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Open Roads Explore program students embark on winter adventure

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
Students mushing towards a winter camping adventure west of Vermilion Bay.
Photos courtesy Andy Kennedy

By Chris Marchand

Students constructing a quinzee.

Open Roads Grade 7 Explore Program students recently took a step out of their digitally-soaked modern realities into a place foreign and hardly recognizable — their own backyard.

Their backyard just so happens to be a sprawling expanse of icy wilderness where only the bold and resourceful survive, where ancient knowledge is passed from generation to generation.

Two classes of 12 kids each in teacher Deidre McQuade’s Explore Program experienced overnight winter camping adventures with Borealis Dog Sled Adventures’ Burton Penner, Feb. 4-5 and Feb. 11-12 respectively.

Andy Kennedy accompanied the group and says that having a local asset like Burton Penner, a skilled trapper and dog sledder is key is exposing kids to outdoor pursuits while adding a heritage component.

“He makes it all happen,” said Kennedy. “It’s his passion and he’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to anything to do with living outdoors – from making fires, to trapping animals and the parts of the beaver that are good for the dogs to eat.”

Travelling to Penner’s remote cabin by dog sled, the students braved the elements overnight, sleeping in quinzees (dug out snow piles) or in arctic tents.

Kennedy says teachers ensured that sleeping arrangements were adequate for each student.

One does not simply drag two dozen youth into the frozen backwoods on a whim, however. The dog sled trip is the culmination of process of increasingly demanding quests embarked upon by each class throughout the school year which help students gain a tolerance for adversity and more knowledge of what they’re capable of.

“Mrs. McQuade has prerequisites, like fall camping — last year we slept in tents in the snow, by chance,” said Kennedy. They get a feeling for the kind of things they need to prepare themselves for.”

Students and chaperones of the Open Roads Explore Program pose for a group photo during their February 2014 trip.


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