Canadian Home Grown JFW National Camp: from the Rock to Big Stone

July 31, 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ living la vida local!

JFW St. John's East and Chief Warden of Canada

Big Stone

Every three years or so the Alberta Junior Forest Wardens Association puts off a National Campout.  This year Junior Forest Wardens NL got in on the action!  Camp is a celebration of outdoors, family, and community.  (all pictured above except Terry are from St. John’s East.  l-r Jack MacCallum, Owen Finn, Dave Finn, Terry Garrett – Chief Warden of Alberta, John MacCallum, Kate Finn, Lucy Finn, Kim Todd)

It was a special thing indeed for seven members of Junior Forest Wardens St. John’s East to make it to Canadian Home Grown – the Junior Forest Warden National Campout 2017 at Big Stone, Alberta.  Big Stone is on the prairies, about three hours west of Calgary, and about an hour west of the dinosaur Badlands.   We were more than 6000 kilometres west and four degrees latitude north of our usual co-ordinates, in the midst of an instant community of way more than 600 united in the common ground of family outdoor adventure – Junior Forest Wardens.

This was not the Avalon Wilderness reserve.  The prairie dogs (gophers) that liked to stand by the side of the highway liked to run around like emmets when they weren’t, and it was easy to lose a foot into the holes they dug.   The horizon was a meeting of sky and plain in every direction, with no mountain or sea and few trees or rocks to punctuate the landscape.   You lose depth perception in the vastness of it all, and the grain shed that looked about a kilometre away was actually about 100.

this was not the Big Stone Reservoir

The four degrees of latitude seemed to extend daylight by about four hours, so by our eyes it was blue dusk at 11 pm and the sun was splitting the rocks (or it would have been, had there been any rocks to split) by 5 am.  And it was hot.  Hotter than hot.  It was badlands H O T.   Temps reached the latter half of the 30s and just for comparison, on one of those baking days it was bivvering around 7 degrees in St. John’s.  The reservoir was a popular place.

We weren’t the first Newfoundland & Labrador JFW Club to go to a national camp but it was an occasion of note, nurtured along by a wildly enthusiastic JFW Board of Directors and a very persuasive team of twin (first Larry Nelson, then Garry Nelson), and encouraged in various ways by Junior Forest Wardens NL and the JFW St. John’s East Club.  The welcome was as big and magnificent as the prairie sky.

our JFW Horseshoe Family

Planning a 7-person, 7-night camping expedition in unfamiliar territory is a formidable task at best.  Pitch it ¾ of the country away, with a totally, wildly different landscape, and it becomes all the more formidable.  After a couple of conversations and a request list, Garry said, “Don’t worry about it.  We’ll take care of it.”, and they did.  Special thanks to the Peace River Wolverines, the Smokey River Black Bears, and the St. Albert Sturgeons for all the gear, and to those and many more for all the care.  Special wink and nod to the families Robinson, Dupuis, Tailleur, Cinq-Mars, Langtos, and Skogen.

We had two tents for the two families.  A normal tent for the family of two, and a big tent like they had on M*A*S*H for the family of five.  The first evening brought spectacular rain and wind, and lashings of lighting and thunder so bright and loud it was hard to hear the coyotes howling in the not-so-far distance.  It was like someone came into your bedroom and turned on a big overhead light and beat on a drum by your head.  We were alert, but as it was our first night we had no clear idea as to whether this was a typical type of weather.  (It wasn’t).  A little bit of tent-leak is no big shocker to a NL camping crowd, and after the storm was settled we were geared up for the week.

Our tents, along with six trailers in varying degrees of hugeness, were arranged in a horseshoe.  And what a diverse horseshoe we were!  Our ages (two to threescore), ethnicities (NL, Albertan, Metis, French Canadian, Aboriginal, and German for starters), political views (liberal to libertarian and points in between), religious views, home geographies and our cultural heritages were as broad as Canada, and we enjoyed each other all the more for it.   There were differences, but they built connections rather than divides.

a smorgasbord of cool things to do

Flyin’ Bob performed a jaw-locking feat of balancing many chairs, under a glorious Prairie sun

The next five days were filled with sessions that ranged from Forest Bathing to Black Powder Shooting to Mozzarella Making, to forging a knife, glass blowing, making pottery, paddle-boarding, and hide-tanning.  The choices were so broad and varied there was something for everyone, and something that would push everyone just a bit (or a lot!) outside their comfort zone (Or underneath, as happened with the cardboard boat races).    The JFW Camp Committee were a wonder, and the organization was a phenomenon.  Along with the sessions, there was entertainment on stage every night.  Flyin’ Bob One Man Three Ring Circus was there all week, teaching and entertaining, and performed on Tuesday night.  (Balancing many plastic chairs was but one of the amazing feats.)

The NL crew was proud to bring a bit of home along for the Silent Auction, and the Newfoundland Chocolate, Purity products, Jumping Bean Screech Coffee, a home-knit hat from Casey’s Crafts, NL Seasonings Sea Salt, and St. John’s Maple Syrup were among the offerings, much to the delight of all.  Wicked Wool socks, embroidered with Big Stone 2017 were also a hit.

Wednesday night was Talent Night, and the NL crew came across with a multi-disciplinary original work that launched the legend of the Giant Squid’s migration from the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador to the Badlands.  One of our seven created a 20 foot giant squid and flew it across the country, another wrote the ballad of Sid the Squid, two others danced a fluid and interpretive dance.  It was a remarkable story that started in prehistoric times and carried through to the present moment, with Sid the Squid sleeping in the Big Stone reservoir.

The story of Sid was a nod to the many Newfoundlanders & Labradorians who went west in search of opportunity, and was also a nod to the things that the east (giant squid) and (west) dinosaurs had in common.   From that experience came the idea to change the name of the Junior Forest Wardens Club from St. John’s East to the Giant Squid.  (This has yet to be ratified by the Club as a whole), which will potentially be a lasting legacy to the story of the seven Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who made their way from the Rock to Big Stone for Canadian Home Grown..

We lived (survived!) and thrived under the big Prairie sky, and made it home with a million tales to tell, connected to a new community with cords that tug the Junior Forest Warden family tighter together.  It was a great JFW, Canadian Home Grown family adventure.
the story of SId the Squid

the inaugural rendition of the Ballad of Sid the Squid. note the 20-foot squid.