Atikokan Progress,

Monday August 31 2015,

Jessica Smith

Six Toronto high school students toured Atikokan and met with members of Town Council before heading into Quetico Park, Wednesday.

The canoe trip, which ends today with their arrival at French Lake, is part of a leadership development course specializing in wilderness stewardship and urban citizenship. The Quetico Foundation, as a partner, provides the ecological research component.

The route took the students and trip leaders, Torie Gervais and Shayne Gordon from Stanton Bay through Oliphant, Sturgeon, and Russell Lakes, accompanied by Quetico Park biologist Brian Jackson and the Foundation’s summer intern Kiara Gannon.

Jackson and Gannon were assisting students with in-field research of the park’s ecology and heritage sites, including study of a wetland site at the mouth of the Pickerel River.

The Quetico Foundation’s Ridley Wilderness Youth Program has seen secondary students from southern Ontario trip in the park each summer for many years now, but the structure changed somewhat last year. QF now provides a portion of the wilderness/environmental component to a six-week intensive summer program run by Toronto’s arts and culture organization Trinity Theater Program (TTP).

The program selects immigrant youth (first or second generation) in Grades 10 or 11 who demonstrate leadership in their schools and communities to take part in the program, and the Quetico trip is often a first wilderness and canoeing experience for these students, said Gervais, a Toronto high school teacher.

“It was a big success last year, an awesome opportunity for everyone involved,” said Gervais, who along with Gordon,  a city police officer, began leading the trip last year. (The group is outfitted by Canoe Canada.)

The trip “nurtures love and respect for wilderness spaces and hopefully encourages these youth leaders to advocate for these spaces [in the future],” said Gervais.

Gordon volunteers through TROOP (Toronto Outreach Outtripping Program), which sees police officers leading outdoor recreational trips with youth, usually in southern Ontario.

As a police officer, he says taking this canoe trip with students is a unique opportunity to “break down boundaries. It’s a nice experience to switch it up from enforcement to a mentor-based relationship with youth, especially newer Canadians,” who may have negative associations with the police, given their country of origin.

The Quetico canoe trips this year and last have been a return to the Northwest for Gervais, who worked as a park summer volunteer 20 years ago. In leading the Ridley Program, “I’m really interested in experiential education, and I like to take it out of the classroom,” she said. “I have a deep love of canoeing.”

When it comes to experiential learning, it’s hard to match the AHS Outer’s program, and the group will meet again with Outers staff to learn about it upon their return here today.

Today’s itinerary includes visits to Souris River Canoes, XY Paddle Shop, AHS and the Outers building, and if time permits, a trip to the Steep Rock mine site, before returning to Toronto.

Ridley Wilderness Youth Program 2015 Atikokan Progress