Team Role: Sports and Recreation Leader
Team Role: Apprentice Photographer and Friend of the Outcast
Team Role: Support Worker (for our autistic camper)
Team Role: Administrative Leader and Scheduling
Team Role: Group Leader and Energizer
Team Role: Team Leader
Our trip began with a 3 AM departure... time for some cinnamon buns! We headed out of the house to meet up for a car ride. From there we drove to the Montreal airport and flew off to Nemaska, a Cree village 300 km east of James Bay.
Cheryl, as always, was bubbling with energy not despite but BECAUSE OF her previous night's lack of sleep.
Unlike Cheryl, Kevin was not keen on having his photo taken on 2 hours' rest.
Me? I was the handsome guy behind the lens at this stage (although Kevin would soon don the role of apprentice photographer!)
Always supportive, my mother was the one who was tasked with delivering us to our initial destination. As you can see, she didn't get much more sleep than us the night before!
Our very first time meeting as a group! None of us had met Thomas before... clearly God had some crazy adventures in store!
On the Air Creebec flight to Nemaska!
Tena, TMSI's logistics coordinator.
Our first impression of Thomas... “typical 15-year old is always sleeping!”
Cheryl's evil plan to take over Nemaska involved aggressive sprout production. Actually, there's not an evil bone in Cheryl's body (she was God's backup plan if Mary fell through), so she just wanted to make sprouts because she loves making things grow and eating them afterwards.
Shanna, on the other hand, chillaxed with her computer.
Our kitchen. We were housed in transition housing, which amounted to a pretty nice apartment building where nurses, doctors, and other temporary workers would stay when in town.
Our living room.
Our first day... party games such as duck-duck-goose!
Our very first camp day witnessed a nice circle of friends. As you can see, it also witnessed some nice gym facilities. As it turned out, Nemaska had invested in a brand new recreational building within the last 5 to 7 years, which meant that we were never at a shortage of equipment or space.
Right off the bat, Kevin acquainted himself with the ladies.
Another party game: See if you can make your neighbour laugh!
Because we expected some of the children to be shy, we set up a craft corner. Soon, it became apparent that if we wanted kids to do anything BUT colour we would have to limit the access to crafts!
Shoshanna has no qualms about offering big smiles to shy children.
Dodge Ball Nemaska-style. Instead of lining up against one another, the kids wanted us to throw balls at them as they ran by!
One of our gifts to the kids was a free t-shirt per person. Of course, it doubled over as a good promotional approach, too!
Another good early camp game: capture the flag.
Chilren have a universal aptitude for falling asleep wherever and whenever they feel like it!
The children eagerly await Cheryl's next invention.
Cheryl comes up with “sleeping statues”. One of the early trends that continued through the camp was that Cheryl consistently came up with games when the rest of us ran out of ideas.
“Wake up Mr. Statue, wake up!”
Even towards the end of the first week, not all of the kids were eager to play games. This young man was more prone to linger on the sidelines, but responded keenly to one-on-one conversation.
Pop! The favourite drink of every 5-year old in Nemaska!
Goin' on a bear hunt!... a good time-killer, although most of these kids have probably been on real bear hunts!
This is what our team looked like as Cheryl was going on a bear hunt... None of us had anticipated just how much work it was to keep kids aged 4-8 entertained for 6 hours a day! One of the things we began to realize after week one was that we needed to be firmer on the age ranges and have the kids come during their appropriate time slot, so we didn't have the same kids at camp all day long.
Red Rover, Red Rover... remember how that's disallowed at many public schools in Ottawa? No such bars in Nemaska (they were the ones who suggested the game).
Doctor, Doctor, we need help!
Sometimes, the kids got tumbly. Good thing we had Thomas and Shoshanna to haul them back up to their feet!
Kevin awaits the result of this intense battle between soccer stars.
It's Time for Veggie Taaaales! The first week we tried videos occasionally. As we settled into more routine, Fridays became our movie day, with Narnia being one of the favourite series to watch. Sadly, Veggie Tales never really caugh on... I still love you Larry!
Ben teaches kids bad habits...
The evening sessions were dedicated to playing with the actual teenagers, although attendance was hit-and-miss.
Although dogs were abundant in Nemaska, there actually weren't many cats. Those who were there were quite friendly, though!
The favourite piece of equipment for the young kids was pylons, not basketballs. The possibilities were endless!
Our resident two-year old, who enjoyed watching the action and carrying around a ball of her own.
These girls were among our most faithful attendees. They were all sisters, and had one older sister who came out as well.
Do the Hokey Pokey! Sometimes, our camp games ended up with us doing most of the fun stuff.
Our walk home... Nemaska, like most of the Cree communities, is largely dirt roads. The trees are sparse, as well, because they literally come in with bulldozers and make a bare patch for towns. In fact, we were told that Nemaska is more beautiful than many towns because they left patches of trees between the houses!
As we began to develop our ideas, our daily routine began to incorporate a 15-minute stretch with Cheryl. We stretched everything imaginable, including noses, lips, and ears!
As we hit our first weekend, we were finally able to relax enough to take a walk around town. This is the main street. On the left you have the gym (behind us), the school, the clinic, the municipal government. and the general store (the only store in town). On the right you have a hunter and fisher's board, a daycare, the wellness building, the post office, and some housing. At the very end, you can see the looming presence of the town, the Cree government facilities - as it turns out, Nemaska is central enough that it houses much of the Cree administration!
At the edge of town, you can see the surrounding bush. Nemaska is 400 km away from any other town, so this is what it looks like for a long way off (excepting the nearby hydro camps).
There aren't many trailers in town, but they had a few, where they house incoming population that is waiting for housing still. Most of the housing is subsidized and managed by the Cree government.
Our path home between some of the houses. We never did find out why someone had built this in their back yard... it ended up getting broken after a couple of weeks.
An example of the patches of trees that exist between houses. The foliage didn't vary much and was always as thin as this.
The triumphant adventurers return home!
Our home for six weeks. It houses 6 or 7 people, which meant that we were pretty much the only occupants!
The view out our front window.
What a cutie! As our first week drew closed, we prepared ourselves for the biggest adventure we would have in Nemaska!
On our way out of town, we snap some photos of landmarks. This is the only church in Nemaska. We attended a few times while there, although the church population was quite small and the service was often half Cree or more.
Like the church, this is the only gas station in town, and because of shipping the price of gas is quite regularly up around $1.30-$1.50.
This is a new mall being built towards the edge of town. Currently the only store in Nemaska is a general store, and it is quite run down because of vandalism. This will be a nice change for the community, and will even include a coffee shop!
Along the road, this is how the forest looks. As you can see, most of the trees are burnt. This is because of recent forest fires, including one in 2001 which forced the community to evacuate after being surrounded by fire!
About a half hour outside of town, we arrive at the launching dock. This boat will take us to a new destination: Old Nemaska!
The girls get set for a 45-minute boat ride. The place we are headed was the previous location of Nemaska, before they were forced to leave because of expected flooding as a result of hydro dam construction.
As you can see, Thomas had no qualms about getting comfy for the boat ride over!
A distant view of Old Nemaska.
By the time we make our way from the dock to our cabin, some of the children we had met back in Nemaska proper noticed us and followed us to our cabin. The trip to Old Nemaska is an annual event to celebrate the “old way” of life. One of the key distinctions we begin to realize is that personal space is a non-factor here.
Our entire supply of food, pots and pans, utensils, and pretty much anything aside from clothes!
As you can see, there is some variance in the quality of cabins. Ours is a fairly good one, relatively speaking.
As soon as we seek to establish some personal space and relax, the children discover their favourite Old Nemaska game: Finding ways to get our attention and get into our cabin!
Our washroom facilities! Unfortunately for Thomas, he had never used an outhouse before. I'm sure it'll be an enduring experience!
After establishing ourselves some, we head out to play some games with the children. The casual atmosphere and short attention span of the kids meant that walking to the field a short distance away was a twenty-minute trip!
Fortunately for Kevin, the shift of location did not mean that he had lost his touch with the ladies!
Our new camp facilities. Who needs a modern gym when you can have grass?
And not just grass, but WATER! Swimming is the number one children's activity in Old Nemaska! This lake, Lake Champion, is the main one in the area. The extends quite a way, but it is also very shallow near Old Nemaska, and the water is entirely drinkable. Even a few hundred feet out most of the kids were standing chest-deep.
The most popular game in the water was seeing how many people Ben could lift out of the water at once. I managed at least six in one go!
In the afternoon, community games get underway in the main field. The games all have prizes, but only people over 13 can partake.
Obviously the Old Nemaska Gathering has become a big deal... they even give away free hats and hoodies to kids, and hats and lawn chairs to adults!
Sporting our new hats, sitting in our new lawn chairs!
One of the community games: Try to pass the Hula Hoop around the circle without letting go of your neighbour's hand.
As the games continue, I figure I'll wander down to the dock and see what the kids our up to in our absence. Unbeknownst to me, Shanna, Cheryl, and Kevin end up becoming part of a game while I'm gone!
The answer to what the kids do when we're not running camp? Surprise! They all go swimming!
A genuine surprise, this girl, too young to speak any English, began pointing at the water and asking “La Baie?” Since this means “the bay” in French, I assume the Cree word is similar and nod a few times and say “La Baie” right back to her. So, she strips down and jumps right into the water! I guess she was looking for permission to swim! When her sisters came and told her to put her clothes back on, she ran to me for protection and grabbed my leg. She realized she was defeated when I held her shirt out to her!
Minnow catching is one of the kids' talents. Fish-breed recognition, not so much... one question we received was “Is this a walleye?”
Two new faces for us in Old Nemaska... little did we know that fate would have them become two of our closest companions back in town.
Shanna still has some of that old ballerina left in her blood.
In our field, we soon discovered that the ground was essentially paved with nails! Seemingly, they had used the field to store construction equipment in the past, and thus we began a quest to gather up as many nails as possible. This was really just the tip of the iceberg, with us gathering this many or more pretty much every day!
The second day in Old Nemaska, the children tell us that they want to take us to see a graveyard. Not sure what to expect, and what the community importance is, we eagerly accept and get ready to head into the woods.
As we arrive one of the first things we see is her jumping in the grave. So much for sacred respect or whatever we were expecting! Fortunately, Shanna came equpped with a mom-glare!
If you can see, the date on this grave is 1923. Some of the ones in this graveyard went back as far as 1917!
Along the way, we kept the kids entertained with a game of “Johnny-whoops!”
Our first taste of freshly-smoked sturgeon. The next day, Cheryl would be given the chance to make some for herself!
Our evening entertainment: cards by candlelight!
Cheryl gets to join in on the daily work of preparing the fish. The first thing she learns is that when you cut the fish's head off, you have to leave the spine intact, because otherwise things get a little... messy...
A quiet day around the beach has us burying kids.
Mid-day, the fish are all filleted and hung out to smoke over very particular kinds of wood.
Thomas makes an unusual discover outside of our front door.
Kevin's unconcerned with the antlers... he's got what he really came for!
Cheryl enjoys the fruits of her labour.
As our week draws to a close, we are both tired and satisfied. Old Nemaska 2010:
We went to run a camp; they taught us to relax.
We went to run a program; they blessed us with chaos.
We went to share our love; they gave us the love of children.
Back “home” -- and believe you me, by this time we were thinking of Nemaska proper as home! -- Cheryl births a new creation: the world's largest croissant. Or, in this case, the world's largest loaf-of-bread-shaped-like-a-croissant!
But bigger plans than bread was in the works!
Somewhat unbeknownst to Kevin, we were preparing a birthday celebration a day in advance, since we would be working the upcoming Monday -- his twentieth!
Unfortunately, the weight of this cake's glory was sufficient to cause a cake-quake!
All that's needed is the people!
Happy 20th birthday Kevin! Glad we could spend it with you! And thus, week 2 ends on a high note!
Thomas is a very talented basketball player. Consistently, he controlled the pace of the game when we got a group of young adults together to play.
Flag football practice turned out to be a huge highlight with the kids. Although we rarely played football in its entirety, we had a number of mini-games we played which caught on with the kids.
Of course, a few of the attention-grabbers weren't happy to simply wear their flag belts around their waste!
Probably the favourite drill we did during our trip was “Offence and Defense.” I would hut the ball, hand it to the first in line, and the second in line would have to chase them and capture their flag. Simple, but effective... and kept them entertained for at least a half hour!
When it got too simple to just hand them the ball, we began to mix it up and throw it once in a while, too!
Long snapping practice.
We always had some quiet time with the kids, and often it revolved around Bible stories or Christian songs. Of course, we were privileged to receive some tales in return!
The most abused guinea pig in the world had the privilege of attending our camp!
Frisbee was one of the few sports we played that the kids had no experience with. Because of its foreignness, it caught on as a fun thing to do any day, outside or inside!
Our third week in Nemaska, we got to attend a couple of revival meetings with visitors from outside of town.
Our autistic camper, who Joey was responsible for.
Shoshanna really, really likes paperwork!
Our third Friday, we decided to head down to see the “Fitness Challenge” going on in the community.
The athletes would compete in a triathalon scaled to their age range, with the distances getting appropriately longer. That being said, I don't think I could have completed the lowest level! They train for months for this event as a part of their schooling (kind of like fitness class in high school).
Some of the successful competitors.
One of our older campers... he's 13, believe it or not, and he'll keep growing! Cree men are big!
Another one of our campers finishes.
Thomas decided to try his hand at the competition for the oldest level... cold turkey, to boot!
Just the fact that he was willing to give it a go earned him quite a following!
Back home, we have peeping toms. Or tomettes.
This third weekend in Nemaska promises our second birthday celebration: Shoshanna's! Here you see Cheryl and Thomas practicing innovation. We had no icing sugar, so with self-made mortar and pistol setups they crushed granulated sugar!
Then they used a tea strainer to sprinkle the sugar over the cake!
Happy 22nd, Shoshanna!
Notice the number of candles strategically placed by Cheryl... 2 on the one side, and 4 on the other equals... 24! Oops!
Back to camp for our fifth week!
If you notice the same kids in the photos every week, it's because our mornings consisted of 3-4 kids up until our final two weeks, when we chose to change up the age ranges and times!
Locating our hometowns on the map was a good way to tell them more about ourselves.
One of the patterns that emerged early was that certain kids would go swimming every day at 2:30, during free swim. Our response? We started sending Kevin and Thomas to hang out with them in the pool! If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
“True Danglers”... all of the older kids applied the label to themselves when they attempted some nifty moves around opponents. It seemed to be inspired by Alexander Ovechkin, who they saw as the supreme “True Dangler”.
My turn to innovate! We head outside to play rock golf! The premise is simple: Throw your rock into the can in as few shots as possible!
A rainy afternoon delays our rock golf slightly... so I guess that means it's nap time!
Keepaway is a classic we started playing in Old Nemaska. The idea is to keep the frisbee away from the other team, without dropping passes.
One of the “quiet time” activities we did was to listen to music and read the lyrics, in an attempt to encourage the kids to think about what they listen to.
Our first song? “All the World is Mad” by Thrice. Heavy rock songs go over very well with this group.
Much to our joy, we're greeted this evening by a host of puppies brought over by the kids!
“What do I do with this?” thinks Thomas.
“This is what you do!” replies Shoshanna!
Completely unaware of the puppies, this guy shows me his figurine collection.
“Ah, like this Shoshanna?”
“Yes, but much more affectionately, like this” contributes Kevin, as he seeks to steal one to smuggle home on the flight.
One of the challenges of this game presents itself when we realize that the undergrowth here likes to absorb rocks. Try to spot where it is!
As you can see, it's not a small stone we were hiding in the middle there!
Back inside, we get up to some crafts, and I receive a flower as a present for my lovely rock golf game!
What? Can't I enjoy looking pretty too?
We also engaged in educational activities, like learning how to tie my shoes.
The gift-giving didn't end with the flower. By the end of the day, I was garnished with many fine pieces of jewelery. Of course, my own collection paled with the girls'!
Heading home, we get the chance to see some of the campers dangling from their upstairs! Just another day in Nemaska!
We would encourage recycling as an alternative, but they don't recycle in Nemaska. :-(
Notice the mass of people in the water partway between land and the island? I got to be a ferry!
Capture the flag.
More Cheryl games. Note that our attendance boomed in this fourth week, thanks in large part to Cheryl, who went out and chatted with parents in the community to let them know that the camp was still on!
Notice the prone figure beneath the heap of girls? That's Thomas, napping. We decided to have fun at his expense since he had gone and fallen asleep on us!
Thomas played the big brother throughout the trip. Here's a case in point.
Yet another Cheryl game... pass the ball over your head, then under your legs!
“What time is it Mr. Wolf?”
Yes, gameboys and cellphones were a presence up there, too.
This week we were also invited to partake in a volleyball game with some of the local adults.
A pleasant surprise... this ice cream bar consists of both our names!
Unfortunately, just as our attendance boomed, Shoshanna, Joey, and Thomas all got sick with a flu bug! This meant that I watched the autistic camper while Cheryl and Kevin took on the rest by themselves. Needless to say, they were tired by the end of the day!
For the last two weeks, there was a hockey school being run alongside our camp, which meant that our male population dropped significantly. Hockey is the big sport in Nemaska, with almost every guy participating in the sport.
Capture the flag: Outdoor edition!
Kevin's two best friends for the trip's duration.
Since the whole household was in “down mode” because of the flu, Cheryl and I decided to try our hand at making “bag ice cream” as a treat for everyone.
Step one: pour milk, sugar, and vanilla into a bag.
Step two: place salt and ice in another bag.
Step three and four: place the milk bag inside of the ice bag and shake.
The first results are a little salty! Forgot to wash off the milk bag before pouring it out!
Cheryl's hand at the shaking.
The result? Some excellent ice cream treats! (Albeit, still an eensy weensy bit salty... it's hard to avoid that!)
The next day, our last Saturday in Nemaska, we get the privilege of borrowing a truck and heading out to see some local sights.
Here you see fields upon fields of hydro towers - the only industry nearby!
We note that there is a french helipad to the left. Sounds like a recipe for adventure!
Near the helipad we find a school bus graveyard!
Alongside the school bus: Some big tubes!
We find our helipad and make like helicopters!
Finally, we have supper at a restaurant in the hydro workers' camp. The prices are half of what you pay in Nemaska proper!
Kevin went light on his meal, and only had two cheeseburgers with fries.
Back in town, Thomas is the proud recipient of a number of love letters from the local girls. A strong finish to the week for the 15 year old!
Our last week in Nemaska, we ended up being displaced from the gym because of a local meeting of the Cree Nation government. So we settled into the wellness centre for our final stint!
All of our craft supplies: We are officially relocated!
More rock golf!
Even indoors, Cheryl is never out of ideas. Let's stand on sheets of paper and pretend the floor is lava! Only one way out: Cross the floor by sharing sheets!
Hide-and-go-seek! Unfortunately, the trees don't hide someone of my size very well!
The vice-principle's daughter is very good at telling stories with lots and lots of details!
Our second-last day: Time for a slideshow of our six weeks together!
After the show, some musical chairs.
Now THAT's a jawbreaker!
Think it's hard while walking? Try this on for size!
Time for a presentation by Bonnie, a nutritionist from a nearby town!
Here, we learn that there's a gajillion spoonfuls of sugar in every pop!
Since Joey had to go home the last week (he had pneumonia and had only been brought up for 3 weeks anyways), Thomas tried his hand at looking after our autistic camper.
A new art-form: Nemaskan Fuzzballs!
Discussion number two: Food groups!
Tony, a supervisor, looking very engaged with Bonnie's second presentation.
What group do beans belong in?
No, yogurt is not a vegetable!
Nemaska: where you always have an audience, even when there aren't any people around!
Help meeee... anyone...?
After our busy day with the kids, we got invited to a supper where dignitaries from the different Cree Nation communities would be eating!
Meanwhile, up until the actual supper, we naturally serve as entertainment for all the kids who are around!
My plate. On it you see moose, moose face, moose intestine, and goose, along with the potatoes and veggies.
Because she will be leaving tomorrow, Shoshanna presents one of her close friends the certificate that all of our campers will get the next day.
I think the reaction was a combination of camera-shyness and silliness designed to cover up extreme happiness. :-)
Our last full day in Nemaska, we prepare for the Silly Olympics. Our medals are authentic Nemaskan fuzzballs, worth their weight in gold!
The congratulatory certificate we handed out to all the campers.
We all signed the back to boot!
Our roster of events...
Our food machine!
Tony and his pal go for a jump!
Our first competition? Building sand castles as the food cooks!
Ready for our first silly race!
And its format? Baby crawling!!!
Then crab walking.
Then bear walking!
And finally, wheelbarrow racing!
As if that weren't fun enough, we get to re-do all of the above with the older campers!
Next, some tarp games. Try to fold it in half a bunch of times without getting off.
Then try running in the tarp, as a team.
Next game: fill up the big buckets using only one cupfull at a time. Girls vs. boys, naturally.
Clever as they are, the boys figured out a way to cheat and carry extra water from the lake. Alas, even with this technique the girls would go on to clobber the guys!
After another couple of competitions that apparently didn't get photographed, the crowd gathers near to receive their awards.
Our official silliest under-8 camper!
Last morning in Nemaska... we all recover from the silliness the day before!
What better closing activity than making more fuzzballs?
Playing dead is a good way to get attention.
One last soccer game feels a little surreal.
Tony demonstrates a sadistic side...
And that's a wrap. Game called due to departing leaders. We slink off the field and head home.
Shoshanna and Cheryl pack up the craft supplies.
And thus we leave Nemaska... the hall looks cleaner than ever before, but it is filled with memories. Thank you, Nemaska, for an amazing six weeks. We will never forget it!