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City set to celebrate 'a Canadian hero' later this month

Events on June 23 will honour Sir Sam Steele; 'People should know about Sam Steele and understand where he came from'

This area’s most famous police officer will be honoured later this month, more than 100 years after his death.

On Friday afternoon, Michael Beresford was outside St. James’ Anglican Church in Orillia, clad in a replica of the uniform Sir Sam Steele would have worn as a staff sergeant with the North-West Mounted Police, the precursor to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

“He’s a Canadian hero,” said Beresford. “He’s the least-known Canadian hero there was. If he was American, he would be glorified.”

That’s the plan on June 23, when the city will celebrate Steele with a parade, a reception at the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and a church service at St. James’. That’s where Beresford will be. The president of Mariposa Arts Theatre will put his acting skills to use as he addresses the audience in character as Steele.

“People should know about Sam Steele and understand where he came from,” said Beresford, who was an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer for more than 32 years. “Sam was one of the first policemen in the country.”

Steele was born in Medonte Township, well before it was amalgamated to become Oro-Medonte, and he attended school in Orillia. He was baptized at St. James’.

“He’s huge, and he comes from here,” said Gerry McMillan, a local resident who is an RCMP chaplain and a padre with the local Legion.

McMillan was born and raised in Kenora and he spent plenty of time at his grandparents’ farm in Manitoba, where the RCMP was “a big deal.”

“I became fascinated with the RCMP and then I became fascinated with its history,” he said. “When I moved to Orillia, I couldn’t believe it — I was living where Steele was from.”

Mayor Steve Clarke has proclaimed June 23 to be Sam Steele Day in Orillia.

The day’s events will start with the church service at St. James’ at 10 a.m. In attendance will be members of the Royal Canadian Legion, RCMP, OPP, Grey and Simcoe Foresters, CFB Borden, the Orillia Fire Department as well as local Air Cadets, Navy Cadets and Boy Scouts.

They will then parade to the Legion for a reception.

The Orillia Museum of Art and History — also known as the Sam Steele Building — will have Steele artifacts on display and will be offering tours.