From black­smithing to Indige­nous leg­ends to Par­lia­ment Hill: how one class forged an un­for­get­table re­la­tion­ship with Canada’s past

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Tanya Kir­nishni

From black­smithing to Indige­nous leg­ends to Par­lia­ment Hill, how one class forged an un­for­get­table re­la­tion­ship with Canada’s past

A CLANG RE­VER­BER­ATES through the room and sparks light up the faces of the stu­dents stand­ing hud­dled around the puls­ing fire. “You have to strike while the iron is hot,” says black­smith Don Mackay, a Parks Canada in­ter­preter at On­tario’s Jones Falls Lock­sta­tion. “That’s an old ex­pres­sion that comes from black­smithing.” He deals an­other blow to the red-hot iron he has pressed against the anvil, be­fore plung­ing it into a bar­rel of wa­ter. The hiss­ing steam has the stu­dents lean­ing in for a closer look. It’s crowded in­side the small forge, which sits on the forested banks of the Rideau Canal, but Mackay has their un­di­vided at­ten­tion as he ex­plains the his­tory of black­smithing. For these Grade 8 stu­dents from Dr. Roy Wil­son Learn­ing Cen­tre in Medicine Hat, Alta., Mackay’s demon­stra­tion is just one of many in­cred­i­ble stops on the 2018 Canada’s Coolest School Trip. The all-ex­penses-paid, five-day jour­ney to his­toric and nat­u­ral sites in eastern On­tario was the grand prize of the an­nual na­tional Parks Canada com­pe­ti­tion, hosted in part­ner­ship with The Royal Cana­dian Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety, His­tor­ica Canada, the Cana­dian Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion, Na­ture Canada and Air Canada. The class’s photo es­say about fire safety aware­ness in Elk­wa­ter camp­grounds in Cy­press Hills Pro­vin­cial Park on the south­ern Al­berta-saskatchew­an border was voted best of the en­tries, which aimed to doc­u­ment stew­ard­ship in nat­u­ral or his­toric places. Mackay in­vites the stu­dents to pump the bel­lows, giv­ing them some first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence in black­smithing. “I’ve had peo­ple come back af­ter 20 years and say, ‘Look, I’ve still got that nail you gave me,’ ” re­calls Mackay. “I call it the power of the nail. It only takes about 20 se­conds, but the kids help make some­thing and get to keep it. It’s the most im­por­tant thing I do here.”

“HE LOOKED INTO the dark­ness and from that dark­ness a large wolf came to him,” says Ari­honni David, his voice car­ry­ing over the stu­dents in a gazebo over­look­ing the St. Lawrence River in Thou­sand Is­lands Na­tional Park. “It was growl­ing and snap­ping, and he could see that it had an ar­row in its back.” As the stu­dents lis­ten to the Hau­denosaunee le­gend about a hunter and his four loyal dogs bat­tling an evil spirit, dusk falls over the camp­site at Mal­lo­ry­town Land­ing. David and his team from the Na­tive North Amer­i­can Trav­el­ling Col­lege share sto­ries about their peo­ple’s his­tory and cul­ture, ex­plain­ing that the park sits on the tra­di­tional ter­ri­tory of the Hau­denosaunee Peo­ple. The stu­dents then en­joy hot choco­late and s’mores around a camp­fire be­fore fi­nally turn­ing in for the night. Early the next morn­ing, they head to Gananoque, where they’re greeted by 1000 Is­lands Kayak­ing in­struc­tors. The stu­dents prac­tise stroke tech­niques on the shore be­fore they head out onto the wa­ter. Bob­bing and bump­ing into each other on the waves, they form a loose line, fol­low­ing be­hind their group leader like a train of duck­lings. Stu­dent Liam Heath is struck by how much wa­ter there is ev­ery­where. Heath has never been kayak­ing be­fore, and like all his class­mates, he ends up pretty wet. “It’s not as easy as the pro­fes­sion­als make it look,” he jokes. The next stop is Fort Wellington Na­tional His­toric Site, where a sol­dier in pe­riod cos­tume meets them at the for­ti­fied gates. Fort Wellington was built dur­ing the War of 1812 to de­fend ships on the St. Lawrence River from at­tacks by the United States. Parks Canada in­ter­preter John Law­less gives the stu­dents a tour of the fort, end­ing in the enor­mous stone block­house that once served as bar­racks for sol­diers and their fam­i­lies. “Twenty-five fam­i­lies used to live in­side the block­house — a to­tal of about 80 peo­ple sleep­ing in the main room,” says Law­less. “Ev­ery­one was locked in at night, not only for safety, but also as a way to keep peo­ple from de­sert­ing.” In those days, liv­ing quar­ters were cramped, dirty and smelly, with peo­ple tak­ing a bath only once a year. Rats were also a big prob­lem and would scurry around un­der the beds. The stu­dents sleep in the block­house that night. “It was pretty cool that we got to sleep there,” says Justin Perich, de­spite the tales. “Not a lot of peo­ple get to do that.”

MANY OF THE STU­DENTS didn’t know each other be­fore the trip, hav­ing come

from dif­fer­ent classes to par­tic­i­pate in the com­pe­ti­tion, but by the time the trip ends in Ot­tawa, they’ve all made new friends. In the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, the stu­dents meet Parks Canada’s youth am­bas­sadors, tour Par­lia­ment Hill, visit the Bank of Canada Mu­seum, and shop and dine in the By­ward Mar­ket. They fin­ish the day at Lau­rier House Na­tional His­toric Site, the for­mer home of two Cana­dian prime min­is­ters, Wil­frid Lau­rier and Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King. In this Vic­to­rian-era man­sion, with its dark wood-pan­elled walls and richly fur­nished rooms, cos­tumed in­ter­preters take the stu­dents back in time to the Sec­ond World War, weav­ing to­gether his­tor­i­cal facts and fic­tional in­trigue. Soon, the sound of laugh­ter and foot­steps are heard echo­ing through the halls as stu­dents race to find clues to a mys­tery set be­fore them. “The stu­dents put forth their best ef­forts, put their hearts into this trip,” says Adele Hen­der­son, the teacher who su­per­vised the stu­dents. “I’m grate­ful for their new love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Canada and how they grew as peo­ple on this trip.”

Tanya Kir­nishni is Cana­dian Ge­o­graphic’s spe­cial pro­jects ed­i­tor.

Clock­wise from above left: Kayak­ing in Thou­sand Is­lands Na­tional Park; a camp­fire ses­sion at Mal­lo­ry­town Land­ing; pos­ing at Par­lia­ment; learn­ing about money at the Bank of Canada Mu­seum; an Ot­tawa Air­port greet­ing from Parks Canada’s mascot Parka; a guide at Lau­rier House Na­tional His­toric Site; Don Mackay at his forge.

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