by Sgt. Peter Moon
CAMP LOON – Camp Loon, the annual Junior Canadian Ranger advanced training camp, got off to a spectacular start this year with a demonstration of Indigenous dancing by a Canadian Ranger.
As the ceremonial fire that burns dureing the eight-day camp burst into flames Master Corporal Donny Sutherland of Constance Lake First Nation danced around it, watched by 143 fascinated Junior Rangers from 22 First Nation communities from across the Far North of Ontario.
“Donny Sutherland is an outstanding dancer and you could see he had the kids’ attention,” said Captain John McNeil, the Canadian Army officer who commands more than 1,000 Junior Rangers in Ontario. “It was a good way to start the camp.”
The Junior Rangers is a Canadian Army program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities across Canada.
Camp Loon, held each summer on Springwater Lake, 50 kilometers north of Geraldton, provides eight days of advanced training for the Junior Rangers, with an emphasis on safety on the land and water and in their personal life styles. Most of the Junior Rangers live in small, remote communities without year-round road access and for some it is their first experience away from home.
It provides a range of training activities that are not normally available to Junior Rangers in their home communities. They include specialized instruction in shooting, boating, driving all-terrain vehicles, learning how to swim-to-survive, mountain biking, archery, lacrosse, and traditional arts and crafts.
In addition to the 143 Junior Rangers, the camp has a staff of 101, made up of Canadian Rangers, other soldiers, and civilians.
“It’s a huge camp,” Captain McNeil said. “A lot of work goes into it, almost seven months of planning and preparation. This year we have support from the Regular force, which significantly reduces the wages we pay the troops. It is still a lot of money. The cost of Camp Loon is more than $1-million, or about $7,700 per child. But it’s worth it.
“A lot of kids say they want to go home when they get here. But when they see their friends having fun they want to participate. And that breaks them out of their shell and they take what they learn here back to their communities.”
Captain McNeil, who has served with United Nations peacekeeping forces in South Sudan, said he joined the army to be a soldier. “But what we are doing with these kids is outstanding work,” he said. “I see the hard work we do and the results are on the faces of the kids that we touch. The pay-back is outstanding. You see a happy kid get on the plane to go back home smiling and hugging kids that they didn’t know eight days before. Those are friendships and experiences that will last forever and Facebook is a great social media tool for them to maintain those friendships from miles apart.
“A lot of their parents push their kids to come to Camp Loon because they see this as a first step out of their small communities prior to going to Thunder Bay or Timmins or Sioux Lookout for their high school.
“While they are with us at Camp Loon we want them to have a good time but we want them to learn, too. And, you know, they do. That makes it all worthwhile.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)