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The Canadian military’s special forces base at Dwyer Hill is being modernized in a $1.4 billion project.

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Defence Minister Anita Anand announced Tuesday the initiative to construct 23 new buildings at the Dwyer Hill Training Centre or DHTC. The centre is home to the Canadian Forces special forces unit Joint Task Force 2.

The 10-year construction project will meet JTF2’s long-term growth, training, and high-readiness operational needs, according to the Canadian Forces.

Work includes replacing 89 ageing and temporary structures with 23 new facilities; renovating seven buildings; and upgrading the site’s utilities.

Approximately 2,000 jobs will be created throughout the project, with as many as 250 to 300 people working on-site during peak construction periods, according to the federal government. Construction is set to begin in May.

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The unit’s training and operations will continue on-site while this work is underway, according to the Canadian Forces.

New or renovated buildings will include modern office, operations and technical shop spaces, as well as a new range, training, warehouse, medical, accommodations, access control, kitchen, mess, ammunition, equipment and vehicle storage facilities.

“This project will more than double the unit’s current work and training spaces with modern, green facilities and create considerable economic opportunities for local businesses and workers in the National Capital Region,” said Anand.

The construction management contract was awarded to EllisDon Corporation of Mississauga, Ont., which will tender all sub-contracts and oversee construction work.

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In its 2017 defence policy paper, the Liberal government announced it would increase the size of Canadian special forces and spend $1.5 billion on new equipment ranging from surveillance aircraft to boats. Special forces, it noted at the time, would be increased to around 2,500 but the Liberal government did not detail the timeframe in which this would take place.

The Dwyer Hill base, a former horse farm, was originally built for the RCMP’s counter-terrorism unit. It was taken over by the Department of National Defence in 1993 when JTF2 was created.

In 2008, the Conservative government announced that Joint Task Force 2 would be moved from Ottawa to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont. To prepare for that relocation, the government expropriated a 90-hectare family farm in the area.

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At the time, the Canadian Forces noted that moving JTF2 to Trenton would provide it with access to the military’s strategic transport planes, allowing for a rapid response to domestic or international incidents. Trenton is also strategically located along Highway 401, allowing for rapid ground response to nearby major population and economic centres such as Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, it added. Since the base is also on Lake Ontario, JTF2 can conduct training such as scuba diving or small watercraft operation, according to the Canadian Forces.

But the Conservative decision to move the unit to CFB Trenton was controversial as some members of JTF2 were not keen to leave the Ottawa area.

In addition, there was pushback on the federal government’s 2012 decision to expropriate a 90-hectare farm owned by Frank Meyer for the new JTF2 installation at CFB Trenton. The farm had been in the Meyers family for more than 200 years. Meyers argued that the Canadian Forces already had large tracts of land, and instead could have built the base on property it owns in Mountain View, near Trenton.

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When the Canadian Forces took over the farm they tore down barns and built a berm and some access roads. Meyers died on Sept. 15, 2019.

But by then the military was reconsidering the JTF2 move because of costs and the need to keep the unit close to the nation’s capital in case of a terrorist attack.

In February 2020, the Liberal government announced it was no longer considering moving JTF2 to CFB Trenton.

The Canadian Forces had talked about the need for a new base for JTF2 almost since the beginning of the unit’s creation. In 1996, JTF2 warned military leaders that the Dwyer Hill Training Centre was too small and the force should be moved. Any new base, they concluded, should be as close to downtown Ottawa as possible, in case the unit is needed to immediately respond to a terrorist attack. Other options considered over the years were an expansion of Dwyer Hill or moving the unit to CFB Petawawa, where there are already special forces training facilities and installations.

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