Their visit may have been short but students from Eugene Reimer Middle School in Abbotsford managed to pack in a whole lot of fun and learning during their overnight stay in Williams Lake on their way to Barkerville in mid-May.
The group may have been the first people to actually swim in Williams Lake since the annual polar bear swim Jan. 1.
The student trip to Barkerville was organized by Alisah McPhee, who grew up in Williams Lake and is now teaching Grade 6 at Eugene Reimer. She is also the school’s Aboriginal enhancement teacher.
Eugene Reimer is a richly multicultural school with a mix of Aboriginal, Indo-Canadian and students from other cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Some of the students in grades 7 and 8, plus vice-principal Mirjana Jurcic and teacher chaperones joined McPhee’s class on the trip.
After their swim at Scout Island some of the students warmed up by playing touch football while others enjoyed visiting on the grassy knoll by the beach as their dinner was being assembled by McPhee’s Williams Lake family and friends.
The students were introduced to Orange Shirt Day co-founder Phyllis Webstad, who joined the group for dinner, which included three different vegetarian salads and the choice of vegetarian or meat hamburgers.
“We have been learning the real Canadian history, particularly how British Columbia was built,” McPhee said. “We are looking at the history from a different perspective than the settler, which is why I asked Phyllis Webstad to give a presentation to my students.”
As dinner was finishing up Webstad shared some of her personal history attending St. Joseph’s Mission School and how the story of the orange shirt she had picked out for school had inspired the creation of Orange Shirt Day.
She told the students how the residential school students had their clothes taken away from them on their first day of school and replaced with uniforms and the fear they felt being taken into rooms where water came out of the wall.
She explained that growing up at Dog Creek children didn’t know about showers. They bathed in tubs next to a warm wood stove.
She talked about how far it was from her home in Dog Creek to the mission school and how she cried when she was dropped off there because she didn’t realize she wouldn’t be coming home again until the end of the school term.
Raised by her granny, Webstad said her mother didn’t realize until years later that she had actually spent her first year of school at the former St. Joseph’s Mission School.
Just as the students were presenting Webstad with a thank-you poster the skies opened up and torrential rain came down. Undaunted Webstad and the tour group scrambled to the tour bus to continue their discussions.
Alisah’s parents Tom and Wendy McPhee and her sister, Jenny, prepared the dinner and had help from their friend, Glen Martin, in cooking and serving the burgers.
With rain still coming down hard the group was sent on their way, with a big bin full of cut up watermelon for dessert, to camp overnight at the Youth for Christ centre in Williams Lake before heading to Barkerville in the morning.
Part of their tour also included a stop at Hell’s Gate.
Growing up in Williams Lake Alisah excelled in sports so it wasn’t unusual for her to encourage her students to take a swim in Williams Lake.
In Grade 11 Alisah played soccer for Team BC. After graduation she attend Capilano College where she continued to play rep soccer. Her team won two national championships and she was named most valuable player at one of the national championships.
She completed a bachelor’s degree at Simon Fraser University and received her teacher certification at the University of the Fraser Valley.
More recently Alisah has competed in professional boxing matches.
For the past four years she has also been part of a group of the staff at Eugene Reimer Middle School who learn and perform traditional dances of India and organize performances with the students for the Sikh Vaisakhi celebrations.