Sleeping Giant Ontario Ranger, 1990
When I became a Ranger that summer at Sleeping Giant Provincial Park near Thunder Bay, it was the first time I had lived away from home, and it was by far the furthest I had ever travelled without my parents. Although the Ontario Ranger program taught me how to wield a sandvik and plant a tree, the most valuable lessons I learned there were how to be myself, and that I could do anything I set my mind to.
After Rangers, I spent two summers working in provincial parks, and then moved on to university and other opportunities. My path has taken me all over the world and back again to the same small town where I grew up. Wherever I travelled and whoever I met, I was proud to identify myself as Canadian and to recount the tales of my “Ranger training”. I now understand just how fortunate we are to have our parks and wilderness spaces, which are the envy of people in many countries who did not have the opportunity or the foresight to protect their land and wildlife as we have. It is vital that we maintain and connect with the natural spaces that are an integral part of the Canadian identity.
This is what I ask of the government: Please, listen to what thousands of people are saying, and reinstate the Ontario Ranger Program. The benefits of this program are probably much greater than the Ministry of Natural Resources realized. Although some of these benefits may have been inadvertent, that doesn’t make them any less valuable. You had a program that prepared young people to become brave, confident, capable adults, who would be an asset to our province and our country no matter what they chose to do.
Don’t throw that away so lightly.
Wade Lake Ontario Ranger, 2000
The following summer I applied to return to the Ontario Ranger Program as an Assistant Sub-Supervisor and spent two summers at the Machesney Lake Ranger Camp. After my first summer at Machesney Lake, it was back to Grade 13 and time to choose a university program. Now back to that career-changing decision I mentioned. I had always been on a path of math and science. I still enjoyed math and science, but on its own, it no longer seemed fulfilling. It was missing something. In my case, it was missing nature, the environment, natural resources; all the things I had come to respect and care about during my previous two summers in the Ontario Ranger Program.
By stepping onto that train in the summer of 2000, I had changed the course of my professional career. Without my Ontario Ranger experience I would not be a Water Resources Engineer today. It saddens me deeply to know that the benefits this program provides may be taken away from future generations. In my opinion, the Ontario Ranger Program needs to be brought back and expanded to afford future generations the opportunity, at the very least, to become aware of what the “environment” in Ontario really is. In some cases, it may change the direction of their career or even their life. What a shame to take that away. We should all aim for better.
Moose Lake Ontario Ranger, 1990
I still have my work boots, hard hat, pictures, Ranger badge and certificate, autograph book with various Rangers’ messages, and my Junior Ranger Work Performance Appraisal. The Performance Appraisal rated us on Quality of work, Working relationship with supervisors, Working relationship with Peers, Punctuality, Attitude, Leadership and Initiative: All important things that would be a foundation for subsequent work life.
Unfortunately, I did not stay in contact with any of my Ranger friends. It was different time in 1990. We did not have Facebook, and calling long distance was expensive. I do remember sending out Christmas cards one year.
I am so deeply saddened about the Ontario Ranger program cancellation. This program provides such important things on so many different levels. It provides for a valuable contribution to natural resources in Ontario, and an economic impact in many regions. Rangers learn work skills, life skills, appreciation of on our natural resources, and leadership. Over and over past Rangers tell our stories, and one commonality is the fact that this program was a life changing experience.
Thank you to the Friends of the Ontario Rangers for providing this platform. And lastly, a shout out to all my Ranger friends and forewomen from Moose Lake, 1990. I hope you all are creating ridiculously amazing lives.
High school auto mechanics teacher (retired), Innisfil, Ontario
It saddens me greatly that the Government of Ontario has cut such a valuable education and work program.
Dividing Lake Ontario Ranger, 2008
Being an Ontario Ranger is a summer experience which is passed on from generation to generation in this province. I am very grateful to have experienced my ranger summer, but I want the Ontario Ranger Program to be around for my children, too.
You see, I applied for the program on my own accord and did not tell my family until, well, until that notice came. The fact I took the initiative to apply and was not only accepted, but stationed “half way to the arctic circle” impressed my dad.
When I said where I was going, my sister said “Wow, that’s way up there!” My whole family was both delighted I was going to be a part of this incredible adventure and impressed that I had taken the initiative to make it happen. I matured that day. The following months were filled with preparing for the summer in the north and getting me there.
The train ride up to northern Ontario was an experience in and of itself. What seemed like hundreds of 17-year old were heading off for the adventure they had no idea was in store for them.
I met Mike Wood at Union Station in Toronto. Mike, from Kingston, had already been on the road for several hours and we struck a friendship immediately when we discovered we were both heading to Ignace. Mike was my “room-mate” for the remainder of the summer. We were buddies and shared a section of the bunkhouse. Other than the 1 week I was out on a canoe trip and the week he was out on a canoe trip, we were room-mates.
The “Sandbar Lake Boys Camp” and the “Sioux Lookout Girls Camp” had several “interactions.” This was highlighted by the “JR Olympics” Sandbar Lake hosted. Several camps from Thunder Bay through to Dryden and up to “the Sioux” met at Ignace for a weekend of sport, interaction, and, well, just plain old partying. It was a weekend that made great experience even better.
We learned about forestry, natural resources, and all that goes along with the outdoors. We became friends with people who up until a month or two before, did not know existed. There were clashes as one would expect when you get 2 dozen 17-year olds together for 2 months but these were always ended with a hand-shake and a better understanding of our fellow man. That’s what I take away from the summer of 1977.
Into the cab we got and 45 minutes later we paid the $40 fare. As we got into Union Station I don’t recall how we parted. I truly wish I did for Mike and I became very good friends that summer. I have not heard from him since. I find that a bit strange but that’s life.
It is my sincere hope other 17-year old Ontarians get to experience a summer like I did in 1977. It appears the current government again doesn’t “get it” and has deemed this program a “luxury” Ontario cannot afford. My question is this: if this program and the great things it achieves are axed, how will the work Ontario Rangers did, be completed?
Ivanhoe Lake Ontario Ranger, 1977
I was not a neophyte outdoors person, as many of my fellow campers were. I had spent a few summers at Camp Kandalore near Minden, and at Youth Outdoors Unlimited on Lady Evelyn Lake in Temagami doing camp craft, canoe tripping, mountain climbing and rappelling. All of this previous experience was put to use as a Junior Ranger.
The first work that we Rangers were put to was building a fence around our compound; the fence posts we made by cutting down trees, debranching them, debarking, and then cutting to size. We cut the grass of the baseball field with grass whips. We learned how to set up a fire line with pumps we primed with water, and then attached “football” rolls of fire hose to as we ran the line out through the forest.
We did a number of Provincial Park maintenance duties like collecting the trash from the campsites, cleaning the fire pits of the campsites, hosing down the outdoor toilets, planting trees, fixing a guardrail on the corner of a camp road, and waterproofing the exterior of a newly built toilet base. We did rotations helping the camp cook prepare the meals for the day and cleaning up afterwards.
I have had many jobs since then and have completed two diplomas and a B.Sc. and now work in the Public Service at the Public Health Ontario (PHO) Public Health Laboratory –Toronto as a Senior Technologist.
My son just managed to get accepted this final year into the Ontario Ranger Program in Cochrane at Wade Lake. He spent the first week in safety training, which I hope every kid gets when they start a job. He participated in a number of community initiatives like the Gathering of the Cree. Hopefully the experience he gained as an Ontario Ranger will lead to further jobs and further education, as it did for me.
Obatanga Ontario Ranger, 1977
My toes curl instinctively around the rough wood at the end of the dock. Thinking about how cold the water will feel, I glance up at the opposite shore to see a fine layer of early morning mist rising up from the water. Without warning, the music begins to play in my brain:
“Good morning Obatanga,
Good morning Burnfield Lake,
Good morning Obatanga,
Another working day.
My first memory of morning mist on a lake was during the summer I spent as a Junior Ranger, far from home, in Obatanga Provincial Park. Always an early riser, I would wake up each morning and go out on the dock for some time alone before the morning breakfast bell and the scramble into work boots, work gloves and hard hats to begin another work day.
“We are Junior Rangers, strangers one and all,
We love to lie out in the sun, when there’s work to do we get it done,
And the foremen make it so much fun…., we are the junior girls…”
I can’t remember the other verses but the tune was infectious.
I was a shy, marks-focused, anxious, fear-controlled little girl when I arrived in camp. Every single day I was pushed to face my fears and succeed in the face of them. I was put in my place for having assumptions about others, and I was recognized for real accomplishments – not the same thing as being good at playing the game called school. We all learned the true boundaries of our capabilities as we succeeded at challenges we had never before faced. By August we were confident and strong team players, eager for the next chance to prove ourselves. We were intensely happy, supported, more courageous than we had ever been, and we learned to take pride in our abilities.
Now, as a secondary school principal, I see kids every day that could benefit from a summer job as an Ontario Ranger, but they won’t get the opportunity unless we can show our provincial government what a ‘gem’ they had before axing the program last year. Reinstating Ontario Rangers is the only sensible option. This investment in Ontario youth has long term benefits for all of us, and with the current Ministry of Education focus on the achievement of First Nations, Metis and Inuit students, and students with mental health challenges, it makes perfect sense to make summer employment in this setting available to all Ontario youth, not just those privileged enough to live near the jobs.
As a parent, I was thankful that my 17-year-old daughter was able to benefit from the Ontario Ranger Program a few years ago. It is unfair that kids born in 1996 have missed out on this opportunity. Let’s make sure that that next year’s grade 11’s have equitable access to the best summer jobs ever offered in Ontario.
Cashel Lake Ontario Ranger, 1978
As a Ranger in l978 at Cashel Lake, near Bancroft, I worked and lived with an amazingly mature and kind group of girls who helped me to learn their ways, which made my transition that fall to community college in North Bay much easier than it would have been. I feel like my first summer in the Ontario Ranger program saved my life, because although physical tasks never daunted me, I was painfully shy and never would’ve been able to survive the outside world.
As a Ranger and later as a staff member at Kap-Kig-I-Wan and Esker Lakes Ranger camps, I saw that young people from urban settings benefited from Rangers by learning the value of hard work, team work and the natural world. Young people from rural and remote communities benefited from the program for other reasons – like being exposed to people their age who had different behaviours, backgrounds, values and beliefs, in a safe environment where they could learn confidence in dealing with diversity. The program enabled them to make more informed decisions about their lifestyles, and their futures.
I remember that we were a non-stop beehive of organized activity, trust and teamwork. There were those responsible for cutting the logs with the crosscut saws, and those responsible for carrying them. Not much breath was left over for singing but we did manage some songs while working on the beaver dam, usually marching tunes and Tennessee Ernie Fords’ "16 Tons".
That was 35 years ago. Here in Nova Scotia, I see so much potential, so much restlessness, and wasted energy in the young people in my community, but there are few programs for them and very little employment. Blogs posted by some former Rangers on this and other sites, predominantly by young men, indicate that they were experiencing a lack of discipline and direction in their lives and that they came into the Ranger program not entirely of their own volition - yet felt that they had really benefited from it. The Ontario government lacks foresight in removing the overnight Ranger Program. The cost of the loss to human resources and the leaders that aren't being created cannot be measured by conventional means.
Ontario Ranger, 1974
When I was thirteen, my mother and father immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong. This move was supposed to give us a wonderful new life, but, like so many immigrants, we suffered many disappointments. Canada did not seem to be the promised land, after all. We had a comfortable middle class existence in Hong Kong – but in Toronto, my father couldn’t get a job teaching, even though he was qualified and spoke English well. He tried to do many things – get a masters degree, drive a taxi, deliver Chinese food – but nothing worked.
My mom went from having a maid in Hong Kong, to being a maid in a hotel. It was a tough physical job – even tougher when she went to work in the laundry department. Within a few years, my dad had a mental breakdown and landed in a psychiatric ward. He had electro-shock treatments and was on medication that profoundly affected his ability to function. He took out his anger physically on my mom. Home – our apartment in St. James town — was a place of anger and violence.
And that’s when I fell in love. I fell madly, passionately in love – I fell in love with the Canadian wilderness. I finally saw the promised land. All of a sudden, from never seeing stars living in the middle of Toronto in St. James town, I was seeing millions of stars and northern lights, watching beautiful sunsets, admiring the magnificent colours in the Canadian Shield. I was in love — even the black flies, the horse flies, the deer flies, the sand flies and the mosquitos seemed lovely to me.
That was a life-changing experience. I came to appreciate nature. I came to have a sense of Canada – of being a Canadian. I came to understand those words we sing in the anthem – the true North, strong and free. I came to have a sense of the infinite – of being part of something huge, and powerful, pure and beautiful. This vast land, with boreal forest, Great Lakes and thousands of pristine rivers.
I often wish that all Canadians could have the chance to experience this majestic land of ours, called Canada. To experience the wilderness and the awesome power of nature. Especially young people.
But, unfortunately, the Ranger program is in the process of closing. And camps for young people are generally too expensive and out of reach for many families.
I wish all could know the grandeur, the sense of the infinite – because all that power, and all that glory, does bring peace. This much I know. And that is the one thing I want you to know…. Whatever we do, however we see ourselves, whatever our passions are, it’s important to take the time to explore the vastness and mystery around us. To take the time to reflect, to listen, and to be inspired.
The blog post is excerpted, with permission, from Olivia’s speech on May 8, 2013, at Autism Ontario’s “Top Ten Event – One Thing to Know before you die”.
This blog is an online campagin against the closure of the Ontario Ranger Program. If you are interested in contributing please email us at: email@example.com.
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