The students are peering over the edge of Maligne Canyon, a sinuous 50 metre deep chute carved out of the limestone by the Malign River. The thunder of the water is echoing off the cliff faces so that even at a few steps away it’s hard to hear people talking.
“It sounds like Toronto rush hour,” Jaden Fairclough says. Jasper National Park’s Maligne Canyon may be half a continent away from Toronto, and the only traffic along its steep paths are the tourists and black bears, but it’s a fitting simile.
Fairclough and the 24 other students in Mrs. Ramsay’s Grade 7/8 class are from Duke of Connaught Junior and Senior School in downtown Toronto where shouting over the din of concrete canyons is common.
They are the winners of this year’s Canada’s Coolest School Trip, a partnership between Parks Canada, The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Air Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Foundation, Nature Canada and Historica Canada that brings one class on an unforgettable adventure. For their video of Rouge National Park, the students won a week long all expenses paid trip to Jasper National Park.
By the time they woke up on their second day (read about day one here) they had seen everything from wildlife cameras, to a traditional smudge ceremony, to a stubborn Bighorn Sheep blocking the highway. But if day one was about coming to a new place, day two was about action. After a hearty breakfast day two began with a short bus ride to the dizzyingly clear Lake Edith for some trail biking and canoeing.
But when one student spotted an elk in the pines near the river, the side of the trial was promptly littered with forgotten mountain bikes.
“I see its bum!”
A flash of a fat white tail and pinecone red coat are all they see as the elk evaporates into the bush. Fern Yip, a Park’s Canada educator, cautioned the students not to follow, recalling the previous day’s lesson about the dangers of mother elks protecting babies.
In the background the ruddy peak of Pyramid Mountain rises high above the Jasper Valley and the silt-grey Athabasca.
“We might see [the elk] if we’re quiet up ahead,” Yip continues. “But for now, can anyone tell me why Pyramid Mountain is red?”
“Exactly. The rock has lots of iron in it, which rusts and turns reds. OK, we should head back it’s time to go canoeing.”
After a brief but thorough water safety lesson the class pushed off the sand to explore Lake Edith. The lake’s cold water is so clear and the air so still that the canoes seems to be hovering above the coke bottle green lake, their shadows rippling on what looks like a dry lake bed. Framed by the Rockies the student do a turn of the lake before returning to the beach for lunch and the bus ride to Maligne Canyon for the 2.2-kilometer hike and bio-blitz.
Along the winding path up the canyon students spotted wildflowers, sniffed juniper and learned how swirling eddies in the river carved smooth bowls out in the limestone cliffs. They spot ravens and learn how black swifts make nests in the cliff face to protect the one egg they lay a year.
After a day of movement it was back to the Parks Canada’s Palisades Stewardship Education Centre for dinner, a GPS game and a Metis Mingle, where students role-played as real historical figures from the area and learned about the Palisades’ history as a dude ranch.
Finally, students gathered around the campfire for s’mores, while some of the students who are part of the school’s choir sang to songs strummed on a borrowed guitar by a student in guitar club. By 9:15 with the sky still light, it was time for bed. They needed rest because on day three they’d be walking on water as deep as the Eiffel Tower is tall.