As their large canoe drifted ashore Rushbrooke Floats on Thursday, so did their singing voices.
The trip back to Prince Rupert from Metlakatla may have been exhausting, but the group of Smithers students were still in high spirits following their adventure.
Sixteen Grade 7 French Immersion students from Muheim Memorial Elementary in Smithers, along with teacher Eric Dufresne and chaperons, travelled to the North Coast at the beginning of June for a year-end field trip.
“Having just finished a unit on residential schools, we thought instead of looking at that rather disturbing part of history we’d come and celebrate Northwest First Nations culture,” Dufresne said.
“It was both a celebration of our school year, and a really, really valuable and rich learning experience.”
Prince Rupert’s Peter Loy, who operates the North Coast School of Canoeing, led the journey along with partner Roger McColm of Smithers’ Northern Sun Tours.
“They got an immersion experience in canoeing, water safety, survival, hiking and also some strong First Nations culture components worked in. It was an encompassing experience for them,” Loy said.
Before heading out on the ocean, Loy and McColm taught students basic canoe training at Prudhomme Lake, where they camped for two nights.
The group began paddling to Metlakatla on June 3, a challenging task.
“We battled a serious head wind on the way out,” said Dufresne.
“Sometimes the wind would catch and we would have to paddle as hard as we could,” added student Haley Duikens.
Along the way the group stopped for a hike at McNichol Creek on the Tsimshian Peninsula and Roberson Point in the Metlakatla (Venn) Pass to visit the petroglyph, “Man Who Fell From Heaven”.
There, Metlakatla Guardian Watchmen David Leask spoke about the “Man Who Fell From Heaven”, as well as old village sites in the area and their importance to his people. Smithers student Seamus Murphy said it was very insightful.
“We learned a lot about the First Nations culture,” he said.
After a full day of adventures on and around the ocean, the group arrived to their final destination where they were greeted by host Fanny Nelson. Dufresne and his students commented on how welcoming and kind Nelson was during their two days in Metlakatla, noting Nelson taught them aspects of her people’s history and culture, to cedar-bark weave, and even woke up before 4 a.m. on the last day of the trip to make them breakfast.
During their time in the village the group went on more adventures, such as hiking part of the Metlakatla Wilderness Trail. For student Claire Lesawich, this was the highlight of the trip.
“The suspension bridges on the hike were cool. When you walked on them they moved from side to side,” she said.
While in Metlakatla, Loy made sure the kids were near the water often.
“Because these kids are all from the interior, most haven’t spent a lot of time close to the ocean. So we allowed a lot of time for the kids to do their own exploring in the intertidal zone where there’s so much sea life,” said Loy.
“They were fascinated by that.”
After two-days of excitement and learning in Metlakatla, the group began paddling back to Prince Rupert on June 5 by 6 a.m. But, they made sure to make one last stop to the Salt Lakes along the way.
After docking Loy’s canoe on Thursday, Dufresne said he was impressed with the growth he saw in his students during the trip and their behaviour.
“There was a lot of joking, laughing and silliness, but it all came at the right moments,” he said, adding they sang a lot of songs while paddling, some of which they made up on their own.
“I think this is going to become a bit of a tradition for us.”