Anybody who’s travelled the busy stretch of highway between Midland and Highway 400 has likely come across Carl Wright.
Whether it’s raining, snowing, sunny or foggy, the affable Hillsdale man can be found diligently manning the crosswalk that helps students get safely across County Road 93 on their way to and from Hillsdale Elementary School.
“Why do I love the crosswalk? I don't have that daily commute and can encourage kids to walk or bike to school,” says Wright, who was recently fêted as one of Canada’s favourite crossing guards by Parachute, a national charity dedicated to injury prevention.
“I also have great students, who I love interacting and engaging with and am happy to get them across the highway safely.”
Kelley Teahen is vice president of communications and marketing for Parachute, which bestowed the honour upon Wright.
“We run an annual contest to honour crossing guards who go above and beyond their jobs to keep children safe,” Teahan says. “We had 368 nominations from across Canada, and Carl Wright was chosen as one of three winners.”
The 64-year-old has lived in Hillsdale for nearly 31 years and has seen a lot of changes when it comes to both traffic volumes and speed.
"Traffic volume has gotten so much busier," he says "Add cellphones into the mix, and it is frightening. I try to do everything possible to get the attention of the drivers and to calm traffic at the school crosswalk on Highway 93.
"This includes setting up several bright orange traffic cones. They regularly get hammered by speeding and/or inattentive drivers. The impact from one was so violent it broke off a fog-light cover. The driver fled the scene. Traffic cones can be replaced. Children cannot be replaced."
Parachute launched this annual contest in 2005 to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of dynamic crossing guards who help keep children safe. Each winning guard receives $500, as does each of their affiliated schools. The other two winners for 2022 hail from Haileybury, Ontario and Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Québec.
“Canada’s Favourite Crossing Guard Contest celebrates the role crossing guards play in their communities on pedestrian safety and helping to keep children safe as they are travelling to and from school,” explains Parachute president and CEO Pamela Fuselli.
Wright says he was taken aback to receive the prestigious award, which was presented to him recently during an assembly at the school.
“It was pretty amazing and totally unexpected,” Wright tells MidlandToday. “I had no idea I was even nominated. It’s a big honour.”
Besides always being at his post to help Hillsdale Elementary School students safety cross the busy highway that runs through the village, Wright also runs a website where he posts information on traffic and vehicle safety, sharing his experiences as a crossing guard.
In one nomination letter supporting Wright as the perfect choice for the Parachute award, the writer points out that “Highway 93 goes through Hillsdale with many vehicles driving way more than 50km/h posted (some upwards of 80-100km/h).
“His focus on traffic and the children has helped avoid devastation on multiple occasions when vehicles did not stop for the traffic lights.”
Adds Wright: “I’ve been doing it since March 2019. I love the kids, they give me a lot of joy and they’re very respectful.”
Wright actually took over the position from his wife Lynne, who did it for 13 years before becoming postmaster at Waubaushene’s Canada Post outlet.
“I’m only the third crossing guard in 25 years,” he says, noting he left a “pretty good” job he enjoyed with Busch Systems in Barrie’s south-end to become a crossing guard.
"I was getting close to retirement and it's so nice not to have to commute to work."
Wright says it’s also neat to see the evolution of children’s independence since they normally cross with their parents in the early years with their parents then watching them from the car as they get a bit older and then finally by themselves as they make the trek to school.
A father of four with children living in New Zealand (where Lynne is from and recently visited), Victoria, Indiana and at home, Wright knows all about the trepidation, sadness and celebration parents often feel as their children gain a bit more independence and take those first steps towards leaving the nest.
Wright is also a strong proponent of active transportation, regularly spreading awareness around the benefits of biking or walking along with World Car Free day, which occurs in September, among the Hillsdale community.
“Providing the infrastructure for active transportation is so important,” Wright says, noting a bike path between Hillsdale and Midland would be “amazing.”
As for his crossing guard duties, Wright hopes to keep doing it "for as long as possible."