Potts Memorial Foundation. Const. Andy Potts was Hanes’s policing partner when the two were involved in a collision July 20, 2005, on Muskoka Road 169, near Walker’s Point. They were on their way to a domestic disturbance call when their cruiser collided with a moose. Potts died at the scene, while Hanes was seriously injured.
“I was critical at the time, with a large laceration to my head,” Hanes recalled, adding he also suffered an injury to his spleen, three broken fingers and a broken wrist.
Hanes went on to create the Andy Potts Memorial Foundation as a way to keep his late partner’s memory alive and give back to local causes. The foundation has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, some of which was used to purchase a vehicle for the Muskoka Lakes Fire Department’s Station 4, which responded to the crash.
Hanes was honoured to have the foundation donate the cornerstone memorial, unveiled Thursday.
“I would like to think that Andy really likes everything we’ve done,” Hanes said. “He was just, generally, one of the nicest people I’ve known.”
While many memorials are set up to honour only those who have died, the OPP has taken a different approach. The Pathway of Memories also recognizes those who are still alive and have contributed in some way to the organization. Among them is Bryon Brown.
The 30-year veteran of the force, who retired in 1993, decided to purchase a stone with his name on it.
“I wanted to support the OPP Youth Foundation and, like a lot of people, I have fond memories and you want to keep those memories alive,” he said.
All proceeds from the purchase of the stones go to the OPP Youth Foundation.
“Every single stone helps a child,” OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes told the large crowd that gathered in front of headquarters for Thursday’s ceremony.
Dave Lee, chair of the OPP Youth Foundation, noted the first stone recognizes Thomas O’Grady. When he was commissioner, he approved the creation of the OPP Youth Summer Camp, which paved the way for the establishment of the youth foundation in 2005.
“Without Mr. O’Grady, we might not be standing here,” Lee told the crowd.
It was important for the OPP to create something that honoured not only officers, but also those who contributed in other ways to policing. Years ago, for example, before they were allowed to be officers, women – often wives of officers – would help out.
“Women contributed by making meals for prisoners, searching female prisoners,” Hawkes explained, adding their contributions should not go unrecognized.
He referred to the Pathway of Memories as “a huge achievement, not only for the organization, but for the youth foundation.”
Thursday’s unveiling showed off the first installation of 226 stones, on display on the front lawn, by the flag poles. The pathway will continue to grow, as the OPP has ensured there is space for more stones to be added.
Brown hopes others will take advantage of the opportunity to be recognized or to recognize someone else.
“It’s a wonderful thing the OPP is doing. It’s great that they recognize the service,” he said.
There are guidelines for those wanting to purchase stones. Find out more here.
For more information on the OPP Youth Foundation, click here.