Out in the natural world, where the beasts and wild things rule and the babbling rapids and deafening calmness envelop the greenery, one can’t help but feel a healing and restorative power. It’s the kind only the Romantic poets archived in their scribbles.
At least, that’s what Peter Loy believes.
“We can find that own inspiration in our own backyard if we tap into the ‘power of the Earth’, I’ll say, which we so desperately have lost,” said Peter in his home last week while in the midst of refurbishing one of his many canoes.
Peter is a worker with the Prince Rupert Community Enrichment Society, which works with children and youth with special needs and provides a special kind of service to the young troubled and non-troubled population of the city.
His contractual work with his self-titled North Coast School of Canoeing rips his students from behind the desks of area schools and drops them into the outdoors. The goals are many; survival skills, basic canoeing and snowshoeing practices at its core, but behind that veneer lies a deeper, more intra-personal connection that the kids only discover when they’re not reciting their multiplication tables or figuring out the area of an isosceles triangle.
“For me, the outdoors is just the arena for allowing kids to start feeling better about themselves. For some people that’s the basketball court, for some people it can be something else. For me, it’s always been getting the kids out onto the water and into the bush where they’re not normally used to being,” said Peter.
The wilderness has called to Peter ever since he was a lad when his father, Franz, introduced him to the world beyond his living room.
“I can’t say for certain, but I think I was in canoes when I was still in diapers,” chuckled Peter.
“I remember as a kid, we were one of the few vehicles you ever saw around town with canoes on it. My dad was great. The outdoors is, I think, probably where he felt best … so that spark came quite early.”
Now, Peter tries to impart that same passion and wisdom for the outdoors onto students he takes on in his contractual program. The activities include, usually, tipping the canoe, rescues, camping, snowshoeing, hiking and swimming.
The ex-community programs coordinator at Roosevelt Park Community School started his practice by integrating area First Nations elders into school life, as approximately 94 per cent of the students were First Nations.
“I had worked very closely for quite a few years with a couple elders in particular and so I started bringing them into the school and incorporating them into my day-to-day activities … I often tell the story that I would go and pick [the elders] up from their home and bring them to the school, and if it was lunch or recess, the kids would look outside at the truck coming in and they would see ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa’ in my truck and literally before they could close the door behind them, there would be a swarm of kids giving them hugs and just saying hi. So the effect of the elders was quite
profound,” said Peter.
While he doesn’t have a First Nations background, Peter was adopted into the Lax Kw’alaams village of the Tsimshian nation by Leonard Alexcee (or Sm’ooygyit Le am la há) and Mona Alexcee (or Wii Gon Do) under the name Jugádelaw in 2012.
Loy was born and raised in Prince Rupert and left in 1983 to attend Capilano University in North Vancouver (then a college) to study outdoor recreation management. He worked at Whistler Blackcomb teaching skiing, as well as tree-planting and working at various YMCA organizations.
“Then, in 1994, it became really clear that it was time to return home. I spent the first seven or so years [back] working at the Friendship House running alternate school programs and the summer camp,” he said.
The Rupertite also credits his partner Betty Ciccone for giving him strength and guidance as he “stumbles through life” like all of us.
“She’s just the wisest person in my life and she’s always got the right things to say and the right insights to pass onto me … she’s my biggest inspiration and teacher,” he said.
Alivia (6) and Ryland (10 months), Betty and Loy’s grandchildren, often accompany him when he works on the canoe. Just last week, Alivia made a visit to the house while Loy worked on his Voyageur canoe, manufactured in the style of those of the fur trade.
“She went in and grabbed about a dozen books from her bedroom upstairs and she laid in the canoe while I worked and read books,” said Peter.
“It’s not like I have worked year-round making my bread and butter through outdoor programming, but I’ve been lucky to be able to incorporate it into a lot of different parts of my careers and path.”