A group of high school students from Kiilinik High School in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut will have travelled more than 14,000 kilometers to meet with some of central Alberta’s war veterans and war survivors.
Every two years or so, teacher Patti Bligh organizes a trip for a group of the school’s students to tour Europe’s Second World War sites and battlefields. For the last three trips the students have also made the long hike to Ponoka for an intimate look at the experiences of those directly affected by the war.
As it has in the past, this year’s session took place at the St. Mary’s Anglican Church on Monday March 30.
“For my students, we struggle with geography and we absolutely struggle with the history, because we have no connection,” said Bligh.
In Canada’s remote northern regions, during the time of the Second World War, the area had no consistent contact or knowledge base until after the war had ended.
“However isolated Cambridge Bay is, we’re still completely connected to the new global world,” said Bligh. “We forget that a lot.”
With no veterans in the north, Nunavut’s students do not have the same personal connection the rest of Canada’s students do.
Bligh says if she or her mother, Donna Boyd, cry at any of the war memorials then that is where the 16 students involved in the trip will get that personal, emotional connection.
This is where the visits in Ponoka and that extra education that is not solely based on the facts found in books or museums come in handy.
This year also saw a much greater focus on the Netherlands than past trips have, and Bligh took advantage of Ponoka’s blooming Dutch community to expose that culture to her students.
“This time it’s the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Holland, so we want to celebrate that,” said Bligh.
Elders are an important part of the community in Cambridge Bay and Bligh feels this opportunity for the students something they can finds a relatable foundation in. “The kids learn well and they’re incredibly lovely children. It’s nice to see everybody communicating; the generations communicating.”
“It’s unexpected connections, those are the most meaningful,” she added.
The students will be visiting Paris, Belgium and the Netherlands, with a day trip from Paris to Juno Beach; a location that has not been on the itinerary since 2007.
To round off the trip, the school will visit NAIT and Grant MacEwan, where they will meet with other students who came from Cambridge Bay. Bligh wants to teach the students such trips cost money and success and earnings in life is based on a good education.
“We fundraise all of it,” Bligh explained.
Interest in history and the trip has spread through the community and Bligh says she already has a Grade 5 student looking forward to her high school experience. The largest concern Bligh is facing in the small number of veterans left. “They’re taking their stories with them,” she said.