With technology encroaching further into our lives, it’s important for young people to occasionally escape the virtual world of social media and experience the great outdoors in a natural setting.
For several years now, many kids in Fort Garry-Riverview, including my own children, have participated in Collège Churchill’s Ordre de La Vérendrye wilderness program. The program teaches no-trace camping techniques and aims to help students develop an appreciation for the natural environment. Students can participate in a four-day winter hiking trip in the Whiteshell and a five-day canoe trip through beautiful Lake of the Woods in partnership with the YMCA-YWCA’s Camp Stephens.
This year, Camp Stephens is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Wilderness Canoe Trip program. The program offers a variety of two, three, four and six-week canoe trips for youth aged 13 to 17, where they can learn to paddle, portage and navigate while experiencing the natural beauty of Canada’s vast hinterland.
This year’s six-week canoe trips were sent off in a special sunrise ceremony held at the Forks on July 13. The trekkers have been travelling through remote northern areas that are accessible by paddle or plane only and will be welcomed back to the camp this weekend at the always entertaining return ceremony. Having attended both the sunrise and return ceremony when my children participated in the six-week trip, I can attest to the intrinsic value of these programs.
Participants in outdoor wilderness programs learn resilience and determination— there is no challenge quite like portaging a canoe for hours in the rain! These valuable lessons, and the spirit of cooperation and teamwork that’s required to guide their canoes through the wilderness, will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Equally important is the exposure participants can get to remote northern First Nation communities. My children tell me that they were always welcomed with open arms at every reserve they stopped at, which served to break down stereotypes and build new relationships across geographic and cultural boundaries.
To the participants, and to all those who have contributed to the program and to Camp Stephens over the past half-century, congratulations! A special note of thanks to Derek Sims at Collège Churchill who is the driving force behind the Ordre de La Vérendrye wilderness program. Young people in Fort Garry-Riverview and across the city have benefitted from your leadership and your dedication.