History

Operation Lifesaver is a unique public-private partnership that promotes awareness to help save lives and reduce suffering from injuries incurred at highway/railway crossings and from trespassing on railway property.

Our goal is to create safety-conscious attitudes toward railways and to promote safe driving skills, attention and adherence to signs and warnings. This will result in fewer collisions, fatalities and injuries.

Even with increased train traffic, more railways, and more vehicles on the road, the number of deaths and injuries along Canada’s railways is being reduced. The volunteers and dedicated supporters in several organizations have made OL the best public safety program in Canada and it has made Canada a better and safer place to be.

Operation Lifesaver began operating in Canada as a public education program, jointly funded by The Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada in 1981. Below is a snapshot of our historical timeline – you may also find our statistics, photos, videos, and sound clips useful.


1980s

1980

  • Roger Cyr, the first National Director of Operation Lifesaver in Canada, starts the program with little more than a desk, some materials from the American program, and his rolodex of railway contacts.
  • Gradually, the OL network came into being. Operation Lifesaver committees in the provinces were set up. The Canada Safety Council and the provincial safety councils and leagues in eight provinces became important partners.

1981

  • Operation Lifesaver began operating in Canada as a public education program, jointly funded by The Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada.

1981–1987

  • SK, AB, BC, MB, ON, QC, NB, PE, NL join OL

1988

  • NS joins OL

1989

  • Anti-trespassing component added to original crossing safety mandate; Public education program established for all ages based on “three Es” – Education, Engineering, and Enforcement; Partnerships with various agencies (police services, engineering groups) introduced; Cyr innovates with various public awareness programs such as crash simulations, rail safety days, and advertising campaigns; Cyr instrumental in introducing new rail-crossing symbol (“crossbuck”)

1990s

1990

  • The results were positive. Crossing collisions declined from 826 in 1980 to 386 in 1990, to 279 in 2001. The death rate fell from 83 in 1980, to 48 in 1990.

1991

  • Original staff member Roger Cyr retires after 51 years of railway/OL service. Executive Assistant position added, originally filled by Karen Jones.

1992

  • Ben Levesque, an early-retiree from CN Rail in the 1950s, hired as National Director; Survey reveals only 11% of Canadians had heard of Operation Lifesaver at that time, thus bringing Education to the forefront of the OL mandate; “Officer on the Train” program introduced to Canada on Chatham/Sarnia run, greatly enhancing awareness.

Circa mid-1990s

  • Levesque invited to attend OL Inc. USA “Program Development Council”, accepted as member of council; Levesque is inspired by US “Presenter Program” and brings back idea and American materials to Canada; Levesque assembles a team to assess and “Canadianize” the presenter program – recruits Frank Binder of CN Police; Ric Ladouceur, CPR Police Service; Ray Marchand, Canada Safety Council; and Gary Drouin of Transport Canada. The team reviewed the material and decided it was a worthwhile project to undertake.
  • The Canadian presenter kit was developed. Binder and Ladouceur introduce it to CN and CPR police officers and to other volunteers. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and other front-line union workers became involved.
  • As the program grew, a logistics problem developed. OL only had one Master Trainer at the time, Frank Binder. It was time to recruit some help. Ernie Oliphant of OLI in the United States responded. Together, they held a Presenter-Trainer session in Calgary during which 17 Presenter-Trainers were trained.

1996

  • Review of the Railway Safety Act results in recommendation to the Minister of Transport to reduce the number of collisions at crossings and trespassing incidents by 50 per cent by the year 2006. Program dubbed “Direction 2006″ is launched by Transport Canada, OL joins as partner, and Levesque takes on Chair of education committee.
  • First website developed as demand for presentations and information expanded. Tracking the increasing number of people, presentations, and activities was becoming a problem, leading to development of Database of Operation Lifesaver Information (DOLI) by Ranjan Kelly, an expert in statistics and database design.
  • New programs, such as the Community Anti-Trespassing Guide, and new videos, such as the Snowmobile Safety Video, produced in cooperation with the US OLI.

2000s

2000

  • OL and the RAC move to Ottawa from Montreal.

2001

  • Dan Di Tota replaces Ben Levesque (retired) as new OL national director. A former locomotive engineer and Manager of Rail Traffic Control for Canadian Pacific Railway in Montreal, Mr. Di Tota brought 23 years of railroading experience with Canadian Pacific to the position.
  • OL distinguishes itself as a Canadian organization, enhancing its logo with the Canadian maple leaf.
  • In 2001, 41 men, women and children were killed in crossing collisions. The injury rate dropped from 435 in 1980 to 201 in 1990, and, following a change in classification, to 47 serious injuries in 2001.

2002

  • OL introduces its Moving Billboards. The billboards included two CN cabooses; later followed by a CP container and a VIA locomotive.
  • OL and Direction 2006 complete new stand-alone training packages for professional school bus drivers, truck driver and emergency responders.
  • OL releases the Track, Trains and Being Cool video for adolescents.
  • New Truck/Rail Working Group established to address truck-related concerns at highway/railway crossings.
  • OL Canada moves annual conference to September and includes OL Annual Golf Tournament in the initiative.

2003

  • OL Launches the first Rail Safety Week Initiative in Canada.
  • OL and Direction 2006 partners commence production and distribution of a series of successful billboard posters, radio and television public service announcements across Canada to widely promote crossing safety and trespass prevention featuring hockey and football players and other special interests.
  • OL revamps its material and produces the Public- Rail Safety Guide and collection of tip sheets for various groups and audiences.
  • OL releases the “Look, Listen & Learn” interactive CD-ROM.
  • OL releases the “Stay Away! Stay Safe!” video for kids.

2004

  • OL, with the help of Direction 2006, installs interactive kiosks in Ottawa and Montreal, followed by Halifax, Winnipeg, St Constant, Edmonton and Saint John.
  • OL unveils the Operation Lifesaver Educational Vehicle (OLEV).

2005

  • OL introduces provincial grants, budgets and action plans to help local committees address area issues and initiatives.
  • OL develops “How to” DVD/CD on preparing a mock collision presentation.
  • OL releases “Railway Safety for Recreational Vehicle Users.

2006

  • OL introduces two new training packages for Newly-Licensed and Motor Coach and Transit drivers.
  • OL celebrates 25 years in Canada and helps host the 9th International Level Crossing Symposium in Montreal.

2007

  • OL publishes its first Annual Report.
  • McMaster University students produce the “Train Your Brain” animated children’s video for OL.

2008

  • OL launches an interactive website for Newly-Licensed Drivers – www.traintodrive.net
  • OL revamps its children’s material by launching the new Train Your Brain activity book, featuring Rover the Railway Safety Rabbit.
  • OL introduces Lorrie Johnston of Saint John, N.B. as first recipient of the Roger Cyr Award commemorating the founding father of OL in Canada and recognizing the dedication and commitment of volunteers across Canada.
  • OL Canada hosts annual conference and golf tournament and introduces first Technology/Services Showcase.
  • OL commissions its new Rover the Railway Safety Rabbit story from original author Anne Fotheringham.

2009

  • OL launches new kid’s website featuring the Train your Brain theme including Rover the Railway Safety Rabbit – www.olkids.ca
  • OL unveils the first phase of a new main website with new feel and look – www.operationlifesaver.ca