This spring, Parks Canada and Canadian Geographic collaborated to award a grade-eight class from Caronport, Sask., Canada's Coolest School Trip — a four-day adventure to Cape Breton Island, N.S. Canadian Geographic's Michela Rosano joined the class for the trip. Here's what happened on Day Two. (Read about Day One)
After getting the kinks out of their necks from sleeping in the barracks at Cape Breton’s Fortress of Louisbourg (the same rooms that housed French soldiers in the 18th century), Canada’s Coolest School Trip winners are back on the bus, headed to Eskasoni First Nation. The largest Mi’kmaq community in the world, Eskasoni First Nation is nestled on the southeast arm of the Bras d’Or Lakes, an inland sea with brackish water (a mix of fresh water and salt water).
After a boat tour around Goat Island with two Mik’maq guides, we head to a patio overlooking the magnificent Bras d’Or Lakes and are treated to a once in a lifetime experience: a Mi’kmaq smudging ceremony. The guides burn a fistful of sweet grass in a small dish and Kenny Stevens, one of our guides, wafts pleasant-smelling smoke towards each student with a feather. One by one, the grade-eights embrace this special tradition, using their hands to bring the smoke over their heads, closed eyes and bodies as part of the cleansing ceremony.
For lunch, we try out some traditional foods, like moose meat (a gamey version of pulled pork — delicious!). Then the students pile back onto the bus for the Highland Village Museum in Iona, smack in the heart of Cape Breton. There, the students visit each of the buildings in the preserved Gaelic village learning blacksmithing techniques and a centuries-old Gaelic song (I heard a few of them still humming the song the next day).
A short drive over to the Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site in Baddeck, and I’m amazed at these kids’ stamina. As the adults grab a much-needed caffeine boost at the snack bar, the students learn about the famous inventor, who spent much of his time on his nearby estate, and make kites.
The day's activities are capped off with one of the most special experiences of my life, and, according to the students, many of theirs too. The group is invited to Bell’s estate Beinn Bhreagh, a beautiful and grand property on the Bras d’Or where the inventor lived for 36 years before his death. There, we meet the inventor’s great-grandson, Hugh Muller. The man has a big, white beard, kind eyes and a large presence, much like I imagine the inventor had. He takes us around the house, talking about his family and the estate.
“That hill right there is great to roll down!” says Muller, and of course, the kids take it as a challenge. While half of them roll down the hill (indeed, a great hill for rolling down), the others stay behind and the great-grandson of one of the most famous minds in history asks the students questions about their lives.
“So what part did you play in making the video?” he asks. “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It was a touching experience and one the students’ teacher, Laurie Pylatuk, says they will remember for the rest of their lives. As for those students who were more keen on the hill than the man, I think it will hit them when they get home.
“(Muller) was very personable and a pretty special guy in how he related to the kids," says Pylatuk. "He challenged them to pursue their dreams.”
For a list of the contest sponsors, visit www.myparkspass.ca/blog/thank-you-our-2012-2013-my-parks-pass-contests-partners