ORILLIA — Hwy. 11 commuters familiar with the West Street entrance to Orillia, will see a new OPP memorial sign dedicating the bridge to a fallen officer.
A bridge dedication ceremony in memory of Const. George Bennett takes place Thursday.
He died while on patrol north of Orillia, after his snowmobile hit a rock in 1980.
Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner J.V.N. (Vince) Hawkes will officially dedicate the bridge at Burnside Line/West Street.
The province has permitted the naming of bridges and highway structures to fallen police officers since 2002 (Highway Memorial for Fallen Police Officers Act).
The ceremony will take place at the nearby Hawk Ridge Golf & Country Club, 1151 Hurlwood Lane.
According to the OPP Association website, Bennett was born on June 26, 1945 and lived in Mississauga before moving to Midland where he attended high school. While enrolled at Midland Secondary School, he excelled in industrial arts.
At six-foot-two he was an imposing figure in his OPP uniform and equally impressive in his kilt kit as a member of the OPP’s Force Pipe and Drum Band.
After a brief stint as a cadet with the Metro Toronto Police he joining the OPP June 30, 1975. During his first year on the Force, George served at the Brechin Detachment before transferring to Orillia.
In addition to regular duties, he took the snowmobile operator’s course. His experience with snow machines was limited to a few weeks per year at country property protection and winter sports events, as he did not own a snow vehicle of his own.
Bennett and Constable Jim Hewitt worked together in 1980 conducting routine snow vehicle cottage checks. Hewitt was an experienced snowmobile operator with 10 years of driving experience.
On Feb. 12, 1980, the officers were about tw12 miles north of Orillia on Severn Road where they were assigned to check local vacation properties. They were also conducting routine surveillance at the Swift Rapids Power Plant.
The officers drove their OPP snow machines north towards Severn River. The sun was bright and the temperature was mild. The conditions were perfect for snowmobiling through the bush.
At about 11:45 forty-five a.m. they passed into Matchedash Township.
At noon, Bennett crested a hill and rounded a corner. His snow machine struck a rock on the side of the road, catapulting him from his machine and disengaging his helmet. He struck a large boulder then landed on the ground.
Hewitt rushed to his partner’s aid but was forced to leave him to get help.
Upon his return, he found Bennett’s condition had deteriorated. Hewitt performed CPR on his partner to no avail.
Bennett succumbed to his injuries at 12:15 p.m. from massive internal injuries to his chest.
The damage to his snowmachine was limited even though it travelled without a rider for about 78 feet following the impact.
Members of the OPP Pipe and Drum Band were pallbearers at his large police funeral in Barrie. He was laid to rest at St. Andrew’s Cemetery.
In a letter to the Commissioner, Bennett’s parents passed on a message to all those who knew and worked with their son. They stated that they felt proud to know that their son had been associated with such a fine body of police officers.