A Grade 8 class from Leth­bridge, Alta. — the 2017 win­ners of Canada’s Coolest School Trip — dives into Nova Sco­tia’s an­cient Mi’kmaq and colo­nial past on a tour of his­toric sites and a na­tional park

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Joanne Pearce with pho­tog­ra­phy by Kelci Mac­don­ald

A Grade 8 class from Leth­bridge, Alta. — the 2017 win­ners of Canada’s Coolest School Trip — dives into Nova Sco­tia’s an­cient Mi’kmaq and colo­nial past on a tour of his­toric sites and a na­tional park







THE WELL-LIT ACADIAN Memo­rial Church stands like a bea­con in the sur­round­ing dark­ness of the Grand Pré, N.S., land­scape. It’s a fit­ting stage for the drama that is about to un­fold. “This is the for­est primeval. The mur­mur­ing pines and the hem­locks, bearded with moss, and in gar­ments green, in­dis­tinct in the twi­light.” Stu­dents Chelsea Oye­bola and Caleb Hoff­mann are in­side read­ing from Henry Wadsworth Longfel­low’s poem “Evan­ge­line: A Tale of Acadie” (about the 1755 ex­pul­sion of Aca­di­ans from the Mar­itimes), at times gig­gling at the ro­man­tic lines. It’s with se­lec­tions from the fa­mous epic that the 2017 Canada’s Coolest School Trip be­gins for 17 Grade 8 stu­dents from Leth­bridge Chris­tian School in Al­berta. Af­ter the per­for­mance, the group walks out to a statue of Evan­ge­line near the church, crack­ing glow sticks to light the way. The stu­dents are here in Nova Sco­tia be­cause their video on Water­ton Lakes Na­tional Park won the an­nual Canada’s Coolest School Trip con­test, beat­ing classes across Canada who had cre­ated and pro­moted their own one-minute videos cel­e­brat­ing Parks Canada sites. All were vy­ing for votes and judges’ at­ten­tion — but more im­por­tantly, the grand prize of an all­ex­penses-paid trip hosted by Parks Canada in part­ner­ship with Cana­dian Geo­graphic Ed­u­ca­tion, His­tor­ica Canada, the Cana­dian Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion, Air Canada and Hal­i­fax’s Am­bas­sa­tours Gray Line. Al­li­son Over­beeke, the teacher of the win­ning class, says she found the con­fi­dence and team­work demon­strated by her stu­dents in­spir­ing — one even tried to con­tact Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau for the video’s pro­mo­tion. “They would say to me, ‘When we go to Nova Sco­tia …’ and I would cau­tiously say, ‘ if we go,’ ” says Over­beeke. “But they just shined. I’ve taught for 30 years and never ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like this op­por­tu­nity.”

“IT LOOKS LIKE A ROOT BEER FLOAT,” says 13-year-old Isa­iah Gee as the group reaches froth­ing Mill Falls, on the Mersey River in Ke­jimku­jik Na­tional Park. It’s an apt de­scrip­tion, as the wa­ter is tinged red­dish-brown by tan­nins in the sed­i­ment car­ried down from wet­lands. The pre­vi­ous day had been spent at Fort Anne Na­tional His­toric Site play­ing cricket, be­ing in­ducted into founder of New France Sa­muel de Cham­plain’s “Or­der of Good Cheer” and be­com­ing the first peo­ple in 400 years to sleep in one of the habi­ta­tions at Port Royal. But day three is about the Acadian wood­lands and rich wildlife of the na­tional park and his­toric site, and learn­ing about its im­por­tance to the lo­cal Mi’kmaq. Ke­jimku­jik pro­tects 426 square kilo­me­tres of land and the cul­tural land­scape, with more than 500 in­di­vid­ual stone carv­ings telling the story of the Mi’kmaq an­ces­tors. The name of the park it­self is a Mi’kmaq word now in­ter­preted as “land of fairies.” The stu­dents laugh and dare each other to cross the creak­ing boards of a pon­toon bridge on the Mersey River, and af­ter lunch, in­ter­preters teach them about Mi’kmaq life and how to use a throw­ing tool called an at­latl, used in hunt­ing for launch­ing me­tre­long wooden darts at prey. In the af­ter­noon, the group is bused to a site with Parks Canada’s oten­tiks — ready-to-go tent­cabin hy­brids — and sets up camp. By evening, the stu­dents are ready to wind down with a camp­fire on Kedge Beach. It is a peace­ful gath­er­ing. The fire crack­les as Ur­sula John­son, a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary Mi’kmaq artist and fi­nal­ist for the pres­ti­gious Sobey Art Award, plays her flute for the group. The sun is set­ting and the sky is clear, and an al­most-full moon hangs above as a tra­di­tional herbal tea is passed around and a Mi’kmaq le­gend about two

sis­ters fall­ing be­tween the stars and the Earth is dra­ma­tized for the class. When the time comes to re­turn to camp, the stu­dents de­cide to brave the trail with­out flash­lights. As they stum­ble back, the only sounds are gig­gling and the cheep­ing of spring peeper frogs.

AN IM­PROMPTU STOP the next morn­ing takes the group to Peg­gys Cove. In the bus, faces and cam­eras are glued to the win­dows. The stu­dents have suc­cess­fully traded their wide swaths of prairie grass for the deep-blue At­lantic Ocean. “I had never seen the ocean be­fore!” says 14-year-old Ethan Enns when he later re­flects on the ex­pe­ri­ence. “To see how much wa­ter there is and that much space was amaz­ing. And see­ing the light­house was re­ally cool!” The site holds spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance to the group, as pic­tures of Nova Sco­tia and Peg­gys Cove hung in their class­room while they pre­pared for the video com­pe­ti­tion. With just 15 min­utes to ex­plore the coast, they take a class photo in front of the light­house to com­mem­o­rate the stop be­fore con­tin­u­ing on to Hal­i­fax’s Ci­tadel Na­tional His­toric Site. There, the stu­dents break for a lunch set on cream table­cloths with Macken­zie tar­tan run­ners — a nod to Fran­cis Hum­ber­ston Macken­zie, who had raised the 78th High­landers Reg­i­ment that was sta­tioned in Hal­i­fax by the late 1860s. As the class tours the ci­tadel af­ter­ward, guide Sergeant Philip Macisaac, who is dressed in a scar­let dou­blet and Macken­zie tar­tan kilt, takes them to the bar­racks’ or­derly room (which was for ad­min­is­tra­tive pur­poses), say­ing he needs some vol­un­teers. Mark Van Hier­den and Caleb Hoff­mann’s hands shoot up. They’re given parch­ment pa­per and pens and, fol­low­ing Macisaac’s in­struc­tions, sign their names in big swoop­ing loops. “OK! You’ve now signed up for the British mil­i­tary,” says the sergeant, who then en­sures the class looks the part. In the tailor shop, they learn about the his­tory of the uni­forms the sol­diers would have worn. Each rank and po­si­tion in the mil­i­tary had its own colours to dis­tin­guish po­si­tions, ex­plains Macisaac, who adds that sol­diers would have com­peted with each other in fash­ion: the fur­ther the rak­ish tilt of the hat, the more stylish you were. Some of the stu­dents tilt their hats. Af­ter a ghost tour through the rest of the ci­tadel, the troop spends the night just as the sol­diers would have: in the bar­racks. De­spite the gloomy jail-like cells, they re­port that they are un­afraid (al­though a plank fall­ing later in the evening makes every­body jump).

ON THE FI­NAL DAY of the trip, the class takes a short bus ride to visit Hal­i­fax’s Mar­itime Ma­rine Mu­seum of the At­lantic. There they tour a Ti­tanic ex­hibit and learn how to com­mu­ni­cate us­ing the in­ter­na­tional naval flag sys­tems and Morse code. While some find the ex­er­cises chal­leng­ing, oth­ers later say noth­ing was harder than hav­ing to put up with the rain that pours down dur­ing their free time. With this true Hal­i­fax send­off, the group heads to the air­port. Back in Leth­bridge, Over­beeke and her stu­dents hang a framed copy of the photo at Peg­gys Cove out­side their class­room. “I wouldn’t mind if we got another trip to go back!” says 13-year-old Chelsea Oye­bola. And maybe these young trav­ellers will re­turn some day, drawn back to the East Coast to trace the mem­o­ries of their Nova Sco­tia ad­ven­ture.


Clock­wise from op­po­site: In­ter­preters show the stu­dents how to raise a flag at the Hal­i­fax Ci­tadel; stand­ing at at­ten­tion in 78th High­landers uni­forms; a les­son in shin­gle­mak­ing at Port Royal; a Mi’kmaq drum­ming cir­cle near the set­tle­ment. pre­vi­ous...

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