GERALDTON — A Geraldton high school program that traces its roots back more than 50 years continues to provide opportunities for students today.
Sara Carlson, the graduation coach at Geraldton Composite High School, said the Outers Club began as a canoe club.
“Students could forge through week-long trips that took them along canoe and portage routes all across Northern Ontario,” Carlson said. “These opportunities have taken the group through rarely seen wilderness, against all kinds of weather and helped them build survival skills since the 1960s.”
This extra-curricular club eventually became a part of a specialist high school major program initiative.
“Students who planned and executed a spring trip and completed other relevant courses such as first aid, MNR’s SP-100, wildland firefighter training and IDC40, could graduate with a red seal in outdoor education,” Carlson said.
But as most programs often do, they faced challenges along the way. Carlson said in recent years, school shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic put the group on hiatus.
“Their last canoe trip was in spring of 2019,” she said.
Earlier this month, nine Geraldton high school students between grades 9 and 12 participated in their recent outdoor excursion on Nov. 7. The outing included a partnership with Lynnea Zuefle from the Thunderbird Friendship Centre, who helped plan and coordinate some of the day’s events.
“Geraldton Composite High School staff and volunteers like Lynnea Zuefle, have found creative ways to keep the club alive,” Carlson said.
The day’s itinerary included several activities that focused on teaching these students about the significance of the cultural grounds on which these activities would take place. Elder Helen Achneepineskum opened the day with a prayer and thanked the Creator for the use of the land. She also shared stories with the students.
Later on, students created a fire to learn how to use tools and resources from the forest. For many, this was a new experience. Students were also taught how to prepare a meal.
Zuefle said the students learned how to cut meat and peel potatoes and onions to make stew. The students were taught about different types of fires, and how to make a cooking fire.
They also took a trip through the friendship centre’s snowshoe and hiking trails, while being given the task of using axes and saws to clear trails.
“We helped students learn how to set up winter tents and a prospector tent,” Zuefle said. “We gave the students a scenario in which the students were to imagine that they were in the bush and suddenly had to face bad weather.”
Afterward, the students had a period of time for reflection and to talk about their personal achievements. The day provided teachings about Indigenous culture, language, the importance of cultural grounds, respect, and stewardship of the land.
Carlson said the activities aligned with the school’s land-based learning experiences.
“Through land-based learning experiences such as these, students can build on their love for the outdoors, learn survival skills and find new ways to connect with the land. The Outers Club carries on and fosters student well being, land stewardship learning and leadership,” Carlson said. “The students, staff and volunteers involved remain dedicated to keeping the club alive in any way possible.”