by EVAN MATTHEWS
A well-known local woman has been working for 28 years pushing Valemount students to have encounters with Canada, and the kids are taking note.
Jeannette Townsend — Valemount’s current mayor and long-time public servant — is the Regional Coordinator for the Encounters with Canada (EDC) program North Central British Columbia region.
“It’s a life changing experience,” says Townsend. “Some who attended years ago are now sending their children.”
The North Central B.C. region stretches from 100 Mile House in the south to the Yukon border in the north, as well as Queen Charlottes to the west and the Alberta border to the east.
Townsend says she holds the position out of personal interest, and it is completely separate from her elected service in local government.
The Encounters with Canada program — which cost $675 per student — is designed for youth to explore future career options, while providing the opportunity for Canadian teens to meet other young people from across the country, as they spend an “adventure-filled” week in the nation’s capital at the Terry Fox Youth Centre, according to the website.
Every week of the school year, between 120 and 148 teens aged 14 to 17 years go to Ottawa, where they discover their country through each other, learn about Canadian institutions, meet famous and accomplished Canadians, explore career options, develop civic leadership skills and live a bilingual experience, the site goes on.
“One good example is a Law and Justice week. The class was divided in half — there is a prosecution and defence, and they are given a case. Then lawyers coach the participants, as they prepare their court appearances and present their case before a Judge,” — Jeannette Townsend, Regional Coordinator for the Encounters with Canada (EDC) program North Central British Columbia region
“One good example is a Law and Justice week,” says Townsend.
“The class was divided in half — there is a prosecution and defence, and they are given a case. Then lawyers coach the participants, as they prepare their court appearances and present their case before a Judge,” she says.
With the program in its 36th year, more than 107,000 youth have participated. Townsend has coordinated roughly 3,000 students from the North Central B.C. region alone, she says.
One of the most recent students was Valemount Secondary student 16-year-old Sydnie Pelletier, a Grade 10 student who attended during the 2017 spring break.
Pelletier — who worked a job and saved the $675 to attend on her own — says she attended Arts and Culture week, mostly centering on drama, though she says she learned a lot about art in general.
“We went to the National Art Gallery, drama studios, and we did singing and acting exercises and workshops with professionals,” she says.
But the program itself wasn’t the best part of the trip, she says.
“The most inspiring aspect to the trip was meeting the new people, and seeing them push themselves outside of their comfort zones,” says Pelletier.
“Within two days, we had made life-long friendships that would normally take years to build,” she says, directly thanking Townsend for her efforts.
Pelletier says she and her group attended the National War Memorial, as well as spending time at Parliament Hill — even seeing Prime Minister Trudeau deliver a speech in the House of Commons.
The students even got to check out an NHL Ottawa Senators game, she says.
Some of upcoming 2017-18 themes include Arts and Culture, Canada Remembers, Democracy and Youth, Experience Canada, First Responders, Global Affairs, Communications and Social Media, Law and Justice, Medicine and Health, Science, Technology and Ecology, Sports and Fitness, and Vimy: Canada’s Coming of Age.
“It has always been my greatest pleasure to send students from towns like Valemount, McBride, Granisle, Kitwanga, Hazelton and Stewart,” Townsend says.
A note of interest not mentioned on the website is students frequently have visits from Senators, MP’s of particular theme interest, and even the Prime Minister, as well as other dignitaries, according to Townsend.
“Four years ago, those who attended during the week of October 31 trick-or-treated at 24 Sussex Drive (the Prime Minister’s home),” says Townsend.
“What a story to tell their children and grandchildren some day.”