The morning sun shining through the oTENtik windows was a welcome sight after yesterday’s rain. After breakfast the Grade 8 class from Caledonia Regional High School in Hillsborough, N.B., had a relatively calm morning on Canada’s Coolest School Trip.

First was an hour hike around another of La Mauricie National Park’s wonders: a waterfall cascading down a gently sloped rock face. The dry patches made ideal stops for pictures, while the pools were perfect for refreshing tired feet. After the hike the class had free time to swim, play ultimate Frisbee and other games while waiting for lunch and the bus.

Then it was time to play soldier at Fort #1 of the Levis Fort National Historic Site. Fort #1 is the only surviving fort of three that used to guard the St. Lawrence, the first of the “three sentinels”. Great Britain feared its cotton supply would be in jeopardy during the American Civil War and so William Jervois designed the defensive wall of the three forts on the south shore of the Saint-Lawrence. But, the fort and its canons never saw combat. Construction of the fort began in 1865 and it was finished in 1972, a year after the Treaty of Washington rendered it obsolete.

The class was divided into four regiments by their new captain, Jean, and taught an old French war song to march to. After marching they were taught about the lighter side of 19th century life, with an introduction to traditional Quebec music and dancing in the Fort’s Salle de Promenade. “Organized chaos” at first, according to one chaperone, but once it got going and the class learned the steps it became “mint” (a word I’ve learned that I think roughly translates into “cool”).

Following a well-earned dinner of roast beef and pork, it was time for a guided tour of the fort by Parks Canada staff in full period costume. First it was the powder magazine, where the class donned the white cotton smocks soldiers would have worn to ensure buttons or zippers didn’t ignite the gunpowder. Fun fact: the magazine was designed to explode upwards as opposed to outwards, should it ignite. Smart, but little consolation for those working in the magazine. After learning how to store and handle gunpowder the class descended a tunnel to the caponier where each of the regiments had a chance to practice loading and firing anti-personal canons (minus the gunpowder and canon shot) that protected the walls from attack.

Marching from the magazine and caponier 12-metres underground to the top of the wall, the class was introduced to the “William Armstrong” canon, named after its designer. It aimed south to protect the fort from potential attack by Soldiers from the United States.

And in the spirit of the fort’s history, the students were decommissioned after the tour with champagne (non-alcoholic of course) in the officer’s mess. The night ended with s’mores on a fire in the parade grounds, with traditional live accordion music echoing from the salle de promenade into the night.

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