Thursday, January 20, 2011

Anouncing: Spears and 'Shoes 2011!

It began as a crazy idea...

It became a challenge between friends...

It grew into a world-unique event, thrilling racers and participants alike.
It's back!

I am pleased to announce the second annual Spears and 'Shoes Biathlon at FortWhyte Alive, coming up on February 19th, 1-3 pm.  The team that brought you the first Spears and 'Shoes, and TIMBERRR!!! Lumberjack Challenge back in November, have been hard at work and Spears and 'Shoes 2011 promises to be a blast!

Snowshoes take the place of skis and atlatls (spear-throwers) take the place of rifles in this FortWhyte twist on biathlon. This fun event is about embracing your inner paleolithic hunter, and competing for your chance to be world champion!  In addition to bragging rights, a handmade atlatl set are up for grabs.

Call (204) 989-8355 or email for more information or to register
Stay tuned to the FortWhyte Alive blog, our website, and Facebook page for updates.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ice Fishing: Patience Pays Off

He sat, face to the wind.  Alternating shadows of low-flying cloud and patches of brilliant winter sun danced around him.  If he noticed the interplay of light and dark, or the swirl of cold air around him, he made no motion to indicate either comfort or discomfort.

He sat, intent on the hole in the ice in front of him.  If I payed close enough attention, I could see the slightest of movements from his hands, as he led his ice-fishing lure in a jig across the bottom.  He was a puppet-master with his marionette performing a pantomime in the icy, shadowy depths of Lake 3.

So he sat, for fifteen minutes.  So he sat for half an hour.  The young boy, maybe 9 or 10, was far more patient than I would have been when I wore boots that size.

I was out on the ice facilitating a family ice fishing event - part of Manitoba's "On the Same Page" celebration.  The book every Manitoban is encouraged to read this year is Juliana and the Medicine Fish, by Jake McDonald.  Jake's an outdoorsy author, and Medicine Fish involves a fair bit of fishing - if a book-signing-and-ice-fishing event ever made sense, it made sense at FortWhyte last Sunday.

So, there I was, with my reflective vest and insulated rubber boots, opening the door (or, more accurately perhaps, aaugering holes in the ice) for people to wet a line and try ice fishing.  I met experienced ice fishers, more than willing to share their stories - spinning stories seems to be what fishers do, while we wait for the big one to bite.  I was honoured to introduce families to ice-fishing, families new to Manitoba, for whom winter and all it's attendant activities were novel.

There were hooks to be baited, stories to be swapped, lines to untangle.  I relished every moment of it - especially the stories - of whiteouts on Lake Winnipeg, successes at Selkirk, the one that got away on Lac du Bonnet, the little catfish that made a little fisherman's day at the Forks.  Two hours passed like the flash from a minnow's tail.

I did not get much chance to talk with the patient boy.  Frankly, he was so focused, I didn't really want to interrupt his fishing.

As I stowed away supplies at the end of the program, it was he and I alone on the lake. We did talk a little, then - he told me his name was Jonathan, and of his close encounter with Largemouth Bass on Lake of the Woods.  I told him about an adventure I'd had two winters ago, trying in vain to pull pickerel from the Bloodvein River.  He told me he loved fishing; I'd guessed that, but he confirmed my assumption.

The conversation wound down.  I had to head in and help pack up the indoor bit of the event.

Five minutes later, as I came out of the office, I was met by the boy and his family.  Jonathan had a large, slimy streak across his mid-section, and a smile that threatened to push his ears backwards.

"I caught a fish!  A big jack!  This big!" he said, indicated the wet, dripping, smelly spot on his parka.  His grandfather leaned in to show me a cel phone photo of the boy and a healthy-looking northern pike.  The grandfather was smiling almost as widely as the grandson.

The young fisherman looked at me, and adopting the matter-of-fact tone fishers always use when telling a fish story, said,

"My first one ice fishing, you know.  Not going to be my last."  Jonathan sniffled.  I thought he was perhaps on the verge of tears, overcome by the moment - he sniffed again. "All I had to do was wait and be patient, " he said, with another strong sniffle.

Maybe I was the one overcome by the moment.  Maybe I was transferring my memories of ice fishing past, and my hopes for adventures future, into this moment, because the young, patient lad sniffed again and said, "My coat smells like fish.  I think my Mom will have to wash it before school tomorrow."


Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting to know our owls

Two months ago, out team met some new additions to the FortWhyte fold.

In late September, our new Prairie Partners exhibit opened.   After many months of renovation, our old waterfowl room had been converted into a facility for black-tailed prairie dogs and burrowing owls.  The prairie dogs have settled in to their winter pattern - mostly staying below ground during our short, cold days, but the owls have shown us a different approach to life.

I've not blogged about the owls so far - yet every day, I go home with new owl stories for friends and family.  It is fascinating to watch the social interactions of the eight owls, and observe new facets of their individual behaviour.

These little birds, almost extirpated from their native range in Manitoba, continue to fascinate me day after day. This morning, they reacted vocally to my beaver-fur winter hat - I think they thought it might actually have been a critter on my head.  Yesterday, at the end of the day, I woke up a little female from a nap...again, I'm no owl mind-reader, but her narrowed eyes and drooping lids said "Go away and let me sleep!" loud and clear!

Last month, I was away at a conference in Edmonton for a week.  This was during the run-up to TIMBERR!!!!, so I had registration details to manage from two provinces away.  With a hundred questions and details on my mind, my first question when I called in was consistantly "What're the owls doing today?  Anything new?"

Check out the Prairie Partners exhibit - but be cautious.  I'm finding burrowing owls can be habit-forming!


PS:  I promise to share more owl stories on the blog in the near future - the owls certainly do provide stories!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Outdoor Skills For Everyone - Another Perspective

It's a gusty, snowy morning here at FortWhyte Alive.

The conditions are very similar to those last Wednesday evening, when we ran an Outdoor Skills For Everyone session on essential gear, outdoor trip planning, and general, all-season outdoor safety.

With an eager group who braved wintery roads, I demonstrated a basic all-weather survival kit, discussed minimizing risks in outdoor activity, and then put some of our theory into practice - the group moved outside of the Interpretive Centre, and we built a quick "unplanned-overnight" shelter in the snow.

One of my guests was Jacquie Crone, a writer for Unexpected Manitoba, a Manitoba tourism and travel blog.  Check out her latest post for a participant's perspective on the session! Jacquie was also kind enough to let me use the photo attached to this post.

FortWhyte Alive is offering more Outdoor Skills For Everyone on Thursday evenings in January, February, and March.  A big thanks to those who've come out for the sessions already - and a big "come on down!" invite to everyone out there who'd like to build their skills for playing or working outside!

Bundle up and have fun, everyone!



Monday, November 29, 2010


SATURDAY, NOV. 27th - Sawdust flew, snowdrifts shattered, and 9 participants got their chop on as the first ever TIMBERRR! Lumberjack Challenge at FortWhyte Alive went into the books.

The nine hardy racers ran a 2 mile course, laden with logs.  Along the way, they identified trees, worked the saw, chopped kindling, living the adventurous life an early-20th century lumberjack - if only for 45 minutes.

Weather conditions were perfect for the event.  The course volunteers (Thank-you Axeman Jack and Sawmill Gord!) were as excited as the racers.

TIMBERRR!!! was the first in a series of similar events happening at FortWhyte Alive before next summer.  the next event - the Second Annual Spears and 'Shoes Atlatl/Snowshoe Biathlon, set for 1pm on February 19th, 2011.

Thank-you to all the participants and spectators who came out on Saturday - and keep looking here for more details on Spears and 'Shoes 2011!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Awesome Program!

Yesterday evening, I had my first outdoor program since the snow fell on FortWhyte Alive.  A combination of vacation and a conference had kept me off the trail since the beginning of November...I was starting to get antsy!

The program: an outdoor skills session with staff and interns at FortWhyte Farms.  For readers who don't know, FortWhyte Farm interns are youth at risk, from inner-city Winnipeg, who come and learn agriculture, business, and life skills while working on the farm.

I ran through a basic outdoor equipment kit, and after an explanation of how fires work, and campfire safety, we went outside.  The group was able to get a beautifully small but warm fire going with only one match.  I was incredibly proud...the youth built a skill, I was able to work alongside my Farm colleagues to deliver a good evening, and seeing it come together left me glowing almost as much as the little campfire!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Notes from Norway House


It was a packed few days, but my last week's trip to Norway House, MB, was a success!

Welcome to the North!  Norway House Community Airport

Over last Thursday and Friday, I was able to share a bit of the FortWhyte experience with 50+ students, 60 Educational Assistants, and 25 teachers.

I learned as much as I taught - from traditional Cree plant use to local nicknames, I had to work hard to take in all the information flying around!

Balsam Poplar or Aspen?  Answering an EA's inquiry using some twigs.  On the right:, Balsam Poplar; left, aspen.

Thursday morning, I worked with students and teachers to do an ecological inventory of the boreal forest near their school.  In the afternoon, I went out to the same forest with the EA's, and gave them a taste of what the students had done.  The next day was spent with teachers, working on using the newly-inventoried plots as teaching tools, and looking at the local wetlands, jackpine ridges, and spruce hollows not just as landscape, but as teaching resources.
A student field tests a soil sample.

A big thanks to Laurie-Ann, the biology teacher who set up the professional development day for her colleagues, and to Frontier School Division for inviting FortWhyte Alive to look north!

More pictures tomorrow!