• Students set off in Rabaska canoes on the lake. (Photo: Jessica Finn/Canadian Geographic)

“A few of us arrived at the airport two hours early, we were so excited,” said Grace Fenton, a Grade 8 student from Caledonia Regional High School from Hillsborough, N.B.

“We haven’t stopped talking about it for weeks,” she said.

So started the fourth iteration of Canada’s Coolest School Trip, a partnership between Parks Canada, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Air Canada, Nature Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Foundation and Historica Canada that brings one Grade 8 class on the trip of a lifetime.

This year’s wining class, from Caledonia Regional High School from Hillsborough, N.B., won an all-expenses paid trip to Quebec from June 1-5 for their video of Fundy National Park. Mélanie Doucet, the French immersion class’ teacher said the kids have been excited for the trip for weeks.

“They’re super excited for everything,” Doucet said. “The canoeing, the camping, the Levis fort, even the plane trip. It’s the first time flying for many of them.”

Arriving in Montreal, the class collected their bags, posed for pictures and boarded the bus for the two-hour trip to La Mauricie National Park near Shawinigan, Que. Before a bar-b-q dinner, they set up camp at La Clarière group campsite and played volleyball while the bravest in the class went for a swim.

“It’s cold!” they shrieked.

After a sunset paddle in rabaska canoes (think a giant canoe like the ones paddled by the voyagers), the class enjoyed a fire with Parks Canada’s youth ambassadors, Minh-Tam Thompson and Justin Fisch. For the students, the smores and swimming were the highlight of the day, but for the chaperones and Canadian Geographic photo editor Jessica Burtnick and I, the faint remains of 2,000-year-old First Nations pictographs on a secluded rock face in the middle of Lake Wapizagonke were astounding.

“The red ink means it’s sacred,” the Parks Canada staff explained about the pictographs. “It was an important site. You can still even make out the shape of a turtle.”

After a few more games and healthy snacks with the youth ambassadors, the class went to sleep. Stay tuned for day two, which will begin early will with a canoe trip and hike.