Gwen Hochheimer (Wright)

by FORP on July 29th, 2013

Halifax, Nova Scotia
Cashel Lake Ontario Ranger, 1978
I was raised on a farm in the James Bay Frontier. At 17, I already knew what it was like to have physically challenging work, having spent countless hours in blistering heat in the fields during haying season, long hours in the gardens planting and harvesting, and weeks in the bush cutting down trees for firewood.  Hardly anyone in my home community took part in the Ranger program, because their families couldn’t afford to replace them as labourers.   My parents made a sacrifice by allowing me to go and I’ve always been grateful.

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.  
While others Rangers that summer were popular, and were natural leaders because of their people skills, I struggled with socializing.  But I found a way to shine because I was already fit due to farm work, and therefore I volunteered for anything that was especially physically challenging.  I learned in that first summer that I could be proud of the knowledge that my parents and grandparents had passed down to me about weather patterns, animals and the environment and that not everyone my age understood the interconnectedness of nature to our existence.   I came to understand that if my generation was someday going to be running the government, then those of us who understood such concepts should explain them to others so that they could make responsible decisions when they got older.   

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 vividly recall one out-camp we did in my first summer, near what is now Petroglyphs provincial park. We walked for about 45 minutes each morning and back again each night through the bush from the main access road, carrying our pick axes, sledgehammers, shovels, and crowbars, to break a large beaver dam in order to drain a swamp that had formed near the rock outcrop that has the petroglyphs. The dam seemed like the Great Wall of China because there was room for about 20 of us to walk quite comfortably on it.  We had gradually built up our strength and teamwork on our canoe trips, and so this particular project at that time in the summer was a good fit for our crew.
 
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.


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8 Comments

john healy - July 29th, 2013 at 5:20 PM
great words...as we can see by the stories we are fighting for something very positive
Kathryn Kastner - July 30th, 2013 at 6:51 PM
I could not agree more. It is astonishing to think that this program would be axed given the opportunity it affords kids from all walks of life. If we don't soon start paying attention to the young adults and children from underprivileged backgrounds and kids in general who just want some adventure, we are going to be in big trouble. This program allows many different kids an opportunity to experience the Canadian wildnerness. My niece attended last year and the experience was marvelous. She has fortunately managed to attain a position up north again but, she loved the ranger program. I want my grandchildren to attend. I sure wish that I had been aware of this opportunity in 1978. I would have loved it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
michele - July 31st, 2013 at 8:17 PM
hi Gwen
so did you help to build the new ranger camp at Harding lake? you guys were a bit legendary. that was a big job. also remember hearing about an incident with washboard and a van - our juniour Jody had a tale to tell about that. anyway i was excited to see a blog from some one from Cashel. Harding Lake lasted until about 1993 or so... its still there having seen a few different incarnations. I wonder what happened to the Cashel camp. michele
Gwen Hochheimer - August 6th, 2013 at 1:52 AM
Hi Michele:I got chills reading your first sentence. I'm thinking, how does she know this?I remembered Harding last week, but because I was three summers with the program, in different parts of the province, I couldn't place it.It all came back just now. Thank you.Jody Howell (and her flute) was a great cabinmate.You have a good memory re: Peggys' van.Seatbelts saved their lives.It flipped twice, and then end over end.Tell me about Harding Lake. Pics?
michele - August 20th, 2013 at 9:27 PM
hi again Gwen
i was at Harding Lake from 1979 on and off until 1989. it was a great camp with a varied and interesting work program. i still have a few friends from those days - just did a canoe trip in quetico with a friend from 1987 rangers. i have pics... but no scanner handy...sent a bunch down to peterborough a few years back... from the dining room walls...dont ask me how i got them... dont actually recall. cashel was oral memory... there were no pictures or any kind of documents... the buildings got emptied out and moved to harding lake and that was that.



Gwen Hochheimer - September 2nd, 2013 at 6:32 PM
Most, if not all, of the staff at Harding in l979 came from the Cashel Rangers. Applications were completed,and interviews done on the spot,our second last week of camp, in order to help with the grieving process of closing camp.It was hard.I've posted a couple of pics on the FORP facebook page, and listed all of the names in another spot. I have about 15 more that I'll put up sometime. Cook was Velma Pritchard from Coboconk. Foreman Anna Salamowycz(sp?) from TO.
Gwen Hochheimer - September 8th, 2013 at 12:52 AM
Hi MIchele: Most of your staff at Harding, in '79 were from Cashel. Applications, interviews and hiring were done at Cashel in our last week. I've posted pictures and lists of names in a couple of places.1/2 of us worked on the Harding site, 1/2 went to Petroglyphs. I've had good luck with newspapers in my home area and various politicians adding their support.I used Emily Harris - MacLeods article, and my blog, along with specific pictures of Kap kig iwan,and Esker Lakes. It's been nice talking to you.
John Shillolo - August 1st, 2013 at 10:05 AM
Sadly the Ontario Government lacks more than foresight. Governing to the bottom line leaves us on the bottom.

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This blog is an online campagin against the closure of the Ontario Ranger Program. If you are interested in contributing please email us at: friendsoftheorp@gmail.com.
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