“Sault Ste Marie’s Best Kept Secret”, Sault Search and Rescue Unit Inc.

Search and Rescue Exercises in Searchmont Resort

Unsung HeroesSault Search and Rescue Unit Inc.
“Sault Ste Marie’s Best Kept Secret”

It’s difficult to imagine such a dedicated volunteer organization contributing such valuable service to the community without receiving more highlighted recognition for its many years of service.

Dennis O’Reilly (Coordinator), Wayne Spencer (Treasurer)

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with Dennis O’Reilly Coordinator of the SSAR at their headquarters, the “Mac Nicholson Rescue Centre”, located at 246 Industrial Blvd in the city.

From a humble beginning in 1958 with a few volunteers meeting at the old YMCA located on Spring Street, SSAR have become one of Canada’s most prominent and diversified SAR organizations with divisions covering the following:

  • Ground
  • Air
  • Marine
  • Technical Rescue Team
  • First Response Team (Medical)
  • Project Life Saver (Locating people with handicaps such as Dementia or Autism who have wandered from their home base)

The SSAR Unit is the only SAR unit in Canada with such a comprehensive operation. Dennis mentioned that he has attended meetings at the request of other SAR groups in North America to outline the operation of the SSAR.

At their headquarters the SSAR has an amazing amount of assets most of which has been
obtained through fund raising by the volunteers including the now defunct Ladies Auxiliary.

Some of the assets that I noticed are:

Command Vehicle with current modern electronic equipment required to pinpoint the
location of people requiring emergency assistance.

School Bus converted to a Mobile Kitchen and supplementary sleeping quarters.

First response vehicle

Passenger Van


4 wheelers/ side by side/ trailers/ 8 wheel Argo


24 ft. Limestone vessel

All vehicles are ready to move at the touch of a key and are fully loaded with all the supplies imaginable to provide whatever relief or aid necessary for victims rescued from emergency situations.

Currently there are 50/60 volunteers within the SSAR Unit. All volunteers have to complete an application form. After police clearance and acceptance all volunteers undergo a stringent training program.

The original founding fathers of the SSAR, Maynard McCracken and William Jarrett,would be extremely proud to see the present result of their 1958 dream. Certainly all the people that SSAR have rescued since the formation of the SSAR owe an immense debt of gratitude for the availability of such an organization.

From Right to Left: Ellis MacDonald, Red Taylor, Kristen Breckenridge, Dennis O’Reilly, Hugh Wyatt

The SSAR is a non profit organization registered in the Province of Ontario. Since 1966 it has been an United Way Agency The financial support through this arrangement is fundamental to the operational stability and growth of SSAR.

Funding for the acquisition of capital assets is raised through a variety of fund raising activities and from donations from area companies and individuals.

Beyond the above listed categories SSAR provides an astonishing extensive amount of support within the City of Sault Ste Marie as well as the surrounding area,and district. Some of their many support activities are as follows:

  • During major weather events (e.g. snow storms), they transport doctors, nurses, patients, to and from clinics, hospitals, care facilities.
  • Set up emergency generators during power outages.
  • Response team when floods occur and marine vessels are necessary.
  • Provide safety support during outdoor remote events (e.g. biathlons).
  • Participating in community awareness events.
  • Assisting other communities in establishing SAR units.
  • Part of the VPR response team with the Red Cross,PUC, and Innovation Centre.
  • Part of the City Disaster Plan
    Part of the Airport Disaster Plan.
  • Hosted International SAR conference and Ontario SAR teams.

Sault Search and Rescue Unit respond mainly to the Algoma district but have been as far as Tisdale Saskatchewan and Kingston-Wolfe Island Ontario.

We are extremely fortunate that there are such dedicated people willing to expend their time and energy for the benefit of the community. The SSAR is an extraordinary organization that should receive plaudits from Civic authorities as well as appreciation from various organizations,groups and citizens that they support.

Two of their members have received the “Medal of Merit” from Sault Ste Marie!

It is a volunteer organization that always requires new members therefore any readers who are interested in such a satisfying volunteer effort should drop in any Saturday morning at their headquarters to obtain application forms and meet with some of the volunteers.

Forms available by calling 705-759-5878




  1. Boy do I ever second this comment as the best kept secret in the Sault. Perhaps the best kept secret here but not in the SAR community. Sault Search and Rescue is renown in Canada and probably elsewhere too. They do a first class job every time they are called upon.

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