A number of years ago, I started teaching at Membertou School. Every year, Parks Canada staff would come down to visit the school from Cheticamp. They would perform puppet shows and workshops about the flora and fauna of our spectacular Cape Breton Highlands National Park. I thought that it would be a great idea to do it the other way around and actually take the students to the park. I spoke to the principal about it and a tradition was born!
For the past 4 years, the staff and students of Membertou Elementary grades 4-6 have been making this journey in the fall. Our itinerary is simple. We leave for Cheticamp in the morning, have lunch and then do one of the many amazing hikes in the park, guided by an animator from Parks Canada. This year, we decided to do Skyline Trail because we wanted to see some moose and enjoy the spectacular view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Fortunately, we saw two moose. One was a female who was eating beside the trail. The other was a bull moose and he was standing right on the trail, blocking our way. We kept a safe distance as we watched him and waited for him to go off into the woods. The students were so excited by this that they didn’t stop talking all the way back to the vans. Many had never seen moose in their natural habitat before. Children develop a great respect for wildlife and the natural world through experiences like this. They also learn about how everything in the natural world is interconnected.
After the hike, we have supper. After supper, we head to Cheticamp Island for a bonfire on the beach. The bravest of us undoubtedly venture into the waves for a swim under the stars. Then, the students are so tired that they crash. The next morning, we awake and go for a fabulous whale watching tour on the Love Boat. This is the highlight of the trip for many of the students. For many, it is their first time on a boat. We have always seen whales. Our first year, we saw pilot whales and a humpback. That year, we also saw a fleet of tuna involved in a feeding frenzy. They moved through the water like torpedoes. It was incredible to watch. The tuna were jumping and thrashing and Northern Gannets were dive bombing the mackerel from the sky – hitting the water in perfect form at break-neck speeds. This year, there were no tuna. However, we were dazzled by dozens of pilot whales and we had an extremely rare treat as an endangered leatherback turtle gracefully swam by the boat.
You don’t have to be a part of a school to enjoy these adventures and October is perhaps the best month to visit the Highlands. The leaves are out in their full dazzling spectrum, the Celtic Colours Festival is underway and it is a perfect time of year for hiking and whale watching. This is the rutting season for male moose so you have to be extra respectful of their space. For more information on Cape Breton Highlands National Park: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/ns/cbreton/index.aspx
For tours on the Love Boat: http://www.loveboatwhalecruises.com/
It’s a great adventure in our own backyard for children of all ages!