Canada’s Coolest School Trip
An adventure back in time to a place pivotal in the country’s history with the winners of Canada’s Coolest School Trip
Story and photos by Michela Rosano
Canada’s Coolest School Trip winners are greeted by Air Canada staff, including Captain Bernard Lavell, at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Click the image to view a slideshow of photos from the trip.
In the heart of the Fortress of Louisbourg, where 255
years ago French soldiers fought British invaders for
some of France’s last ground in Canada, 21 Grade 8
students hunker down for the night. While many visitors
might prefer staying at the Hampton Inn, the bunks
and lumpy straw mattresses
at the King’s Bastion Barracks
in the famed Nova Scotian
fortifications are actually a
special treat — only a lucky
few have slept in these quarters
since the 1700s.
The class from Caronport
Elementary School in
Caronport, Sask., near Moose
Jaw, is on Canada’s Coolest
School Trip, the all-expensespaid
grand prize in the annual
contest of the same name run
by Parks Canada, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society,
Nature Canada and the Historica-Dominion Institute. This
year’s trip to Cape Breton ran from June 3 to 7. The contest
challenged Grade 8 classes across Canada to create a print,
audio or video advertisement for Cape Breton Highlands
National Park or this year’s 300th anniversary of Louisbourg.
“We knew that we had something special with our video,
but we had some very strong competition. So we were pleasantly surprised to be first,” says Laurie Pylatuk, the
winning class’s teacher.
Morning comes quickly for the students, but they don’t
mind — they’re visiting a place they spent months researching.
“The trip brought to life the place they daydreamed about
in their funny and creative video,”
says Ellen Bertrand, director of
external relations at Parks Canada.
The trip is full of firsts for the
students. When they stepped off
the bus at Louisbourg, they were
treated to a fanfare of media, a
fife-and-drum duo and Parka,
Parks Canada’s beaver mascot. “It
felt like we were totally famous,
like celebrities or something,” says
student Alicia Gibson.
The next few days are a flurry
of excitement. After exploring the
Fortress of Louisbourg, the students tour part of the Bras d’Or
Lake (a brackish inland sea) by boat at Eskasoni First Nation,
the world’s largest Mi’kmaq community, where they also
participate in a smudging ceremony, an aboriginal ritual that
aims to cleanse the spirit through sweetgrass smoke. At the
Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck,
the students learn about the famed inventor before taking a
short drive to his summer retreat, Beinn Bhreagh. There, Bell’s great-grandson, Hugh Muller, walks the students
through the grounds around Beinn Bhreagh Hall, where the
Bell family spent much of its time.
The following day is all about Cape Breton Highlands
National Park, with a drive up the breathtaking Cabot
Trail, on the edge of where the highlands meet the Gulf
of St. Lawrence. The views from the park’s Skyline Trail,
a 7.5-kilometre path and boardwalk that runs through
the boreal forest and out onto the top of French
Mountain, has everyone speechless — a rare moment.
After many photos and much coaxing back to the bus
(and a moose spotting), the students head to the day’s
next stop. There’s excitement in the air as the bus rolls
up to Ingonish Beach, just off the Cabot Trail. Everyone
races off the bus to wade in the water.
“Many of them haven’t dipped their toes in the Atlantic
or the Pacific,” Pylatuk says. “It was fun to watch.”
The bus ride back to Cape Breton University, where the
class spends its final night, is quiet. Most of the students sleep
or watch a movie, exhausted from the full week of activities.
“I think when we get home and they’re rested, they’re
going to realize how significant it was,” Pylatuk says.
“Nova Scotia and Cape Breton will be a special place in
Read Michela Rosano’s blog posts from the four-day adventure at the CG Compass Blog.