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Students experience connection and resilience in the Far North
  • photo of group outside Camp Onakawana building

Over Easter weekend, a group of 12 students and two staff members from Trinity College School travelled by bus, train and on foot to Camp Onakawana, located almost 1,000 km north of Port Hope, in the boreal forest near Moosonee, Ontario. It was an incredible experience none of us will soon forget. 

We had the amazing opportunity to connect with and learn from our gracious hosts, the Tozer family, and craftsperson Marina Butterfly, all members of the Moose Cree First Nation, as they shared their traditional hunting lands, knowledge and skills. Under their guidance, we learned to ice fish, snare rabbits and make traditional Indigenous crafts. As a group, we connected with the land around us, learning its history and how to survive on it. It was truly eye-opening to witness first-hand different aspects of life we had never considered before such as how northern people use snowmobiles as their main method of transportation in the winter, how the seasons dictate their wild food supply, and how they represent their culture in craftworks such as beading. 

We were led through numerous engaging activities that brought us closer to the peace, beauty and huge expanse of the nature we were surrounded by. This trip also allowed each and every one of us to discover pieces of ourselves through self-reflection and time away from the lives of others on social media. As this trip is open to all grades, we were able to connect with members of the TCS community whom we would not have otherwise, forming lifelong memories together.

Those experiences would not have been possible without stepping out of our comfort zones and embracing all of the new learnings the Tozers had to offer. This trip pushed us to experience relatively unknown things and appreciate the small details we miss in the rush of a busy life. We admire the effort and resilience it takes the Tozers to live off-grid, getting much of their food, water and warmth by hand from the land.

We celebrated Easter at Onakawana with both an indoor chocolate egg hunt and a night hike to find chocolate rabbits hidden out on the trail. Hearing boreal owls calling through the darkened forest was mesmerizing and the stars were so vivid. 

One evening, we watched a documentary featuring the Tozers, about the effects of hydroelectric dams on Indigenous communities. The Tozers have experienced mercury poisoning as a result of mercury leaching into the river waters due to the dams and then concentrating in the fish they eat. 

Our trip concluded with a brief afternoon in Moosonee, where we visited the primary school and the Northern Store, and saw the ice road that runs between Moose Factory and Moosonee. We learnt about the lives of the students and witnessed the three to four times higher cost of food and supplies in this remote community. We were surprised to learn that during spring and fall when students can’t travel to school by boat or ice road, they take a helicopter to school. We gained a newfound respect for the Tozers’ commitment to live on the land.

We want to extend our immense gratitude to Chefs Pat and Rhiannon and the TCS culinary services staff for providing us with plenty of delicious food. Thanks to Rob, our bus driver, who ensured we travelled to the train in Cochrane safe and sound. Thanks to Ms. Elliott for organizing this incredible trip and making sure everything ran smoothly. Thanks to Ms. Hillier and Dr. Ben Walters for supporting us in all our activities and helping us get food on the table for everyone every day!

We also want to thank James Aitken ’93 for giving us the opportunity to go on this trip and for coming along for the fun too! Finally, a huge thank you to Pam, William and Ben Tozer, and Marina Butterfly, for being so welcoming to us and sharing their lives, knowledge and skills!

- By Sophie Ahuja and Charlotte Patterson, Grade 11 students