Stories of Caledon

Paddling Their Own Canoe

Students paddling canoe
Written by Patti Foley

Photo Credits: Stan Cameron

There’s something magic about the movement of a canoe. Gliding gracefully over the water somehow brings almost instant relaxation and connection to nature.

It’s a magic that was experienced one morning in early November by eight Peel District School Board (PDSB) students. And it was not just any canoe. It was one they had crafted themselves.

Nicole Reynolds, Coordinating Vice-Principal of Indigenous Education for the PDSB says the idea was sparked by a similar initiative two or three years ago at the Upper Grand District School Board.

Nicole is also leader at the Maawnjiding Wiingushkeng Centre for Indigenous Excellence and Land Based Learning in Caledon. The Centre opened in November 2022 in what was formerly Creditview Public School which closed due to low enrolment in 2017.

Chuck Commanda with canoe

Master canoe builder Chuck Commanda (left) guided the students

“My team at the Centre wanted to come up with some innovative ways for students who identify as First Nations Métis and Inuit to obtain credits that would go towards their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD). As well we wanted to do it ways that honours their traditional ways of thinking and being and honours Indigenous knowledge systems” Nicole explains.

So, being inspired by the Upper Grand summer learning program, the Centre’s team decided to run it as part of the school year. They engaged the same expert that had been utilized at Upper Grand, master canoe builder Chuck Commanda, from Kitigan Zibi.

Launching the canoeChuck is one of 12 grandchildren of Algonquin master canoe builders, William and Mary Commanda, and he is carrying that wisdom forward and sharing it with students. During the two weeks it took for the students to build the canoe with his guidance they were also able to hear many stories and traditional teachings.

The master builder provided the materials as well, which were all natural. No metal was used in the construction.

In addition to being a wonderful learning experience it also enabled the students to earn a Leadership credit that will go towards their OSSD.

People watching the paddlersFamilies and community members were invited to the launch which was done at Heart Lake Conservation Area. “It was a very powerful moment” says Nicole proudly.

The canoe is currently being stored at the Centre. As part of the Leadership credit the canoe will visit and be displayed at each of the student’s home schools, in turn.

“This sort of initiative is one of the reasons why we wanted to re-open the school as a Centre for Indigenous learning” Nicole concludes. “We wanted to able to provide Indigenous students with the opportunity to connect with their inherent teachings and knowledge.  As well to be able to connect with community partners like Chuck Commanda to reclaim some of what may have been lost due to colonization.”

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About the author

Patti Foley

Having spent 25 years in Bolton, Patti remains an advocate for Caledon. As a former Regional Councillor and a long-time community volunteer she is passionate about communicating information about its issues, news, events, people, non-profits and businesses.

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