Get on the bus at Trent University. Head north. Continue north for about six hours. Turn left on Red Squirrel Road. Drive carefully. Arrive at the parking lot, and grab your gear. Hike through the woods until you’re greeted with the breathtaking view of Lake Temagami. Congratulations, you’ve made it to Camp Wanapitei.
Last Thursday, about 50 Trent students and faculty completed this very journey to participate in the 42nd annual Trent Temagami Colloquium at Camp Wanapitei.
This traditional event began in 1972 and was originally initiated by Professor John Wadland, a renowned Canadian Studies professor at Trent.
It’s a weekend dedicated towards understanding the land. What is wilderness? What is ‘Canadianness’? What is our relationship with the land and all the beings living on it? What better way to find out than to go to a place steeped in Canadian history.
Once you get to camp, you’ll need to sign up for a cabin. Try to get one with a wood stove, it looks like a cold weekend. May I suggest Trespassers X or Red Squirrel? If you choose Red Squirrel however, be forewarned. It’s traditionally the musical cabin, so don’t be surprised if everyone is belting out Wagon Wheel at two in the morning.
The schedule of the weekend consists of activities out on the land during the day, such as canoeing or hiking, and listening to lecturers present their work and research in the evenings.
The idea is to become immersed in the environment first-hand, in order to better understand the academic discourse of the weekend from being on the ground and experiencing it.
Lecturers this year included Trent professors Stephen Hill, Neil Emery, and Dan Longboat, with other guests including Julia Anderson, Paul McCarney, and David Welch.
The talks covered a wide range of topics, from the history of Temagami, to Indigenous environmental studies, to community-university collaboration.
Lectures took place in the main room of the Wanapitei Chateau, a cozy hunting lodge equipped with squashy couches, armchairs, and a large wood stove.
If you’re still awake at 1am, go outside and look to the skies. The stars are unbelievably clear out here. The Northern Lights are also out tonight. They bend and contort in eerily beautiful green shimmers. Everyone stands to watch them in silence, thinking of the thousands of generations who may have stood here doing the same thing.
What does the concept of ‘Canadianness’ really mean? Do we take the astonishing beauty of the Canadian landscape for granted? Eric Lede is a recent Trent graduate who grew up in Australia. “I was surprised to hear my peers mention how desensitized they were to this intrinsic beauty that I was privileged to see for the first time. It was one of the most beautiful, breathtaking places I’ve ever seen”. He feels that Temagami was an unexpected life changing experience for him, and can’t wait to do it again. “Hearing about the connection of the land and the people really brought a new lens to Temagami. Learning of the history that is embedded in the land really enriched my experience”.
‘You can see the world in this place’. These were the words used to describe the area by Professor John Wadland. Temagami is home to one of the largest stands of old-growth pine forests in the world. It is also home to the site of the Red Squirrel Road blockade of 1989, a peaceful resistance to the planned logging of this forest. Many participants in this blockade were arrested and fined, including Trent faculty and students.
Be sure to visit the site of the blockade, and walk up to the gate. Observe everything around you. You may not have been able to walk in this forest if no one had resisted its destruction. Here was the site of an internationally significant issue, and in being here you can see the world.
After the lectures on Saturday night, the long-established square dance commenced in the dining hall for the last night of the trip, complete with a band and square dance caller. These dances are a Camp Wanapitei tradition, going back for many years, and participants are usually left pretty exhausted by the end. You might be able to hike all day and never feel a thing, but you’d be surprised at how a few minutes of square dancing can wipe you out.
Since Camp Wanapitei is a children’s camp, it’s set up almost like a little town. Everyone greets each other as they are passing through, and it feels like a tiny community. Environmental Studies student Alana MacLean is going to miss that. “It’s refreshing being in a place without phones and social media. When you take those things away, people are so friendly and social”. She mentions that she isn’t looking forward to leaving Temagami and heading back home. “I’m going to miss that feeling when we go back to school and everyone is glued to their smart phones or avoiding eye contact on the bus”.
Sunday morning, last day at camp. Pack up your things and do a last minute check of the cabin to make sure you didn’t forget anything. Tote your gear back along the trail out to the bus. Begin the lengthy ride back to Peterborough. Hopefully you can get some shut-eye along the way.
The bus arrived back at Trent last Sunday night, and everyone headed home for hot showers and a good night’s sleep, perhaps to take some time to reflect on everything that took place during the four-day trip. When we first got on the bus on Thursday morning to begin the trip, Professor Hill passed out blank sheets of paper and asked us to “draw our route”.
This might have meant the literal roads taken to get to the camp, but it seemed to be a little more than that. The Trent Temagami Colloquium is a journey, and everybody comes back a little bit different from when they left.