John Healy

by FORP on June 17th, 2013

Quality Control/Assurance Officer, Parsons Canada
Moosonee Ontario Ranger, 1977                                                                                                            
Life in the city as a 17-year-old young man had its advantages and disadvantages. There was always something to do and somewhere to be, but the sounds of the city never shut off and sirens and airplanes would echo in your ears, during the day and through the night.  My life was moving along like any good adventure, but everything was based on what my friends were doing and where the next party was going to be. Our form of entertainment was hanging out in city parks, where we would gather and socialize, always trying to keep one step away from the law and our parents’ watchful eyes. At that age we felt as though we knew it all. 

As the youngest of a large family, there were many concerned discussions amongst my older siblings and parents that perhaps I wasn’t being steered in the right direction. It was during one of those talks with the folks that a brochure for the MNR’s Junior Ranger Program hit the kitchen table, and with a little persuasion from my parents’ end, I filled out the application and sent it off.

A couple of months passed and in the early spring there was a letter addressed to yours truly.  A flood of emotion hit me before I even opened the letter. As it happened I was accepted into the program and stationed to a place called Moosonee. No one in my family had even heard of it before and we had to lug out the road map from Dad’s car to find out where it was, at the base of James Bay, only accessible by a train ride from Cochrane. 
I still remember the slow, steady churning of the train as it made its way along the tracks. There were so many of us, all the same age and all sharing a common excitement.  We would drop groups of Rangers off here and there along the way, as there were camps all across Northern Ontario. It was upon leaving Cochrane that reality started setting in of how remote and isolated Moosonee is. With another four hour left to go on the infamous “Polar Bear Express”, it was just our small group and the Cree returning home to their villages beyond the highways. Every so often the train would stop along the tracks at a small village to drop off groceries and supplies. I recall the young kids staring up and waving at us as we peered out the train window.

Our welcoming party awaited us in Moosonee, consisting of our foreman, sub-foreman and a couple of “freighter canoes”. We took off in a boat ride across the Moose River to the island that I and 23 other seventeen-year-old boys from all over the province would call home for the next two months.

That summer was an all-around amazing experience, one in which we developed a work ethic and learned to live and respect each other, in an environment that none of us were familiar with. We were taught how to use a shovel and an axe and where blisters really came from. We cleaned bathrooms, painted outhouses, cleared trails along the James Bay coast and peeled potatoes. And we had fun; from flying in a twin otter bush plane and seeing the vastness of the wilderness, to checking out cool rapids on multi-day canoe trips to brush trails and clean campsites.

For me, the Junior Ranger program was a life changing experience.  There was self gratitude when you received your $10/day paycheque at the end of the week.  There were many life lessons learned and many friendships created. It was an experience that brought me back north to further my education as a Forest Technician and to raise a family. 

It was as a Ranger that I first saw the northern lights, and looked into the sky at night and realized the vastness of our universe. Where I first heard the quiet sounds of life in the bush, where only the birds, wolves, bugs and frogs can muster up such a great song.  This is where I realized there really is a north beyond “Barrie North”. And this is where I have hung my hat - the “true north strong and free”.

The Ontario Ranger Program should not only be reinstated, it should be expanded.  Now, more than ever, we need to create opportunities for youth to get away from the city and learn some of life’s lessons.  And it’s not only the impact on the youth that's important – the Ranger program has also helped develop and sustain communities in the north.  Rangers have a warm welcome from many northern communities and provincial parks, for they see the importance and the work that can be accomplished.  I only wish that our Premier, Members of Parliament and business leaders could also see the value of this program and the importance of teaching our youth the values of life on a lake or river in the Boreal Forest, without the computer and cell phones, where life truly began.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with 1977, Moosonee


Steve - June 18th, 2013 at 3:32 AM
Your experience and what you learned from the "summer in the bush" is one that is shared by many of us who were employed as a "Junior Ranger". Even the name brings pride.
My summer was also one of hard work, friendship, new experiences and growth. All of which has been with me for these many years. Some of my best memories.
By 1985 we were making $13 a day, haha, I would have done it for free..
God Bless the things that make us better people, this program was probably the best to do that.
Let's hope that they keep it going. Steve.. Temagami / New Liskard, (Briggs and Whitney Camps) Ont. 1985
Pat Quinn - June 18th, 2013 at 10:10 AM
Great read and a great message nice work UJ.
Paul Dinneen - June 18th, 2013 at 12:27 PM
Great story and a great program. Kind of makes you want to do it all over again, eh?
Sandy - June 19th, 2013 at 7:39 AM
Thanks for the memories John. One never knows the impact an experience such as the Ontario Ranger Program might have on the road a young person make take and decisions they make to build their future.
Doug MacLean - June 23rd, 2013 at 9:44 AM
Thanks, John, I went to Moosonee the year after you. I was at Tide water in 1978 and we continued building the log cabin you are perched on in your picture. I have picture of it as we were doing the walls. Your description is perfect as mine was the same. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. They should continue the program for all the same reasons you have stated.
Regards, Doug Maclean
Name - September 24th, 2013 at 8:15 AM
Could you send me the pic if you have Doug. . I think I want to trek back to the island for a visit some day, its on the bucket list.
Gwen Hochheimer - August 7th, 2013 at 10:36 AM
John, Steve, Pat, Paul, Sandy, Doug.,.anyone with ties to the James Bay - Timmins federal riding either through living there, or attending a camp there, Please contact Charlie Angus. Before he became a politician he was an environmental and social activist. At least direct him to the online petition or to FORP administrators for direction as to how he can help.Halifax MP (NDP) official federal Environment Critic, Megan Leslie, from KL and former Esker Lakes employee has agreed to act on behalf of FORP. GH. Cashel Lake '78, Kap kig iwan '79, Esker Lakes, '80.

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