The road has been long, paved by the work of many hands, but a dream has become a reality.
After nearly a decade trying to make the district a “Safe Community,” the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition, along with numerous partners, has landed the World Health Organization’s 11th International and 5th National Conference on Safe Communities here next week.
And RRVSC chair Doug Anderson couldn’t be happier.
“It’s quite thrilling, quite overwhelming, to see how the community had taken hold of it,” Anderson, who’s also the chair of the Safe Communities conference steering committee, said late yesterday.
Part of the conference’s proceedings Tuesday evening will be the official proclamation of Rainy River District as one of Canada’s three “Safe Communities,” as recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The other two are Fort McMurray, Alta. and Brockville, Ont.
“It’s about recognition for the hard work. But probably the biggest thing is the process of building to get here,” said Anderson.
“Over the years, we’ve built tremendous partnerships and will continue to do so—that’s part of being a ‘Safe Community,’” he noted. “We’ve built up on the past. The district has had a history of working together and with this, it really comes through.”
Anderson first started striving to make the district safe as part of the seminal group also consisting of Doug Langtry, Carol Ewacha, and Grace Silander in 1992.
With help along the way by community partners such as Abitibi-Consolidated, among numerous others, they made a serious step forward in 1997 when the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition was successful in developing a district-wide strategic plan “to reduce accidents and injuries and help move the district to its goal to have the safest communities in Canada.”
Some of this was gleaned from the comprehensive “Tomorrow” plan.
But after the groundwork was in place, perhaps the greatest breakthrough in landing the recognition as a “Safe Community” was planted back in 1998 when Dr. Leif Svanstrom, head of the WHO Collaborating Centre on Community Safety Promotion in Stockholm, Sweden, visited here.
“He made his first site visit. At that time, we were doing the envisioning session to bring ‘Risk Watch’ into our community,” Anderson recalled. “And he saw how we took the initiative and worked on it as a community.”
From there, Dr. Svanstrom indicated where the safety coalition should go from there to become a “Safe Community.”
“And we’ve been working on all the various areas since then,” said Anderson, noting one of the steps to qualify was to host a conference.
One of the key steps to defining what this conference would reflect came in 1999 when a planning session, led by Bob Jeffrey, former health planner with the Northwestern Health Unit here, and featuring representatives from many walks of life (from the OPP to high school students), came together to establish the conference theme: S.E.E.D.S.—Growing Safe Communities (Safety Education Equal Opportunities Dedication Sustainability).
Not long afterwards, committees covering aspects from logistics to volunteers to events were struck, with dozens, and eventually hundreds, of district residents involved, leading up the conference as it stands set to go next week—hosting up to 300 delegates from 33 countries.
“It’s been a thrilling part of my life working with people I didn’t really know before, and those I got to know better,” enthused Anderson.
As a parting comment, Anderson invited the public to come out to the various events planned next week and participate in the international conference.
“I think it’s an opportunity for the community to met some pretty interesting people,” he noted.
Look for the WHO conference special supplement included with this week’s Times for details on the schedule and some of the programs being featured.