Olympic equestrian family opposes private eastern Ontario gun range

Olympic show jumper Amy Millar pets a pregnant mare on Millar Brooke farm while trying to coax a foal. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)
Olympic show jumper Amy Millar pets a pregnant mare on Millar Brooke farm while trying to coax a foal. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

A storied family of Olympic equestrians is among those who object to a proposed commercial gun range about one kilometre from their farm on the outskirts of Perth, Ont., where show horses practise jumping.

The Millar Brooke Farm is a famed show-jumping facility of father and daughter Olympians Ian and Amy Millar.

For the past 26 years, the family and their horses have had to contend with a 13-person outdoor shooting range at the rear of a neighbouring rural farm used for firearm training and re-certification by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).

"These animals are bred to run and to jump," said Amy Millar. "When they get afraid of something, their reaction is fast."

WATCH | Gun range buyer says he understands concerns:

The OPP abandoned the site following the sale of the property in February. Some residents now worry a new proposal for a commercial gun range could mean increased sounds of gunfire at more times of day.

"Having loud noises go off at unpredictable times is going to be a real problem," said Millar, who added disabled riders involved in para-games training would be at particular risk.

"It's just not the right place for it."

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Local hunting guide buys land

Martin Whyte, a local renovation contractor and hunting guide, purchased the property at 1688 Rideau Ferry Rd. and has approached the township for a zoning amendment to convert the range to a commercial operation.

Whyte said he thought the facility would be covered under a pre-existing agreement, but it turns out provincial police neither owned the property nor had an agreement with the township to use the land as a gun range.

He said the noise concerns are overplayed, pointing out the champion horse Big Ben was in a field about two kilometres from the range.

"If that was an issue, I"m sure it would have come up at some point in the last 25 years," said Whyte.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Staff with Drummond/North Elmsley Township were caught off-guard last month when nearly 100 residents packed the meeting hall where Whyte's application for the commercial range was being heard, according to Cindy Halcrow.

Halcrow, who's an administrative officer with the township, said residents and cottagers told council they had tolerated years of OPP gunfire out of a sense of duty to public safety and the greater good.

'They need to accept it'

That experience with gunfire is why Whyte says a commercial range should be approved.

"If I was trying to start this up new, from not having any gun range here before, then I think their points would be valid," said Whyte.

"When this has been here for 25 years and they've accepted it? I think they need to accept it."

On nearby Otty Lake, Ann Silversides said for years she and neighbours gritted their teeth while OPP gunfire ricocheted around Echo Bay.

"Rat-tat-tat-tat," she mimicked. "There is just a ton of opposition to this because it's cottage country."

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Township staff are preparing a study on whether the range is compatible with the official plan, with council set to consider the proposal in the weeks ahead.

The conditions of the land sale requires the OPP to remediate land where, for decades, thousands of handgun, rifle and shotgun rounds were discharged.

In a statement, the OPP said that work would likely take place in 2023.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC