An Excellent Exchange

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 - By: Hannah R, Mackenzie ’18

Waiting out a layover in the Vancouver airport, ten Outdoor Pursuits students filled out a survey from Experiences Canada, but no piece of paper has the ability to encompass the adventure we had just enjoyed.  

Way back at the beginning of the school year, a group of ten Outdoor Education students from Glebe Collegiate Institute flew to Brentwood from Ottawa, Ontario. Hosted by ODP students interested in participating in the exchange, the visiting group spent a week exploring our area, as well as going on the annual sea kayak trip with ODP. Tearfully and with many hugs, we bid them goodbye in late September, already anticipating a reunion in the second half of the exchange.

That anticipation and excitement may not have been quite strong enough to make us enjoy being awake and on a bus at 3:45am on May 14th, but it certainly grew as we landed in Ottawa and the two groups were reunited.

As visitors slept in the common rooms of appropriate boarding houses when they were at Brentwood, we were not officially “twinned” on the first half of the exchange; this time, the Glebe students and their families each hosted someone from Brentwood, welcoming us into their homes.

On Monday morning we went to school with our twins, catching glimpses of another high school, before packing in preparation for a three-night canoe trip in Algonquin Park. Unlike Brentwood’s sea kayaking trips, our canoe voyage required portaging: carrying the canoes and the gear from one lake to another, or around a dangerous rapid. In order to make this efficient, personal and group gear is packed in canoe packs – essentially large backpacks – while food is sealed in water-and-animal-proof barrels with straps for carrying.

Tuesday found us on the bus to Algonquin to begin, for many Brentwood students, our first major canoe trip. Picking up rented canoes and launching at Achray, a popular put-in we paddled approximately eight and a half kilometres, with one short portage, to our campsites, where we stayed for two nights.

The second day brought a day trip to High River Falls, where there are interesting rock formations, sheltered pools, and even a natural waterslide. This year’s unusually high water levels meant that the slide was not safe, but we still were able to swim. Despite the numbing cold (the ice has only been off the lakes for two weeks), everyone was glad for the chance to cool off in the water: the outside temperature was around 30 degrees Celsius, and both days had been clear and sunny. After swimming, hiking, and a picnic lunch, we made our way back to the campsites and learned some solo canoeing techniques.

Day three was the most gruelling, with over 2600 meters of portaging and six kilometers of canoeing. The long portages could be difficult, but increased everyone’s toughness. Fah B, Alex ’18 said “When I carried the food barrels and bags that were bigger than my body, it was discouraging… until I looked in front of me and saw people carrying canoes on their shoulders.”  Paddling through the beautiful Barron Canyon at the end of the day was a reward, but we anxiously watched as dark clouds moved over us, the wind picked up, and thunder warned us to get to shore. Reaching our campsites just as the rain began, putting up tents and tarps was a priority. The moderate rain became a downpour accompanied by powerful winds, lightening, and thunder, and then the largest hail I’ve ever seen. A hiatus afforded time to fasten tarps more securely, fashion better shelters, and hunker down before the storm blew itself out while we ate chili.

Because we left with plenty of time before our scheduled bus pick-up and were quick to paddle and complete the one portage necessary, we ended our journey the next day with an enjoyable float. Rafting up, we played cards, sang songs, ate snacks, and napped in the sunshine, our destination literally in sight, as the gentle current carried us downstream.

Despite fatigue, all the students gathered – after showers – on Friday evening to watch the NHL playoffs: game four between the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The game ended late, but a free Saturday morning allowed us to rest before a trip to the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Québec – just across the river from the Parliament Buildings.

An insightful tour of the First Peoples Gallery taught us about culture and different Canadian groups before we were given time to look around the rest of the museum. A short walk across the bridge back to Ottawa, with a stop to visit a statue of Samuel de Champlain, took us to the Byward Market, where we all ate dinner at a “locally world-famous” diner. A lovely evening walk around downtown showed us the exquisite flowers of the Tulip Festival, as well as the Parliament Buildings and statue of the Famous Five. If anyone doubted the possibility of wanting to spend more time with people you’ve been with all week, we dispelled that doubt by organizing a movie night at the home of one of the Glebe students.

In the summer, the city of Ottawa closes off several streets for Sunday Bike Days, encouraging people to get out and go riding. In keeping with this, we borrowed bikes from our host families and rode around the city. This was a highlight of the trip for some, including Tegwyn C, Allard ’17, who plans to attend the University of Ottawa next year and “really enjoyed the bike ride through the city” that will become her home.

That evening, one of the host families generously hosted a potluck dinner for everyone. A chorus of protest and sorrow was heard when Ms. Rhimes, the Outdoor Ed teacher at Glebe, took a group photo, reminding us that the potluck was our Last Supper.

Sitting outside when in the wet and cold is not the most enjoyable, but we decided that if we survived the canoe trip smiling it would only be hypocritical to complain about the rain as we watched the spectacular Victoria Weekend fireworks before heading home to bed.

I would say the Brentwood students have found some good friends in our partners from Glebe; how many teenagers would willingly get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive to the airport and see off people they had only spent two weeks with? A few of the Ottawa students did, and were rewarded with a goodbye, complete with long hugs and, in some cases, tears.

When asked what the best part of the trip was, Eme L, Hope ’19 couldn’t decide: “Can I just say everything was great? Every single thing was awesome: the food, the people, the canoe trip, Ottawa, our twins, the bike ride, hockey night…” Zoe T, Hope ’19 agrees, saying that the best part was the people, “but it also was gorgeous weather and location, and the food was delicious” (thanks to Colin from Glebe, who planned and organized the meals for the canoe trip).

I am confident saying that everyone involved in the exchange found it an enriching experience, a great chance to visit a different part of Canada and make new friends. It couldn’t have happened without the hard work and organization of Mr. Norman, Ms. Olszewski, and Ms. Rhimes – thank you so much for giving your students such a wonderful opportunity!

Hannah R, Mackenzie ’18 

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