History of the BPDS Outers Program – Part 2 The Famous Swim Test, The Coureur de Bois Award, Dog-Sledding With Chocpaw

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Moose spotting on the 2010 Algonquin Outers trip.

Read History of the Outers Program Part 1

Read History of the Outers Program Part 3

By Joanne Rodgers, 
Bruce Peninsula Press

Over the years each teacher has influenced the Outers program based on their interests and expertise. 

Paddle Making and Portaging

Bruce Draper emphasized physical fitness and sailing. As the shop teacher he introduced paddle-making. He also changed the program to a two-credit course and introduced endurance awards.

To help the students decide if Outers was a good fit, the group was required to paddle from Lion’s Head to Barrow Bay and portage through the inland trail to the school. 

Hiking, canoeing and camping activities included an October/November three-mile Fall hike, a winter three day/ two night camping trip and an April hike to prep for the Algonquin trip. The minute the ice left the lake the trip was a go to meet Draper’s requirement to be out of the Park before bug season.

Bruce Draper returns to BPDS to teach the 2011 class how to make paddles.

Draper observed that canoe paddles were being used for sword fights and shovels; to encourage greater care, he incorporated paddle-making in the course. The students made their own paddles, the rule being the paddles had to be taken on the Algonquin Park canoe trip. The paddles were also used to measure and mark the size of fish caught. This tradition of making a paddle is still an important component of the Outers program.

The fall trip was the first overnight trip and due to budgetary concerns trips were local from Barrow Bay, overnight camp at Mckay’s Harbour and then to Lion’s Head. With the philosophy “leave no sign”, Draper would inspect the campsite and if there was even a candy wrapper left, the students would hear about it. On one return trip, Draper found himself labouring with his pack and not wishing to show weakness, he stopped often and pointed out the scenery. On a steep incline, a student confessed, while Draper (aka “Spud”) was checking the campsite, the students had filled his backpack with 15 lbs of rocks. Good natured “Spud” threatened to get even. 

On the winter trip, Draper devised an elaborate outdoor first aid component as a ruse. He and chaperone Bill Allan simulated falling down the slope and sustaining broken bones; the students had to assess the situation, apply first aid and then evacuate them out of McKay’s Harbour; uphill through two feet of snow. The students never suspected it was anything but regular training. “Spud” kept this secret finally telling the class at their 23rd reunion.

Draper had a sailing background and lobbied to bring sailing lessons to the class. The students studied navigation charts and rescue protocols and then completed a 10 day sailing trip, circumnavigating Manitoulin Island, sailing 36 hours back to Lion’s Head.

The coureur de bois (runner of the woods) award was introduced, challenging Outers to carry their canoes without stopping, then walk back and take their packs without stopping; three students met the challenge. The next year, all the students did continuous walks with no stopping about 3.7 km (approx. distance from Lion’s Head to Ferndale). Next year, the stakes were raised, carry the full pack and canoe on one trip. The winning pair was Kenny Hutchinson and Joe Ceaser. The two boys proceeded to cut and split all the wood needed for three days by the group while the others completed their hikes firstly with their canoes and then backpacks. Draper points to the actions of Hutchinson and Ceaser as indicative of the strong team spirit and work ethic that the program fosters.

1991 Outers class with their paddles. Paddle-making tradition started by Bruce Draper. Photo courtesy Bill Allan.

Michelle McIver relates “We spent 10 days in Algonquin. It was the most impressionable trip of my life. I remember a lot of rain, followed by calm peaceful sunsets. I remember the excitement when Troy Cameron caught a fish, wrestling matches, card games and capture the flag in the evening. I remember a few of us taking a wrong turn on a portage and coming face to face with a moose. This vivid memory could only be surpassed by the day we made the climb to the Fire Tower and the incredible vistas from the top! Our trip was more than just a ‘camping trip’; it was a shared experience that I will never forget and I am so thankful for those ten days we had together.” Outers gave her a lifelong love of paddling and McIver states “Outers shaped who I am as a person, when the going gets rough, I remind myself that I am a coureur de bois!”

1992 Outers class. Photo: BPDS Yearbook.

Draper, comparing his program to Outward Bound, a private organization which offered a full high school credit for a one-week course, thought “our kids are doing that and more.” He persuaded the authorities to change the Outers program into a two credit course: 110 hours in classroom, including navigation skills and outdoor first aid and 550 hours in the outdoors.

He recognized that there was always an element of risk taking the students outdoors, therefore he had to be strict with safety protocols, he could never “let his guard down”.

Draper says “the Outers program is the second longest running outdoor education program in Ontario and enjoys strong community support.”

The Swim Test and Sailing in Lion’s Head

Blair Joudrey, Director of The Hub in Lion’s Head says that Outers was his favorite class and for the past 18 years working with local youth, he has consistently recommended that they take the Outers program.

He remembers the first activity as being a swim test in Georgian Bay which consisted of swimming around the dock followed by treading water for five minutes fully clothed.

He says “We learned all of the different ways to paddle a canoe both single and double and canoe rescue should you flip. We learned how to tie knots and how to pack for hikes, what to wear, food and supplies to bring; and orienteering, wildlife and plant identification. We also learned about winter survival, building a quinzee and fire building and rescue.”

1994 Outers class. Photo: BPDS Yearbook.

Joudrey thoroughly enjoyed the trips, saying they were the best part of the course. He reminisces about his Fall Hike, his teacher John Gamble slipped on a downed tree and cut his knee which needed stitches. That night at Cyprus Lake they navigated the trails in the dark multiple times, once for Gamble and then for some of the Outers who wanted to leave the hike. He says he hiked many kilometres that trip.

He describes the Rankin River canoe trip with the rapids being “epic” and some of the canoeists being flipped, his canoe ended up with a rock in it. Today that rock is in a memory box mounted on his wall.

During the Winter camping trip he learned about proper winter footwear, the painful way. He says “I didn’t treat my leather boots and they got soaked and froze solid over night.” The bay was completely frozen over that year and he and a classmate hiked to his home across the bay, ditched his frozen pair of boots, got a pair of Sorel boots and then hiked back to the campsite.

1991 Outers class with their paddles. Paddle-making tradition started by Bruce Draper. Photo courtesy Bill Allan.

On his Algonquin trip, Joudrey caught the only fish. Modestly he says “ it was smaller than a small perch and bigger than a minnow but still got the biggest fish award.” With an odd number of students that trip, Gamble partnered with him so that he could complete the coureur de bois challenge.

Gamble captained the second boat for Draper’s sailing class, but did not run the sailing class when he took over the Outers program, however he did take students for sailing trips out of the Lion’s Head Harbour. Joudrey remembers the thrill of massive waves while out on a trip on Gamble’s boat. 

Joudrey says that he still practices the skills he learned in Outers. He sums it up “best class ever.” He considers the outdoors an amazing resource of the Bruce and says “it’s only fitting for the school to create an opportunity to teach us how to respect and enjoy it.”

The Voyageur Award and Dog Sled in Algonquin with Chocpaw

The Outers program continued teaching core outdoor skills of canoeing, backpacking, camping and outdoor survival; however every Outers teacher added a new outdoor activity and made changes to the curriculum that reflected

their special outdoor interests. When Doug Cunningham took over the Outers program he instituted the Voyageur Award, added an Algonquin Dog Sled Trip, and started the first Student Co-op Program in Outers with Darren Myles serving as the first Co-op Student.

Cunningham had accompanied the Outers on earlier trips, and had been certificated in outdoor education alongside Jerry Blair at a course at Bark River.

The coureur de bois award was replaced by the Voyageur award. The $100 award was sponsored by Lisa Bellmore in memory of her brother, Larry, who tragically lost his life in a car accident. He loved Outers, it being his favorite class. The award was given to those students who complete a challenging portage, usually on the Hogan Lake to Big Crow Lake Portage. They had to complete the portage unassisted and without stopping by carrying both their canoe and their full pack at the same time. 

The dog kennels at Chocpaw, 1999. Photo Courtesy: Doug Cunningham.

Cunningham introduced dog-sledding trips and says “The idea for a dog sled trip occurred during my first year of teaching Outers (1998 -1999) while on the Outers’ Fall backpacking trip. This three day trip, began at Warder’s Ranch and finished near Tobermory. At Stormhaven, we encountered another co-ed group of teenagers from South West Ontario and while the students mingled, I talked to their leaders about their year-long outdoor education program funded by Service Clubs and Correctional Services. Their outdoor experiences were similar to our own, with the exception being that they did a winter dogsled trip. Their trip was organized by Chocpaw Expeditions, which was run out of South River, near the North West boundary of Algonquin Park. I thought that if a similar trip could be organized and approved for my own Outers students that would provide another wonderful midwinter outdoor experience for them.”

Cunningham contacted Chocpaw. The owner, Paul Reid, was a former elementary school teacher and Cunningham explained about the long-running BPDS Outers Program and that the students were comfortable in the outdoors. Reid offered the three day trip (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) at half price, $250 per student, and for an additional fee of $25 per student provided motel rooms for Thursday night plus breakfast on Friday morning. On Sunday, he provided hot showers for the Outers and a Chili/soup supper before they departed for home. 

Cunningham recounts “Our group arrived at Chocpaw around supper time on Thursday, and after we finished our meal, two Chocpaw Guides visited us to provide an orientation to dog-sledding. They brought a lead sled dog plus an actual dogsled and the harness equipment. The Guides told us that there would be two students per sled, that each student would take turns mushing, while the other student would ride as a passenger. We would have about 60 sled dogs in total, and would travel about 60-70 km on groomed trails through northern Algonquin Park. We would be sleeping in a longhouse, on two raised platforms, with one row for boys and one row for the girls. The cooking and heating would be provided by two wood burning stoves positioned at the ends of the longhouse and the Guides were responsible for keeping the fires going throughout the night; one night the temperature went below minus 28C. The students would be expected to load and unload the sleds, get their dogs in a specific order from the outdoor kennel, then harness the sled dogs to the sled. When we were in camp, students were expected to cut the firewood, help with meal preparations, and finally, before we ate, feed and secure the dogs for the night.”

Adam Stevens, the first winner of Vogageur Award. Photo Courtesy: Doug Cunningham.

Chockpaw’s outdoor kennel had more than 300 dogs, with each dog having its own raised sleeping barrel identified by the dog’s name. Cunningham says “I don’t think any of us were prepared for the barking and confusing cacophony of noise that erupted from the 300 dogs as they saw us arrive with our sleds and equipment. They really wanted to be among those chosen for the trip. Each pair of students was given a list with the names of the dogs that were compatible and would work well together as a team. While one student secured the dog sled, the other student would find the appropriate dog and bring him/her to the sled. The Guides stressed that once the dogs were attached to the sled, the sled was not to be left unattended. One student should always have the sled under control or secured in place, and that once moving, the driver was never to let go of the sled, even if he/she falls off. The best lead dogs were usually females because they rarely fought and were not easily distracted by other dog teams they might pass.”

Cunningham says “The Algonquin winter wilderness is simply magic and on a sunny winter day, quite stunning! The actual motion of the dog sled on the down hills is very fast, thrilling, and sometimes scary. The only control the driver has over the forward momentum of the sled on the downhills is the foot brake. The sled dog closest to the actual sled is called the wheel dog. On the downhills you don’t want your sled to catch up, and run over and injure your wheel dog. To maintain control, even when descending some bumpy snow moguls on the downhills the driver has to continually ride the brakes to keep the speed under control. Going uphill is another matter. The driver has to jump off the sled and while still holding on to the sled run up the hill beside the sled until the top of the hill is reached. Those Algonquin hills were usually huge and the driver would get a real work out! The sled dogs knew when an uphill section arrived and if the driver didn’t jump off the sled and start running beside it, the dog team would slow down and look back disapprovingly at the driver.”

1999 canoe rescue (L-R) Laura Thompson, Reid McIver, Heather Doidge and Jennifer Suke. Photo Courtesy: Doug Cunningham.

The dog-sledding trips were scheduled for sometime between mid-February and mid-March to ensure good snow conditions and frozen lakes and waterways. Although expensive, it was very popular, and there was always a waiting list of replacement students or parent volunteers ready to fill any vacant spots. 

Cunningham feels that one of the main success of the Outers program is that it gives students an emotional connection to the outdoors. He states “you cannot put a monetary value on this experience.” In times of education funding cuts, he feels there is no excuse for choosing to defund outdoor education programs in schools.

Watch for part 3 of the History of the Outers program in the next issue of the Bruce Peninsula Press.