Who are they?
In the summer of 2013 I was lucky enough to work as a Trip Leader for Project Canoe, and I can honestly say this is the summer I hold most dear to my heart. At the time our small staff group was based out of Temagami in a little ranger cabin, and the youth would head up north, spend a couple of hours packing up their personal gear into blue barrels and stuff sacks and paddle into the wilderness for 5, 8, 12 or 21 days.
So what is Project Canoe, other than of course an organization that well…canoes? Specifically Project Canoe (since 1977!) makes sure that everyone has the opportunity to experience a beautiful Canadian tradition- one that involves clothes smelling like campfire, learning how to pry and draw, figuring out what KYBO stands for, and building strong bonds with the people who will be the only ones privy to this particular wilderness adventure! There are lots of reasons why youth don’t get the chance to experience a canoe trip, such as economic, social, and behavioral barriers, however PC’s mandate is to remove these because everyone deserves to get lost in a starry sky once in a while.
What do they do?
I can’t say it better than the Mission Statement, so I’ll put it in fancy italics and let you read what has been so expertly crafted:
“We use the outdoors, including wilderness canoe trips, to create a transformative environment in which our youth develop life skills, social competencies, and resiliency, thereby fostering their own personal success. We partner with our youth, supporting them as they carry these skills and successes forward to manage the complex challenges of their lives.”
And think, Justin Trudeau accredits his time working as a summer camp counselor as preparing him to be Prime Minister…
Why do we love them?
What I especially love about the Project Canoe model is the emphasis that’s put on creating strong and lasting connections, both pre and post trip. Of all the organizations I have worked with, it is my belief that Project Canoe has one of the most well rounded approaches to beginning and moving past the official end date of the canoe trip.
As you may have noticed with our Lily Paddlers trip, the experience did not begin on the Saturday we put in and end on the Saturday we took out – it began months in advance with Skyping and planning and well, in terms of completion…it’s something we’re still participating in. A canoe trip can literally create memories you will have and cherish for a lifetime.
So before the trip, Project Canoe staff and youth have the opportunity to meet as well as engage together in a presentation regarding what to expect, how to pack and also bring up any questions that might be on the brain. From there a simulated canoe tipping experience takes place in a local pool which allows for youth to feel more comfortable with possible wilderness scenarios. Now lots of camps and organizations do these two things, but what’s special about Project Canoe is that after the trip, Trip Leaders send out letters to every one of the participants congratulating them on a job well done and reminiscing about individual and special occurrences that only happened on that trip! This is amazing because all too often after a canoe trip, time feels flat. It can actually feel really lonely to be away from the people you have literally come to rely on, the people whom you’ve laughed everyday with and the only people who have seen, heard and been apart of this trip with you. How wonderful that Project Canoe understands this, and therefore does something to not only ease the transition, but also keep the connection lasting. To add to this, youth can participate in year round urban programming in Toronto and work their way up to leadership trips, internships, and even pursue staff positions. (I have seen this is action but also took this last line from the website FYI). Project Canoe does an excellent job in creating a full experience.
One other point I have to mention is the group size- because it’s fantastic! There are two youth to every one staff and during my time as a Trip Leader most groups had 4 youth and 2 staff. This framework supported a close group, allowed for individual attention to be given to participants when needed and my favourite detail- there was room for a lot more flexibility regarding the canoe route. With a small group you don’t have to be extra conscientious of what site you can stay on; there’s more time to learn the strengths, challenges and preferences of participants and therefore make route/trip change when necessary; and a small group just feels more comfortable wherein it feels easier to get silly, to speak more openly and there’s more space for enjoying the quiet too.
How can I share my love too?
This year Project Canoe turns 40- yes 40! And so obviously there’s going to be a party! On Tuesday October 17th, Project Canoe will host “a camp style night of music, art, food, auction items and a chance to hear from youth and families positively impacted by Project Canoe.” Tickets are available at canoe.org/forty and more information on Project Canoe is available at https://canoe.org/ .
Albeit a tad blurry, this photo really captures for me the summer of 2013.