• Students on Canada's Coolest School Trip

    After leaving Alberta at 4 a.m., the students who won Canada's Coolest School Trip were happy to finally arrive at Ontario’s Thousand Islands National Park. (Photo: Tanya Kirnishni)

It had been pouring rain all day, but by a stroke of luck, the skies cleared and a rainbow lit the horizon over the St. Lawrence River as Mrs. Henderson’s Grade 8 class arrived at Ontario’s Thousand Islands National Park Monday. 

In April, the class from Dr. Roy Wilson Learning Centre in Medicine Hat, Alta. won Canada’s Coolest School Trip (CCST) — an all-expenses-paid trip to Parks Canada places in southern Ontario — and the campgrounds at Mallorytown Landing were their very first stop of the five-day tour.

The students flew into Ottawa International Airport, where they were welcomed to the nation’s capital by Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who is a Parks Canada Honorary Guide. She praised the class for their commitment to environmental stewardship and congratulated them on their winning photo essay about the work they did to raise fire safety awareness in Elkwater Provincial Park.

From the airport, the students piled onto the bus that would take them along the St. Lawrence River to Mallorytown Landing. At the campgrounds, they had just enough time to stretch their legs by running around on the river docks before another burst of rain drove them indoors. The drizzle didn’t dampen their spirits, however, and they had dinner while exploring the visitor’s centre.

At Mallorytown Landing, Parks Canada offers visitors a chance to interact with some local and endangered wildlife. A couple of students from the class got up close and personal with a gray ratsnake, Ontario’s longest snake.

“It feels so soft,” said Aleena Eaglerib. She gently cradled the snake as it lazily looped around her arm, flicking out its tongue to scent the air. Aleena seemed to bond with the snake immediately. When Parks Canada staff started to corral students back outside, promising them a chance to see the animals being fed the next morning, Aleena was already making plans. “I'm waking up extra early tomorrow!”

As the sun began to set, the students gathered in the large waterfront gazebo for a presentation by cultural educators from the Native North American Travelling College. Rasentonkwa Tarbell and Karahkwino-Tina Square shared the history of their people and how the Haudenosaunee Confederacy came into existence under the leadership of the Peacemaker.

Tarbell told the story of how the Peacemaker helped to unify five warring nations by encouraging them to “bury the hatchet” as a way to bury the old ways of thinking. Square explained to the students that the new society that grew out of this united family of nations was a matrilineal one, where clan mothers would choose the chiefs that would govern their people. Arihonni David, the storyteller of the group, finished off the evening with a legend about The Hunter and Four Dogs. As students listened to the harrowing tale of a man and man’s best friend, freighter ships quietly drifted past them on the St. Lawrence, their lights twinkling on the water.

The day ended with marshmallows and hot chocolate around a campfire as some students tried their hand at telling their own campfire stories.

Day 2: Kayaking on the St. Lawrence and camping in a 19th-century fort