Donna Miller Fry

by FORP on August 5th, 2013

Secondary School Principal, Superior Greenstone District School Board
 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.
That mist was magical to me.  A light, gossamer curtain in July, but almost a fog as the air became cooler and cooler in August. Back when natural resources were important in the political landscape in Ontario, there was money to fund artists to come to Provincial Parks and write music.  Our songwriter wrote a piece for every job in the park.  It was an instructional presentation so the campers could be shown, in an entertaining way, how so many people worked together to make the park a special place and to make their visit just perfect.  There was even a song for the Junior Rangers:
“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.
In the 35 summers since that experience, there has never been another one like it.  Many will say Rangers was “a life-changing experience”.  That should not be taken as a frivolous comment because for many of us, it was.  The job application process did not discriminate.  It didn’t matter where you were from in Ontario (unlike the current Ontario Stewardship program, which is only available to students living close by).  You worked with 23 other 17-year-olds you had never met before (unlike the current program, which does not allow you to get away and redefine yourself). 
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.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with 1977, Obatanga


john healy - August 6th, 2013 at 6:26 AM
words well said, as a ranger from moosonee, and forest fire fighter from Wawa, the obatanga camp was well known for the good work they did for the Provincial Park
Chris Green - August 6th, 2013 at 7:01 PM
I can't believe this is ending. These govt. types are so shallow in their methods. Nothing matters but the money. My time as a JR was priceless to me. I would never even attempt to put a dollar value on that.
C Green
Chapeau, Five Mile Lake Prov Park 1972
Janet (Hornibrook) Smith - August 7th, 2013 at 3:04 PM
Donna, I too was a JR at Obatanga, but in 1981. That picture of the lake brings back so many memories, and your mention of the dock. Myself and a few other lake swimmers used to get up in the early wee hours of the morning and do lengths from the dock to the floating dock, back and forth, every day. For me also, it was a life-changing experience, and to date at 49 years of age, I have never had a better summer. I experienced things that I never would have had a chance to growing up in Toronto. I plan to be at the jamboree on Aug. 24 and hopefully, if any other 1981 Obatanga JR's see this post, they will too. I would love to reconnect with everyone.
Donna Fry - August 7th, 2013 at 6:45 PM
Thanks John. I went on to have quite a history with parks. Not long ago, my daughter, my husband and I all camped at Halfway Lake PP to celebrate because we all worked there at one time. It's sad to see what is happening to our parks. Obatanga is no more. :(

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