On the surface, Brockville is just another quaint small town in Ontario. Situated in the Thousand Islands, residents enjoy tasteful concerts and exhibits at the historic Brockville Arts Centre and tourism write-ups will inevitably refer to the town of 20,000 as "charming."
But just out of town, Steve Day, a former special forces soldier, wants to show people the best way to breach buildings and take down targets using assault rifles, shotguns, and semi-automatic pistols.
The retired lieutenant colonel and former commander of Canada's secretive JTF-2 special operations unit, and his company, Reticle Ventures Canada, plan to invest $50 million [$36 million USD] to transform a 400-acre section of Tackaberry Airport into Canada's most advanced private training facility for militaries and first responders.
"This is going to be an innovation arena for leading-edge soldier systems technology,"says Day, whose specialty was combat engineering.
Brockville is the landlord and the owner of the property but the airport also falls within the jurisdiction of neighboring Elizabethtown-Kitley. Brockville will sign the lease agreement while Elizabethtown must approve the site plan.
Plans for the facility, which is partially operational and is slated for a grand opening at the beginning of April, include a 10,000 square-foot schoolhouse, a 164-foot outdoor firing range, a 82-meter indoor firing range, and an aircraft hangar. Reticle also wants to construct a "simulation village" to give students as much realism as possible when learning how to deal with urban assaults and hostage situations on Canadian soil.
The military contracting industry isn't especially new to Canada. There are several aerospace contractors and other specialty manufacturers based here and London, Ontario–based General Dynamics landed a controversial $15 billion [$10 billion USD] deal to supply Saudi Arabia with light armored vehicles. However, Brockville residents, among others in Canada, are witnessing the growth a little known offshoot: a private military training business.
Tundra Strategies, based in Stayner, Ontario, and Millbrook Tactical, based in Stittsville, Ontario, have both worked with the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND). Millbrook has trained DND employees in the use of firearms and Tundra has taught drivers how to keep their vehicles shiny-side up in conflict zones.
"We have trained the OPP, RCMP, military, and government agencies. We can't keep up with business at the moment," says Francois Paquette, president of Millbrook Tactical.
Reticle's Brockville project, however, represents an ambitious departure for Canada's private military training industry. Paquette says, "Nothing like this exists in the Canadian private sector." Tundra, for example, runs a training facility of its own but it just has classrooms for theory based learning. For practical training they use local off-site facilities. The Tackaberry site will see straight-up live-fire exercises. As such, the facility is proving worrisome to quite a few people in the community.
"It doesn't seem to make sense to have bullets flying around at a small municipal airport," says Brant Burrow, a member of the Elizabethtown-Kitley Residents Association.
Tackaberry is a special case: training amenities will be on-site while the airport itself will stay operational as a public airport.
Which means that those looking to be trained in the art of war will have to play nice with those trying to land their Cessnas. Rob Smith, an Elizabethtown-Kitley Councillor, says, "Reticle is building earth berms between the firing point, the runway, and the airport buildings that will be tall enough to obstruct the line of sight."
Though the above mentioned features, along with strict government safety guidelines, are designed to provide protection from projectiles and noise, residents are still troubled. During Reticle's own on-site ammunition sound tests last summer, nearby residents thought they were in the middle of a war zone, says Burrow.
"There just seems to be a risk there even if the risk is low. I don't dispute that there might be a one-in-a-million chance of a stray bullet hitting a plane or a person or what have you. It may be a low risk but the consequences are dire of that one incident," he adds.
Day is hoping to attract Canadian first responders and to repatriate Canadian dollars spent on sending our men and women abroad to train. He says that he has also had ample interest from private domestic and international clients, which has raised yet more concern for residents. "Just exactly who is Reticle going to be training here? What if someone gets a hold of a gun that shouldn't have one?" asks Burrow.
Brockville has yet to sign the lease agreement with Steve Day and, according to Mayor David Henderson, the city has imposed its standard noise by-laws on the agreement. And while everything about the project seems to be moving forward, Burrow assures me that he is going to continue being vigilant. "We're in it for the long haul. We are not against these facilities by any means. We are not against Reticle. We said right from the beginning that it's a good project but it's the wrong place."
Reticle's project is likely to change the face of the Canadian private military training industry for the simple fact that nothing like this exists here. The one-stop-shop model of tactical training made famous by sprawling US compounds, like Academi's Moyock, North Carolina facility, is moving north of the border. In the very near future, innocent and idyllic Brockville could be playing host to a much more hardcore tourist.