Tragedy Sparks Call for Action

| By: Tony Cox">Tony Cox

Big Trout Lake AlgonquinI was very sad to hear the news today that a Toronto student drowned while on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park being led by the Teachers at his school. It was reported that the student was swimming with his peers from the shores of their campsite at the time of his disappearance with 3 Life Guards present.

This is a terribly tragic situation for all involved. My thoughts go out to the student’s family who must be beside themselves with uncertainty, unanswered questions and grief.

I have been working in the outdoor Industry for over 25 years. I am a professional Wilderness Guide and a Canoe Tripping Instructor. I still actively instruct groups many times a year in remote and beautiful sections of our provincial parks and get the chance to witness lots of great things happening with other groups we encounter and also some very troubling things.

We know that there is a very particular set of skills and pre-requisite experiences required to safely take people into the wild spaces of our province and to expertly weave safe and positive learning expeditions while out there. I know very little about how this particular trip was being led and so choose to make no comment or judgment in absence of the facts. As more information emerges, perhaps a clearer picture of what happened will be realized.

There are some great schools under very skilled leadership who are self-managing expeditions with strong results but also others who seem to be ticking off all the boxes on the “check-list” prior to departure as trips are being sanctioned but then not actually observing best practices while the trip is unfolding – the wearing of Life Jackets / Personal Flotation Devices being chief among them.

3 years ago I was instructing a canoe training program for a school group in the interior of Algonquin Park. Our group had spent much of the morning very carefully picking our way up the shore of a large lake and darting in and out of small islands to keep out of the full strength of the head wind. It was a challenging morning paddle, but safely facilitated by staying close together and after students were properly prepared, equipped and instructed for such conditions.

We stopped for lunch after portaging off the lake and then watched as a huge group of students streamed on to the lake where we were lunching – 14 canoes in all – 3 to a boat – and only 5 of the 42 people were wearing a P.F.D. They had just crossed the same lake we had with the same windy conditions.

The water was still cold at the end of May and if some of their canoes had have capsized, it would have been disastrous. The O.P.H.E.A. Guidelines in the province of Ontario clearly state that students and staff must wear a P.F.D. at all times when in a canoe or even while loading it.

It was clear that this school was not adhering to the guidelines that day even when they would have signed off on them to have their trip approved by their Board. Following best practices and adequate supervision are two of the most essential elements for creating safe experiences in the back-country. So often it is when poor judgment leads to departures from these important fixtures that tragic accidents can occur.

It is a tremendous responsibility to safe-guard the well-being of other people’s children and as a parent I understand that profoundly. In the pursuit of positive adventures and safe expeditionary learning experiences, I hope that regardless of what has occurred here in this recent tragedy that people in our industry use it as a wake up call for greater vigilance.

These types of programs for young men and women are deeply powerful experiences with long lasting impacts when led by experienced and well-trained Instructors and Facilitators. Statistically speaking, the most dangerous part of a canoe trip is the bus ride to the “put in”. Watch for some of our upcoming articles on the Transformative nature of our wilderness canoe programs.

Trailhead Program – University of Guelph

| By: leaders

Most people say that if you are going to tell a story that you should start at the beginning.  However, in our line of work we spend a lot of time starting with the end in mind and then working our way backwards from there. So, as I sit to write a Blog about this year’s Trailhead Program partnership with the University of Guelph, I am drawn to do the same.  Endings after all are just really powerful new beginnings.

One of the things that I often tell students participating in our programs is that as the final day of their adventure approaches that there will be some moment, when they will “glance back over their shoulder” to take stock of all they have done and accomplished and that they will be truly amazed. Students often smile and take that comment in, perhaps thinking that it’s a nice idea or an interesting catch phrase, but on the final night of the expedition as we sit by the fire, there is no doubt that they all believe it.

It was Day 4 of our expedition in the interior of Algonquin Park. We had pushed hard to get off the beaten track and to escape the busier lakes and the tourist crowd. For our efforts, we found ourselves deep in the park. We had been rewarded with incredible wildlife encounters – including an unforgettable opportunity to drift by a moose in our canoes! We had incredible pastel sunsets and sunrises and the incredible satisfaction of knowing that it had been our own hard work and determination that had gotten us there.

Our group had worked hard and really pushed themselves to try new things. They portaged canoes, cooked on fires, camped in tents beneath the stars and learned to work with and trust one another while traveling some of Canada’s most beautiful landscapes. There was a lot of laughter, stories, great food and the opportunity to have a pause from the busy push of life and work, to dream about the future for a while in some stunning places.

As we set up our campsite for our final night together on a lake free from any other groups of adventurers, we excitedly re-capped all the incredible memories that people were going to be taking home with them. That night we baked fresh cinnamon buns over an open-fire then built up the fire to enjoy our final night on Moccasin Lake.

As we sat there in the glow of the fire-light, many of the students spoke about how the expedition had really drawn out their strengths in unexpected ways and had helped them to focus their sights on their futures. Others spoke about how important it had been to share such a fun adventure with new friends.

Trailhead Program graduates had this to say about their experience:

“The Trailhead program is one of the best pre-orientation events at the University of Guelph. I highly recommend you take part in this wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience to meet fellow first year students, learn about the environment, how you can do better in university, and have some fun! Canoeing in picturesque Algonquin Park under the mentorship of Leaders of the Day was life changing. As a first year student I learned and laughed a lot as our trip unfolded. If I had the chance, I would definitely go again. If you love canoeing, camping, having fun, the outdoors, getting ahead in university, and portaging then this is for you! Well maybe you won’t like portaging the very first time, but I bet you will by the end of the trip; I know I did!”Alexander Heinze, first year student at the University of Guelph

“Once again, thanks again for such an amazing experience, I truly feel like a changed person and like I’m ready for this next adventure in my life.”  – Holly McEwan, first year student at the University of Guelph

It was a group of strangers that arrived for their adventure on the Trailhead Program with Leaders of the Day this summer, but it was a group of friends who shared the bus ride home!  If you or someone you know will be enrolling at the University of Guelph as a new student this year, we invite you to be a part of the Trailhead Program experience.  After all, the Trailhead is where all great adventures begin.  Let us help you with the start of this one… You can register today by visiting the Trailhead Page at Leaders of the Day!

Gwich’in Leaders of Tomorrow Program (NWT, Canada)

| By: leaders

This summer, Leaders of the Day embarked on an incredible whitewater canoe adventure with a group of Gwich’in Youth who had been nominated by their communities as being the next generation’s possible future leaders. During this unforgettable 20 day journey on their Traditional Lands, our group paddled from the Yukon to the Northwest Territories on the Ogilvie and Peel Rivers, winding 470 km north across the Arctic Circle and home to the Gwich’in community of Fort McPherson.  There on the banks of the River, they were warmly welcomed home by the members of their families and communities.

In a place where almost 50% of the population is under 20 years of age, the Gwich’in Tribal Council is making strategic investments in the futures of their young people. Their hope is that by helping to excavate the unique talents of the next generation that they will develop strong skills for Leadership and through the nature of this shared adventure, will deepen the bonds that unify their northern communities.

Each day of their adventure this summer provided opportunities for them to step out and beyond what was familiar to them and to truly embrace their own spirits of adventure.  While some of the youth had certainly spent time on the land with their families before, for many it was their very first time paddling a canoe or sleeping in a tent in their Traditional Territory.

Leaders of the Day’s powerful “Learner to Leader” approach engages young people in the very hands-on challenges and problem solving that accompany an arctic river voyage. The very intentional design of the program helps to extract the skills that they are learning and practicing and makes them intensely relative for life after this adventure.  Trust, generosity, judgment, cooperation and courage are all valued qualities in future leaders.

The group drove down the Dempster Highway, south from Inuvik to avoid the costly expense of charter flights and the youth began their adventure where “the River meets the Road”.  While on expedition, Leaders of the Day provided youth with all the necessary equipment and specialized clothing they require to safely enjoy their voyage together.  On an expedition this remote, having the right equipment and the right team of experienced Instructors is absolutely essential.

Equipping youth with what they need for an adventure like this goes far beyond the choice of rugged tents and durable packs; it is quite literally about helping them learn about their greatest strengths as people.  It is about providing the framework of an incredible adventure with skilled facilitators and then helping them to unearth their own greatness, confidence, and unique voices.  It is not just about packing for this adventure but for all the many adventures in their lives that are to follow.

The concept of this unforgettable “Journey Home”, designed in collaboration with Elders and the Gwich’in Leadership is powerful in so many ways.  As youth cross over the threshold of their everyday experiences and have the incredible opportunity to travel in the footsteps of those who came before them, coming “home” takes on a whole new meaning. It honours and recognizes youth for the positive choices they are actively making and reinforces that people will gather to celebrate their strengths and be proud of the strong people they are striving to become.

Here’s what one of the students had to say when asked about the experience:

Kelly Henderson (for Leaders of the Day): “What do you think your ancestors would say about you travelling this watershed?”

Brianna Storr (Gwich’in Youth): “Well, I think they would be very proud because nowadays many youth don’t really care about the land… they want… they’re more into fashion, like clothes and like money… like whatever they wanna do, like a lot of youth are doing their own thing nowadays than usual but also sometimes they should take the time to think about their culture and go on the land and enjoy it, but I think that they (her ancestors) would be proud that I made the choice myself to come on this trip.”

Kelly Henderson (for Leaders of the Day): “If a friend asked you why they should do a trip like this, what would you say?”

Brianna Storr (Gwich’in Youth): “If you want to learn something different, if you want to experience a lot of things in life and know how to not rely on many things and depend on people but yourself, this is the trip for you. If you want to see beautiful scenery, if you like canoeing, then yeah… if you wanna push your strength and see what you’ve got, get on this trip!”

Re-Align Your Life Compass: High Octane, Transformative Experience

| By: leaders

Hi everyone:  It has been a while since my last article, but it is one of my resolutions this year to be posting here much more often, so stay tuned! In my family, the turning of the New Year is a time of reflection in which we devote some energy to thinking about the triumphs, challenges and events of the year that have been, and excitedly turn our eyes towards the new one and all its many possibilities.

New Year’s is one moment in our North American culture where many of us will pause, however briefly, to consider our life’s direction and “check our bearings” before entering the current of the year that is “down river”. In doing so, we steady our own internal Life Compass as we take stock of where we are standing now and dream of where ideally we wish to be standing next.

Throughout history, adventurers and explorers the world over looked to many important instruments to help them safely find their way.  Since the compass became popular as a tool for navigation in the eleventh century, human beings have trusted the persistent path-finding of its tiny needle to help align them with their intended destinations.

Sometimes however they encountered misadventures, unexpected challenges and setbacks that left them confused, turned around or sometimes feeling more than a little lost.

With challenges behind them, there always came a time of reckoning when they turned to their compasses, to regain their sense of direction and to plot a new course for the next leg of their journeys.

A few years ago my colleague Jonathan sat down at the drawing board and designed the Life Compass Program to help young adults to do just that.  The inspiration for its creation was to craft an exhilarating experience for young adults to step aside from life for a while and to immerse themselves in the currents of a transformative adventure.

Life Compass is grounded in many bodies of work including Master Storyteller Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey model.  It has been designed for young adults 18-29 who consider themselves to be standing at one of Life’s confounding crossroads or transitions.

Whether it is a transition with: school, career, a relationship, or some other compelling life situation, Life Compass Program is the ultimate “Pattern Interrupt”.  It’s about “shaking things up”; excavating people’s possibilities and then supporting them as they find their feet again.

At the very heart of the Leaders of the Day Challenge {“Seek the courage to step outside the familiar; the boldness to experience new frontiers within yourself and to consistently pursue greater personal excellence.”} is the very D.N.A. of the Heroic Journey and that all-important willingness to cross powerful thresholds in our lives.

The students of our Life Compass Program give themselves the gift of 28 incredible days to re-invent themselves daily as they are invited to boldly step out of their everyday circumstances and into the heart of an unforgettable whitewater adventure – together.

The exciting and dynamic settings offered by whitewater environments present powerful metaphors for Life’s ever-changing variables.  Life is always moving and never truly the same as it was a moment before.  We can fight the current, go with the flow, or “eddy out” and walk!

This high-octane, transformative experience immerses participants in the world of whitewater paddling.  Some of the powerful elements of this program include: experiencing the high adventure of whitewater rescue training; becoming certified as a Level 1 Raft Guide while running the world class Ottawa River; hurtling down-river on an eye-opening whitewater canoe expedition with new found confidence; and then slowing it all down as you immerse yourself in our Wilderness Solo experience… get the picture.

Both Jonathan and I have had the great opportunity to have lived and worked all over the world during our careers.  When at last we came together to envision and imagine Leaders of the Day as an organization, we agreed that what fed both of our passions most was the theme of transformative experience. In essence it is the power of a special moment or many such moments which conspire to fundamentally change how we think about ourselves, our capabilities and the very world around us.

Whether people come to us for a unique training opportunity, to kindle the flame of leadership, to taste success and challenge, or simply to embark on a remarkable journey, each helps to re-align the needle of Life’s Compass.

For more about our Life Compass Program click here.

Blog post written by Tony Cox: Co-Founder & Director – Leaders of the Day

Specialist High Skills Major (Environment)

| By: leaders

We can’t imagine a better way to kick off the fall season besides spending it out on the Land with an eager group of students. Earlier this week, Leaders of the Day launched its newly designed Program for the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) – Environment Stream which satisfies many of the requirements set out by the Ministry of Education’s curriculum of the same name.

The program helps students to acquire essential certifications and experiences that position them for success in future careers related to the environment. It allows students to graduate not only with a broader spectrum of skills in their field of interest, but to have a more substantial resume to seek out future employment and/or internships.

This fall’s first SHSM program session unfolded over three remarkable days amidst the beautiful back-drop of our Spirit Point base-camp on the edge of Algonquin Provincial Park. The program drew a group of talented students from Almaguin Highlands Secondary School. The experience invited the students to step outside their daily routines and circumstances and out into the heart of an unforgettable learning adventure together in our incredible “wilderness classroom”.

The school selected 3 main ingredients from our extensive menu of program options: Leadership Foundations, Flat Water Canoeing Skills and Nature Discovery activities all of which satisfy elements and themes of the SHSM Environment curriculum. The students, from a wide spectrum of social groups within the school came together and were pleasantly surprised by the depth of the friendships that were formed in such a short time.

Missy, a grade 12 student, commented “It’s so amazing that in just 3 days some of the ways that I look at the world have totally changed!” In addition to leaving with a Leadership Foundations certificate and level 1 Canoeing Certification, students were introduced to valuable skills essential to an environmental career path. Leaders of the Day’s innovative programming challenges students to understand the value of functional teams and introduced them to the great art of self-leadership as well as leading others. It also inspires students to consider not just simply what they want to become, but who they want to become.

Leaders of the Day have many options available for SHSM programming and can design either land or water-based curriculum for students. The Directors at Leaders of the Day have 35 years combined experience designing and facilitating experiences for students on 3 continents. Be in touch so we can create the perfect learning experience for you.

Blog post written by Tony Cox: Co-Founder & Director – Leaders of the Day

Certifying Outdoor Educators at Leaders of the Day

| By: leaders

Do you have a passion for teaching, but can’t face the idea of standing in a traditional classroom? Do you dream of deepening your own experience daily while supporting learners to step boldly past their fears and perceived limitations?

The Outdoor Educator Certification Program experience strikes a powerful balance between mentoring high-level, technical skills and teaching the foundational finesse skills of program facilitation. Both are essential to develop as a complete Educator. During this program our students have the incredible opportunity to: gain four Outdoor Professional certifications; paddle a legendary river; complete a wilderness solo experience in the far North; ride the Polar Bear Express; get one-on-one mentorship from talented Instructors and industry experts and begin to uncover your unique talents as an Educator. We call it the “one-stop-shop” for training experience, professional development, and industry-standard certifications. The compact nature of the program ensures a “fat-free” experience that cuts straight to the heart of what’s important and necessary to be advancing within the field of Outdoor & Experiential Education.

Did we mention that you can earn a letter of reference during your program? Those who demonstrate particular excellence with their skills may even be eligible for summer Instructional work in the weeks directly following their graduation with one of our partner organizations or with Leaders of the Day. At Leaders of the Day, we help Leaders get a head start!

Our Institute Directors Tony Cox and Jonathan Carroll both bring a wealth of experience and over 30 years combined professional experience in the Outdoor Industry. They have led, designed and developed programs on 3 continents and are dedicated to infusing the OECP with their knowledge and experience.

Be sure you check out the full Program Description and register today. Class size is limited to 10 students per season. Good luck to all applicants!

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