Summer jobs – Ontario Junior Forest Ranger
October 17, 2010
My first real summer job was in the early sixties as a Junior Forest Ranger. Technically, not quite 17, I was too young for the program, but friends of my recently deceased father pulled some strings to get me in. I'm not sure if this job was meant to distract me from all the changes in my life or just get me out of my mother's hair while she moved us all back up north, but off I went on the train. I went with both enthusiasm and nervousness, since even though I'd often vacationed up north doing woodsy things, and had gone to a “Y” camp, this was still a big change for a city boy and loner.
The camp was north of Thessalon, at McCreight's Dam I think - remember, this was 50 years ago. It was a fairly plain setup too, with just a bunkhouse, a dining hall, and a tool shed, all only a year or so old. In fact, the rooms in the bunkhouse were still just bare stud walls, making it basically one big dorm, filled with twenty four 17 yr old guys. It was a varied group of teens, some brash, some shy, some likely sent because of problems at home. However, working together in the bush, eating together at the one long dining table, and sleeping together in the dorm soon broke down the barriers and discouraged shyness. The final barrier came with one of our first construction jobs, building a new outhouse. We decided to make it open concept, with four seats in a row, big screened windows on three sides and a view of the rest of the camp and of the lake. Not much privacy left as you sat there, reading, chatting with friends, waving to others as they passed by outside.
The Forest Ranger program had been running since 1944, but was still basically a work program when I went. Our time was spent working in the area on various projects, such as road maintenance, brush thinning, and tree farm weeding, with a couple of two hour forestry courses added. Not really very stimulating, but not that hard either.
Every two weeks we were taken into Thessalon to cash our meager pay checks. We were fresh blood in a small town, tanned and tough, full of teenage testosterone - the girls loved us and the boys hated us. Other than a few small shops the only other attraction was the matinee at the local movie theatre, a slightly run down place, with B-movies and a surprisingly strong smell of straw inside. Not sure what caused that, the locals didn’t seem to notice it
The summer went by quickly for me, enjoying life with my new friends, learning new techniques and skills for the woods, such as use of the Sandvik - a brush cutting tool named after it’s Swedish supplier. Our main work supervisor was an older experienced woodsman, patient and knowledgeable. Helping out as the youth wrangler was a younger schoolteacher, somewhat bossy, and likely used to relying on the vice-Principal's office as backup for his rules. Out in our camp, left on his own, he didn't get much respect from us. To be fair I didn't go out my way to ingratiate myself with him, and was often linked to whatever trouble was going down. That seemed to be the story of my life - keen at first, then bored and troublesome, trying to fit in by being too clever for my own good. I never did set out to be a troublemaker, it just seemed to happen to me. And of course, whenever our boss looked at me, he caught me looking sullen, thus reinforcing his opinion. My friends tried to tell him that was my natural face, more a reserved than sullen look, that I did laugh often when around them, but he didn't believe it. He took it personally, as if my opinion really mattered, and somehow my less than satisfactory facial expression was a barometer for him for the mood of the whole camp. Finally, a group of us decided to finish off the summer with a 3 a.m. burping contest in the dorm, which for some reason didn’t go over very well with him. His punishment for the four of us was to make us stay in camp the last day and work, while everyone else went into town. Whatever. It meant we didn't have to suffer through him bitching and glaring at us all day. I’d met my first “tough on crime” supporter.
The program is still running, at over a dozen camps now, with more training and leadership focus, and more outdoors related courses. It’s now so popular that they have to do a draw from a pool of applicants in each district. I was excited when about 10 years ago my daughter got picked to be a Junior Forest Ranger, just like her dad. Her camp was up by Gowgama, mostly working on maintaining canoe routes and rebuilding camp sites. She liked it so much she went back two years later as a staff member. Who knows, maybe someday one of my grandchildren will continue the tradition.
Hi there. I just wanted to let you know that the program was cut this fall (2012). Ranger alumni are trying to reconnect and 'Friends of the Ontario Ranger Program' are organizing a rally for January 4th. You can find more on our page on facebook, our website friendsoftheorp.com or email us at [email protected] Great story; I love hearing about other peoples' experiences!
Posted by: [email protected] | December 22, 2012 at 11:18 PM