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Citizen advisory committee groups have become a
strong arm in the community, reaching out to local
penitentiaries, helping to understand why resocialization
of inmates is important for the community and the
inmate. The following extracts from a story in the
Gravenhurst News portrays an incisive picture of a
citizen committee working to help correctional endeavors.
Author Michael Cole is a member of the
citizen’s advisory committee working with inmates
and staff at Beaver Creek Correctional Camp, Ont.

I am becoming more and more aware of a very special,
valuable, and unique relationship between Beaver Creek
Correctional Camp and the community in which it is
situated. This article explains why I feel we are “lucky” to
have Beaver Creek in our midst.

I say lucky because Beaver Creek affords us — the citizens
of Muskoka — an unparalleled opportunity to help the
residents of Beaver Creek help themselves get back into the
mainstream of Canadian life, and in return, we are fortunate
in reaping the rewards of the many and varied projects the
fellows from Beaver Creek have undertaken in this
community — most of them at no cost to us whatsoever.
Our relationship with Beaver Creek is a two way — give
and take — affair. But for us to give, we have to fully
understand what Beaver Creek is all about.

Briefly, for those who are unfamiliar, or are new to the
community, Beaver Creek Correctional Camp is a minimum
security penal institution situated between Gravenhurst and
Bracebridge off Hwy 11, with a resident population of about
100, and a staff of 20. There are no bars, no gates —
nothing to prevent somebody getting out — or in — at
any time. The only barrier is a bond of understanding that
exists in the minds of the residents and the administration.

There are rules, to be sure, but on any given day quite a
number of the residents travel into nearby towns to work, go

to the doctor or dentist, do volunteer jobs, or go to a movie.
Many of them get day or weekend passes enabling them to
spend a few days with their families at home.

Residents of Beaver Creek are given something rather incongruous
in a penal institution — freedom. But freedom
implies responsibility. At Beaver Creek the residents learn to
discipline themselves — they work together collectively
trying to maintain as good an image as possible in the
community. Granted, there is the odd unfortunate incident
— usually blown far out of proportion by a sometimes unfair
and ill-informed public — but by and large their percentage
of good deeds to bad is no worse (and sometimes even better)
than what exists in any office, school, or large group of
people here, or anywhere else.

In 1961, when it was announced that Beaver Creek was to
be established in this area, some people felt that the lives of
those who lived near the camp would be in danger. Others
looked at the whole project with some concern, but luckily
these fears quickly faded as people began to learn more
about the camp, and as they realized that their preconceived
notions about the camp had little or no basis in fact.

The Citizens Advisory Committee, of which I am a member,
is composed of 12 men and women chosen from all over
Muskoka. It meets regularly at Beaver Creek and acts as a
liaison between the camp and the surrounding community to
identify the needs of both groups, to try to fill these needs by
creating the situations and opportunities for the Beaver
Creek residents to involve themselves in the community.

As Rev Jim Thompson, another member of the committee
put it, “How can a person who has been artificially separated
from society for a period of time be expected to function
as a responsible citizen on release without a graduai
reintroduction into society.

"This requires mutual cooperation between the institution
and the society surrounding it, and it is in this area that we,
as citizens, can help, if only by changing our own attitudes
toward Beaver Creek.”

Examples of the many volunteer community projects that
Beaver Creek has done are too numerous to list, however
here are a few examples. They do a variety of work at the
Ontario hospitals in Gravenhurst and Orillia. Some of the
residents form a band which plays free at The Pines in
Bracebridge, during the winter carnival, and for other local
functions. Over 40 Beaver Creek men were involved doing
volunteer work during the winter carnival maintaining the fire
in front of the opera house, refereeing hockey games, marshalling
the opening night snowmobile parade, building up
the trail for the snowmobile races, and many more jobs.
They do free maintenance for the Children’s Aid at
Longhurst House in Bracebridge, and at their summer

camp. They do work for the boy scouts and girl guides,
chopping wood, and preparing campsites for them. During
the recent renovations of the Gravenhurst opera house, an
entire crew from Beaver Creek spent hundreds of hours
working on the floors and ceilings of the auditorium.

And they provide assistance to individuals, many of them
elderly, who are unable to do needed repair work on their
homes. All of this is strictly on a volunteer basis, and while
there are problems providing transportation and supervision,
Beaver Creek volunteers are available for this type of work
on an individual basis in either community.

I hope the preceeding will give the reader at least a small
insight into what Beaver Creek is all about. Again, I will repeat
that I feel we are very fortunate to have Beaver Creek
in our midst. Not only do their many community assistance
projects help us, but it affords us a rare opportunity to help a
lot of people that are eager for our understanding and assistance.
They don’t ask for anything really tangible – simply
a thank you when they do something worthwhile, a smile
now and then, and more than anything, they want an opportunity
to prove themselves. Let’s all of us give them this
chance at every opportunity. Let’s replace suspicion with
understanding.

– Michael Cole, “Prison Camp Offers Community Helping Hand.” Discussion, Vol. 2, no. 3, Sept. 1974. pp. 23-25.

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“Inmates Make Effective Use
of Fire Fighting Training,” Federal Corrections.  Volume 2 — No. 3. June-July, 1962

Provision of training for correctional camp inmates
in forest fire fighting techniques paid off recently
in the Bracebridge, Ontario, area, when an inmate
fire-fighting crew from Beaver Creek Correctional
Camp was able to effectively assist Ontario Lands and
Forest Department personnel in bringing a local bush
fire under control. 

The practical proof of the value of this training
came on June 16, when the camp’s Officer K. Knister
received a telephone call from the Forest Ranger’s
office at Bracebridge requesting assistance in extinguishing
a local bush fire. 

Mr. Knister selected four inmates who had successfully completed a fire-fighting course conducted
earlier at the camp, and went with them to the Santa’s
Village area. After receiving instructions, the officer
and four inmates fought the fire for approximately
seven hours alongside one employee of the Department
of Lands and Forests and two civilians, using equipment
provided by the Provincial Government.

For their labour, the inmates were paid by the
Provincial Government at $1.00 per hour. Their
cheques were received by the Accountant at Collin’s
Bay Penitentiary, the Camp’s parent institution, and
deposited in the inmates’ Trust Fund Accounts. 

In recognition of their efforts, Chief Ranger Elliott.
later telephoned Camp Superintendent D.J. Halfhide
to express the Department’s appreciation. Ranger
Elliott congratulated Supt. Halfhide on the inmates’
behaviour, and on the skill they showed in organizing
and in fighting the fire. He made particular mention
(if their use of fire hoes. and their knowledge of the
correct use of fire-fighting hand tools.

   

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