It’s Only One Year

One year. It’s a slice of time we use in adages or celebrate in a Scots poem singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. That person that occupied earth the last time it passed this very spot in space is now a memory 365 days old. Maybe you can still easily relate to who you were when the planet was a year younger, or maybe that person is such a stranger to you now that you believe time itself is playing tricks on you. The subjectivity of a year is based strictly on how you lived your life during it. It can feel dreadfully long or pass you by without you even noticing. It can swallow you whole and ravage every fibre of your being or it can be as empty as space itself (which, actually, contains the whole observable universe). Yet we are still so unaccustomed to the foolery of a year.

Yours truly in Chilcat State Park

Yours truly in Chilcat State Park

UnCanadian wasn’t originally intended to document (both explicitly and implicitly) a year that would easily become one of the most intense periods of change in my life. That’s because it wasn’t supposed to be so volatile – although, as I’ve learned, big life changes tend to crop up as soon as you’ve gotten comfortable and when you least expect them. I didn’t intend on charting a whole new course a mere three months after launching the blog. Letting go of the original UnCanadian script was me starting over again and fighting through many of the fears I had developed along the way. I rearranged my goals with haste and the blog turned inward. Though I’m not a perfect human today, I am one thousand times better and happier than I was when I abandoned the trip, and that’s something.

As I moved forward and found a more adaptive self, I began to gather everything that meant anything to me in my life. This great collaboration produced more life-changing results in April when I was offered a position as a Graduate Student in the Masters of Social Work Program at the University of Toronto. This is an opportunity not yet quantifiable but definitively mind-blowing in that it will turn my passions into a lifelong career. The decision warrants the humility one feels when multiple people whom you love and respect aggressively fight for your goals – my references, mentors and unwavering supporters have helped make it possible, and the offer means so much more than two years at school; it means I get to do something I love because other people think I’ll be good at it. What, I ask, could be a greater blessing?

What happened almost immediately after I learned of my acceptance can only be explained as life handing me an all-you-can-eat platter of awesome, for that same fateful rainy night in mid-April wasn’t yet finished with surprises. Through a social engagement with an old friend befallen from a recent post on UnCanadian I became privy to an opportunity to re-establish a connection with a community I had long since left. My old job at camp was reopening and I was asked to return as Program Director for Scouts Canada’s largest day and residential summer program in Ontario, hosted on the Woodland Trails property an hour North of Toronto. Under this position I will be overseeing all program delivery while seizing the unique opportunity to mentor and manage a staff of young adults that execute activities like rock climbing, archery, mountain biking and more. The proposition is, as you can probably tell, ridiculously exiting to me.

*Insert inspirational quote here

*Insert inspirational quote here

As I move forward so there are other consequences to the making and unravelling of these plans. My time is about to be completely usurped by the constant goings-on of camp life, not to mention the fact that I will be removed from my city life in July and August, returning on weekends only. What will follow thereafter can only be described as the normal typhoon of grad school academia that catastrophically transforms one’s existence into the advent of late-night essay crunches, caffeine-fueled marathon study sessions and overly dedicated practicum placements. This will be my new reality to which I am willingly subjecting myself because deep down inside I am really in love with the act of learning and the act of challenging oneself outside of a comfort zone, but in doing so I have had to make some other decisions. Embracing this tidal wave of change means I must be willing to commence other parts of my life. My job at March of Dimes has its numbered days – seven weeks until I say goodbye to the organization that motivated me to push further and find a new path, to which I am grateful for.

Also, most notably on this forum, UnCanadian has reached the end of its short history as a blog. The truth is that its relevancy to me will fade in the coming weeks and I am giving it a respectful burial. I could not have foreseen the purpose of UnCanadian on the day it launched last year, but indeed it became a support to me when I most desperately needed it. I will be turning my focus onto micro-blogging via Twitter and Facebook (maybe even Instagram if I can wrap my head around it) in an effort to increase networking as I step forward as a Social Worker In-Training.

I bid thee farewell, interwebs, as I move forward with this next big endeavour. Much love from the most UnCanadian Canadian.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

DSCF0368

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Where Your Old Things Go

When it comes to spring cleaning, I am a ruthless take-it-or-leave-it sifter of personal items. If it’s not serving some utilitarian purpose in the now, it’s destined for Goodwill. I’ve always kept a simple itinerary of belongings; there’s not an ounce of fanciness there, though lately I’ve matured in my taste and will spend a little extra for quality goods. My humble possessions are but a true reflection of what I value most: straightforwardness, tact and intentional existence. A quick browse around my apartment would give any onlooker an accurate representation of who I am, and I like it that way.

There are, however, a few exceptions. I don’t talk about them nor do I allow these material things to enter my daily consciousness, but these few items have survived two and a half decades of relentless purging. It wasn’t until they all resurfaced at the same time, about a year ago, that owning them became a problem. It was at this unfortunate point that I had to decide their fate.

Allow me to regress a bit: for the first 18 years of my life, up until it was time for me to make a move out from beneath my parents’ roof, I lived in the same red brick house on the same suburban street in East-end Toronto. Naturally, my family accumulated sentimental stuff, and even long after I had given up certain memorabilia they remained stored in the basement because what do you do with such a massive chunk of your childhood? Throwing these things away would be unspeakable, yet donating your precious play things seems wholly unfitting – just the thought of some strange unknown other family adopting your favourite toys makes one want to protect them at all costs. But the reality is that the further you venture into adulthood, the more challenging it becomes to hold on to these important pieces of your past. Letting go would be to abandon the innocence of youth altogether.

...and procrastinate with nostalgia.

…then procrastinate with nostalgia.

This was never really an issue for me until my parents separated (fortunately and happily) last spring and sold that same house I grew up in. By that point, the basement had been completely usurped by the collective histories of three now fully grown men. Siphoning through this mess was a difficult task, but I decided to help by utilizing my amazing organizing skills – a plan that all but succeeded after I was placed in the middle of my old train and car set, covered in a thick layer of dust evidencing years of disuse. My childhood was momentarily emancipated: this was the reminder that boyhood Aaron still lives, and his sprit was trapped inside a suitcase full of hot wheels and wooden train set, all items I spent the majority of my childhood playing with.

Those same feelings of rediscovering a lost love were soon quashed by the realisation that they could no longer live in my parents basement and make cameos in my life every decade or so. Both Mom and Dad were moving to smaller apartments and could not house this rather bulky memoir, nor could I facilitate it in my own very tiny living space. My plight was unfair: no longer able to keep these personal treasures, they seemed destined to be cast off…forever.

This is where Gabriel enters the story. Months previous to the climax of this dilemma, my good friend and adopted sister Mia moved from Vancouver back to Toronto after a multi-year hiatus, though this time around she had a wonderful husband and two amazing children in close tow. Since her return we had been keeping in touch through regular visits and I was starting to build new relationships with her family, including a very specific and special bond with Mia’s oldest son Gabriel, with whom I shared a passion for locomotives and things that go fast. Only Gabriel was living in the very apex of his imaginative passion for these things while I had long since given up the ability to transform toys into and beyond the limits of possibility. I saw in Gabriel a clear reflection of my former self, and eventually came to the conclusion that the toys I was holding onto were actually no longer my own. They were Gabriel’s.

What followed was a real life version of the Toy Story narrative: I passed my cherished car and train set to Gabriel, who was immediately able to do something with it that I could not have in my tainted young adulthood. Gabriel breathed life back into these since idle toys, giving them a second opportunity to capture the dreams of someone who refused to accept that dreams have limitations. And, every so often, when I’m ready to ignore those same rules that so oppressively govern me, I go and visit Gabriel and he reminds me that life doesn’t have to be so procedural. All you have to do is look at things a little differently.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

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Western Canada’s Small Town Tour

It’s no surprise that Canada has followed the same trajectory of urban boom casted world-wide over the past century. Over 60% of our total national population currently resides in cities that support 100,000 people or more – a number only forecasted to grow significantly over the coming decades. But Canada isn’t exactly defined by these urban mega-centres; our charm and spirit derive from more rural places where life is lived in closer proximity to its natural surroundings. If it’s true that the beating heart of our nation resides there, one must venture to small town Canada for a taste of the truly Canadian. And part one of this East-to-West list would be a good place to start.

DAWSON, YK

Located on the mighty Yukon River in Canada’s far northwest is the former Great Gold Rush capitol of Dawson City. Though accessing this place can be difficult, the payoff is worth your time: since the brief boom and bust of thousands who fled to Dawson in search of gold in the late 1890’s, the city has done a superb job at preserving a veneer not unlike this rather chaotic period. The experience is surreal: locked in by the mountains and surrounded by unending wilderness, Dawson feels like a most displaced rough-and-tumble town reminiscent of a frontier-esque cowboy-western style movie. Only you’re thousands of kilometres from the actual Midwest. The result is a dream-like small town experience.

Dawson City from across the Yukon River at sunset.

Dawson City from across the Yukon River at sunset.

WATSON LAKE, YK

If there’s any one road trip fated for true American glory, it would be along the world famous Alaska Highway. Though well regarded as an American engineering feat, much of this route runs through Canada, from the milepost in Dawson Creek, BC to the Yukon/Alaska border at Beaver Creek. As the only road leading into the Yukon from the South, the highway is well travelled by locals and tourists alike. The first mandatory stop after crossing the provincial border heading north is none other than Watson Lake, the ‘gateway to the North’. Once inside the city border, check out the Signpost Forest, a massive grouping of signs indicating hometowns of wayward travelers – originally started by a homesick US Army Engineer during the construction of the original highway.

The entrance to the signpost forest

The entrance to the signpost forest

PRINCE RUPERT, BC

Prince Rupert is British Columbia’s last Pacific outpost in the North before the coast is usurped by the Alaska Peninsula. As such, the Yellowhead branch of the Trans-Canada Highway terminates in this quaint town, situated on Kaien Island at the mouth of the Skeena River – an outlet to the Pacific Ocean. A railway also facilities Prince Rupert, serving as an important transportation hub for the province. Prince Rupert is also situated in the middle of a Coastal Temperate Rainforest, including beautiful geography and unique climate – perfect for the outdoorsy type.

Prince Rupert from above

NELSON, BC

South-central BC: an area prized for its history, beauty and resources, encapsulated by the Kootenay region and the nearly impassible Selkirk Mountains. The Crowsnest Pass runs the main artery across this geographically diverse environment and through the centrally located town of Nelson. Well known for its superior historical preservation in the downtown core, Nelson is both a destination for wandering neo-hippies and architecture buffs everywhere. An influx of draft-dodgers in the 1900’s had an impact on the now liberal politics prevalent in Nelson, a phenomenon that is considered as the seed of a now thriving small-town arts culture.

Historic downtown Nelson

Historic downtown Nelson

CANMORE, AB

Canmore is close to the overly-saturated touristy hubs along this stretch of the Canadian Rockies, yet far enough to have created its own localized and less fabricated version of a small town in Western Alberta. Beat the crowds and oppressive itineraries by venturing into this enclave off Highway 1, nestled between the Bow Lake flats and Kananaskis Country in Canada’s most breathtaking region. Try hiking to Grassi Lakes or enjoy a local brew at The Grizzly Paw.

The top of Grassi Lake over Canmore

The top of Grassi Lakes over Canmore

MEDICINE HAT, AB

My final addition to the West Coast Small Town Tour is none other than Medicine Hat, AB. This quaint, not-so-small indeed economic powerhouse is a hub for outlying natural gas fields, gaining its reputation for being centerfold to Alberta’s natural energy industries. Despite its relationship with the business, Medicine Hat has manicured a scenic downtown with plenty of activities including a living museum called the Medicine Hat Clay Industries National Historic District and a multi-purpose cultural centre ‘The Esplanade’.

Medicine Hat in fall

Medicine Hat in fall

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The ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’ Lie

The recent invention and use of the term ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ is no accident; we had to make it up to explain why so many young adults have been rearranging life goals in their mid-to-late twenties. It’s a horrible term with the intention of chastising us, often paired with statements like ‘lacks direction’ and ‘impulsive’. We fall victim to this prejudice, often making more excuses for going back to school (again), travelling, breaking up with partners or changing jobs. What the mask of the ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ so poorly conceals, though, is that we may just be the first generation that can viably do these things en masse. (And there’s actually nothing wrong with that).

Says your parents.

Says your parents.

This never before seen social phenomenon could be understood as a by-product of other ‘Gen Y’ pressures, such as obtaining higher education or staying single longer. As we accomplish these milestones later in life, so opens the door to a host of other opportunities as all of the sudden we have more time, money and mobility than any other generation before us. This inevitably results in the webbed life paths now typified by today’s 20-somethings.

But there’s a shaming element to the ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’, like the inevitability of new endeavours when you’re young is somehow an embarrassing thing, or that this shift in direction is juvenile and indicative of a lost, demotivated cohort of society. Much like its older brother, the ‘Mid-Life Crisis’, the term is commonly used in a comically-spun heir of condescension, or, if used by the person in question, a type of self-deprecating defence mechanism flung out haphazardly when asked about life choices. The ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’ is, therefore, an unnecessary apology – but an apology nonetheless. And we’re perpetuating the perception of a wandering, unhappy and unenthused Gen Y by adopting it.

While I have my qualms about this label, I also get why it was created, especially when considering how people not that much older and I were expected to do things radically differently at my age. So where our constant cross-contamination of interests, pursuits and activities may come off as a bit aimless, it really just boils down to we do it because we can. And because it will make us better people; better leaders for your businesses, schools, governments and communities. Percolating in the advantages of open opportunity is not a bad thing and it doesn’t mean we’re delaying adulthood. In fact, we’ll be better at it because many of us will have an immense amout of experience behind us before taking on the responsibilities of a family or a team in a workplace or a neighbourhood.

Last year should have been considered my life-affirming, intensive change-for-the-good experience, but thanks to the ‘Quarter-Life Crisis’, I fear that my peers may see it as flighty behavior, as me detaching myself from my problems. In essence, everything happened in mere months. I graduated, changed jobs twice, moved three times, ended a four year relationship and applied to grad school. True, it was a hellish mess at one point. But I did it for me, and now things are awesome, no thanks to some arbitrary misnomer.

Let’s reclaim the Quarter-Life Crisis and remould it as our own rite of passage – the very fruits of our successes now and later in life. Because change is good, and we’re all privy to the forces of our own goals, hopes and dreams. If anything, we’re just better at listening to it.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

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Remembering Liard

I glided into conscious thought slowly, cradled by the gentle rocking of my bed and the sound of laboured breathing from outside the window. I had been in Northern BC for three weeks and wasn’t quite acclimatized to waking up in a trailer at daybreak, harassed by the sun already peeking into the small interior of a pull-along at 4am. But this…What was causing the entire mobile home to wobble like an overturned saucer? And what beast was standing outside, silhouetted through the transparent doily drapes that covered the mother’s attic windows? I hesitated, then slouched upright and carefully pulled back the curtains and stared in disbelief at the mammoth-sized female bison using the corner of my home as a scratching post.

Our homes in the wood (I was stationed on the right)

Our homes in the wood (I was stationed on the right)

This was how I started the day on May 17th, 2012 – my 24th birthday. To add to the absurdness of a present day mastodon for a wake-up call, it had also started to snow. I cannot recall snow on any other birthday of mine, so I took it as my one chance to enjoy this most un-springlike weather, not uncommon to the valley of Liard River in the remote Northern Rockies. This was my own personal test: I was nearing the end of six years in post-secondary and feeling the weight of an impending but unclear future where I wouldn’t have summers off to be flighty and carefree. One last great trip before I finally took stock of my fleeting youth. So I asked for an adventure, and got more than I bargained for.

Spending four long months in near isolation was both a terrifying and exciting prospect. I arrived with zero expectations, and waited to be enchanted again by Canada’s Northwest. I didn’t have to wait long. Surrounded by a vastness so bountiful it overshadows your most embellished dreams of wilderness and beauty, this pocket on the Alaska Highway kept me locked in a ceaseless dance with nature, be it the constant struggle I endured for basic human needs like food, energy and shelter or the abundant moments I found myself grateful for the spoils of Liard River. My frustrations were also apparent some days when I had to wake at 5am to clean public hot springs or swatted at one too many spruce beetles that managed to overpopulate our camp after a long and wet spring. That said, most of these angry flashes surrounded my job as a Parks Facility Operator and always ended in a ‘check your privilege’ type auto-response, leaving me humbled and thankful again for the experience.

The sun-splashed Liard River

The sun-splashed Liard River

I’ve been thinking about Liard River lately as I enter a new summer, one surely to be marked by the fortunate enjoyment of adulthood, the lessons I learned by not travelling that surely match the weight of the ones learned one the road, and the end of an academic hiatus. I remember being enthralled by roaming black bears, the sulphuric smell of the hot springs and how much I loved knowing that what encapsulated me there was as far reaching as the eye could see – a forever stretch of forest and animals and rivers and open land.

So the next time I coop in a bar, or sit down with a glass of wine beside a friend, I’ll silently toast the places I went untethered. Because I know I’ll conclude that I love all my tethers right here.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

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Your Brain, on Music

Imagine standing centerfold before a stage, a singular dot within a mass of electrified bodies singing in powerful unison with your favourite band. The atmosphere is fiery; the adoration, palpable. You could easily lose yourself in the music, the words and the people around you, all intrinsically connected by a mutual craving – a desire to be musically appeased. And in that moment, you are.

Recent research on the therapeutic and rehabilitative effects of live music reveal some pretty remarkable outcomes. Patients that included regular live music therapy sessions during treatments for chemotherapy and brain tumors showed a marked decrease in anxiety and stress compared to a control group, according to studies conducted by the US National Library of Medicine. While this known correlation is being used to help prevent memory loss and improve exercise regiments, most of us are aware of the residual benefits of listening to a song you love as it is being played in real-time. That’s why I always take time to attend some shows and (luckily for me) I just happen to live in Canada’s live-music capital.

The Head and the Heart at Kool Haus, March 30th

The Head and the Heart at Kool Haus, March 30th

Toronto is the perfect junction for touring bands. As Canada’s largest metropolitan area, the city attracts all kinds of artists to perform in the multitude of venues that bless us here. This means that if you’re living downtown and stuck without plans in a Friday (or any other night of the week, for that matter) there’s a near guarantee that some form of live music that suits your interest is within a ten minute subway ride away. This fact astounds me, and often the prospect of a show has been the sole motivating factor for trudging through my work week.

Take last Sunday, for instance, when I gleefully sang along to the catchy melodies of The Head and The Heart and Basia Bulat at the Kool Haus. Or this Friday, when you will find me with a cold beer in my hand rocking out at the Better Weather and Bootleg Glory show at Cherry Cola’s. But the list doesn’t end there – oh no; my spring concert series includes tickets to the sold-out HAIM gig in May (two days before my birthday!), The Jezabels at the infamous Lee’s Palace in June and James Taylor himself a month later. That’s right, be jealous.

I spend my hard earned money on live music because live music is transcendence. Thrown into the plethora of psychological benefits is the simple fact that listening and watching live music makes me happy. It connects me to an artist and to art itself. There’s something indisputably beautiful about being in a crowd full of strangers that are collectively singing your favourite song while it is being performed by your favourite band. It is a spiritual wholeness; the kind that sends incapacitating chills running the length of your spine.

Canada is well endowed by both talented musicians and great venues. We are well situated to reap the therapeutic value of live music – from underground indie basement brawls to marathon festivals of ginormous proportions. So do yourself a favour and make some time for live music this summer. Your brain will thank you for it later.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

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March Update!

I mean, c’mon, did March even happen? I thought I was preparing for some pre-spring shenanigans, but now all of the sudden April is on our doorstep and things feel all warp-speedy. I might even think all of that fleeting time unfair, if I had a moment to think. Rest assured I ‘rested’ – this month during a weeklong vacation in Southern Florida, a trip that included a visit to Disney and a nonstop barrage of seafood in some of Clearwater’s best local restaurants. My very Un-UnCanadian trip made for a short hiatus followed by some interesting posts followed by a newfound appreciation for UnCanadian. (Try to keep up with me here).

And I needed batteries recharged. With anxiety and nervousness about my impending future weighing heavier than ever and a non-profit job that just won’t stop harassing my face (it’s odd phrasing, but it works) it’s a modern miracle that I still pushed out five posts in March. I even got some love along the way.

LOVE FOR UNCANADIAN

In an incredible show of solidarity and appreciation for the North, Whitehorse’s largest newspaper re-published the blog post ‘Whitehorse: To Dream Anew’, written in February. The article was edited and repurposed into a column under writer Michael Brine’s regular section ‘Michael’s Corner’. I am sending some mad love back to The Whitehorse Star for distributing my work to their readers!

I’ve also recently posted a Canada In-Focus on the Horne Lake Caves in Qualicum Beach, BC that garnered some attention. Two major tourism branches – VancouverIsland.com and BritishColumbia.com – helped promote it on Twitter and took my outreach to a whole new level. Finally, Scouts Canada made friends with UnCanadian after sharing my most recent post on summer camp, making this former Baden-Powell preaching nature lover a happy person.

POSTS

Entering the first cavern with the group, pre-squeeze.

From ‘Entering the Horne Lake Caves…’

I just had to re-inject a little appreciation for Canada after a week in the Southern States. Not that I’m using my blog as a platform to berate Americans or anything; I just want to assert Canadian awesomeness, because even in the midst of a polar friggin’ vortex I’d still rather live North of the border. ‘Vacations and why Coming Home Isn’t so Bad’ is a product of these undying sentimentalities.

For some reason I felt rather nostalgic this month and even went so far as to dust off a couple stories from past Turpin history. ‘Therapy, Brockville’ dives into a more unsettled and rebellious 14 year-old-me, retelling the true story of how a small town at the foot of the St. Lawrence River would catalyse immense change. My latest post, ‘There’s a Place Called Adventureland’, was a bittersweet psalm for anyone who was privileged enough to be involved at a camp in their youth. ‘Adventureland’ is a still operational camp that made my childhood and teenage years unforgettable in the summer and bearable the rest of the year.

After avoiding In-Focus posts for the past couple months, I decided to relive an amazing journey through crystal-lined caves thousands of years old. ‘Scuttle, Sneak and Snake: Entering the Horne Lake Caves’ recounts the awe-inspiring experience of spelunking off Vancouver Island. Lastly, ‘How the ‘No-Good-Cents’ Approach is Hurting Canadian Charities’ might be the most scandalous attempt at myth shattering to ever endow UnCanadian. The cathartic rant looks to unpack our ideas surrounding the charity and unveil how societal pressures for funding and business ethics are actively strangling the non-profit sector.

Another month of UnCanadian begins on the tail of the busiest yet. Keep checking in for more great stuff.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

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There’s a Place Called Adventureland

It’s no secret that I was raised by staunch suburbanites – a duo of nature-fearing parental units eternally bonded to their creature comforts. Trips outside the East-end hinterland of Scarborough were well planned and always involved the spoils of modern technology. Not once was I forced on a ‘family bonding’ camping trip or dragged ball and chain into the wilds of Southern Ontario to ‘reconnect’ with the outdoors. Though my family was kind and benevolent, they sternly opted out of this almost quintessential White-North-American experience. Perhaps it was in the absence of this common ritual that I developed an interest in exactly the same thing my parents had hidden me from. I began from an early age to actively seek what I had yet to discover, and found solace in a small nook of country a short drive from Toronto.

'Adventureland goes North' - camp meets Haliburton, ON

‘Adventureland goes North’ – camp meets Haliburton, ON

Woodland Trails is a 275 acre property that borders the Aurora-Stouffville precipice in Southern Ontario. Within its reaches are a small grouping of campsites and shelters, a fair sized lodge centre and various program sites, all hovering around a dirt road that circles the interior. This place was to be my first true experience with nature; as a young Boy Scout, frequent weekend trips to Woodland Trails were marked for skill development. We would camp in all seasons, learning about the ebb and flow of consequences on the forest and how to adapt to all kinds of weather. I quickly grew accustomed to building and sleeping in quinces or cooking tinfoil meal packs, fireside-style. Before long, I found a niche in this kind of stuff.

With the acclimatizing of camping came a yearning for more. I was ready to be challenged further. This was about the same time that a brochure for Adventureland happened upon our mailbox, a perfectly timed summoning to weeklong youth summer camps at Woodland Trails. This was to be the tipping point for a long and storied history with Adventureland. But I didn’t know any of that on my first day; all I knew was that the big yellow bus adorning a parking lot outside Toronto headquarters was there to take me to what could have been a completely different world where showers were optional and it was ok to eat dinner with your hands.

I spent many weeks over many summers a camper at Adventureland. The experience was to me a sweet reprieve from my complicated life in Scarborough. The same rules that governed behaviour at home did not exist at camp, nor did I require the same educational components. Learning came easily; in fact, I wasn’t really aware that I was learning at all. But I was. In leaps.

Eventually I reached an age that surpassed requirements at Adventureland. No longer could I look forward to summers spent as a camper in that magical, not-so-farway place, and was immediately faced with another hard decision: would I keep Adventureland a childhood experience, or try my hand at assuming a position on staff? Though I had spent four unforgettable summers there, it was the motivation to step in as a leader that had the most impact on my life.

Posing with the Adventureland Program Staff 07' (I'm the stooge lying in the middle)

Posing with the Adventureland Program Staff 07′ (I’m the stooge lying in the middle)

A few hundred campers continue pass through the facilities at Woodland Trails every week of every summer as part of the Adventureland program. I was inspired by the staff members I looked up to in my younger years and wanted to have the same influence on my own predecessors. I wanted this not knowing just how far it would take me. Soon, I became addicted to the potential I possessed to have a positive influence on campers. This passion kept me hyperaware of the effect my actions had on others. Over some years, I moved through ranks at Adventureland, first spending two summers as a minion ‘Junior Staff’, then landing a coveted ‘Program in Training’ position that streamed me onto the ‘Program Staff’ where I operated and was in charge of the High Ropes and Rock Climbing Program for a year (which, given the flattering harnesses and omnipresent danger inherent with the field, is clearly the coolest and most badass program at Adventureland).

Being promoted to Program Director thereafter was almost surreal. I was a young 17 year old with the responsibility of executing all program in a large overnight weekly camp – in charge of 15 other staff that in turn delivered said activities. It was here that I found my capacity as a leader. It was in the middle of a forest that I became privy to my own self-potential.

I spent three more summers as the Program Director before regretfully leaving Adventureland in pursuit of higher education and employment with a more gainful paycheque. These reasons alone tore me from summer camp, though if they weren’t a factor, I’d probably still spend all of July and August at Woodland Trails.

In the end, summer camp necessarily shaped me into the person I would become. I made lifelong friends and learned lifelong lessons. I only hope that every child has the opportunity to go to camp, if only once, because that’s where childhood dreams become adult memories.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

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Scuttle, Sneak and Snake: Entering the Horne Lake Caves

Spelunking. The word sounds so fantastical; childish, almost. But there’s nothing juvenile about the sport of seeking and exploring endless caverns carved deep into the earth’s crust by way of a few thousand years of erosion. The apparent ‘recreational activity’ is well known for its precariousness as participants often find themselves squeezing through nerve-rackingly small crevasses hundreds of feet below the surface, climbing over underground waterfalls that stretch over open rock or swimming through deep pools while rushing water flows through a complicated network of gyres and throughways. But these largely unknown and unstudied places are miraculously beautiful.

Such caves are found all over the world, though an exceptional many are found right here in Canada where an abundance of freshwater ecosystems are privy to the formation of these hidden giants. Thus, the pastime of navigating through secret underground cavities like some sort of twilight-zone-esque new world voyager seems to have taken on some popularity. So when I was travelling through Vancouver Island on my first trip to the West I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to try my hand at spelunking in a real, 400 metre deep bona-fide cave. With a guide. And a helmet light.

Entering the first cavern with the group, pre-squeeze.

Entering the first cavern with the group, pre-squeeze.

The only problem: I was a cripplingly intense claustrophobic. When I arrived at the Horne Lake Caves Outdoor Centre, I could already begin to feel my heart rate speed up and vision narrow. My sweaty palms and shaky feet inhibited any ability to think clearly as I slotted myself through a manhole-sized gape in the forest floor. Once inside I was met with a 20 meter ladder that ended in an unlit, non-landscaped cave. Here I would begin my spelunking adventure.

Journeying through the first few caverns wasn’t so bad – the ceiling remained a comfortable 40 inches above my head and the ravine was but a trickle at my feet. I even began to release the tension in my arms and back as I gradually stepped deeper into this foreign and unusual place. Guided only by the light attached to my forehead, I slowly began to take stock of the world around me. Growing from the cave walls were long stalagmites – delicate rock formations created by thousands of years of calcium being deposited here, a leftover by-product of an ancient sea that once filled the area. Fossilized creatures appeared everywhere and our guide was quick to explain that human activity must be strictly regulated in the caves – simply touching one of the stalagmites would deposit a lethal oil from our skin that would effectively end the long process of crystallization.

As we ventured further I began to notice a steady decrease in the cavern size, until at last we arrived at the end – or at least what I thought was the end, until I was told to lie on my front and ‘shimmy my body through a squeeze’ (that’s spelunking speak for ‘find a way to cram yourself through a hole in the ground that wouldn’t fit your pet dog’). Though my body was screaming at me in every way possible to turn around and head for daylight, the part of me that fears regret became stronger and I reluctantly got on my hand and knees, then fully reclined, wiggling myself sideways through the sharp outcropping until I found myself wedged in between two layers of rock that formed a rather uncomfortable coffin-sized tunnel.

Stalagmites formed above a small pool of clear water.

Stalagmites formed above a small pool of clear water.

I was surprised to find another spacious room on the other end – one that rewarded me with even bigger stalagmites than those at the beginning of the cave. Suddenly, my overactive fear of small spaces disappeared and the urge to explore and learn took over.

The rest of that trip involved ridiculous stunts I wouldn’t have ever imagined myself doing, though I found I couldn’t erase the smile off my face the entire time. Over the four hour cave crawl my guide took me on an adventure that included rock climbing up a waterfall, jumping feet first through a ‘cave portal’ and cutting headlamps to enjoy the pure blackness of Canada’s amazing underground places. I could have remained on the surface and let those fears control my experience, but instead I risked a full panic attack and scuttled, sneaked and snaked my way through the Horne Lake Caves. My only regret is not going back for more.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

Categories: Canada In-Focus | Leave a comment

How the ‘No-Good-Cents’ Approach is Hurting Canadian Charities

We hold certain industries and ‘sectors’ to their equal moralistic judgements, discriminately cast upon each organization by virtue of pure (and sometimes ambiguous) cross-categorization. Thrown into the gyre of economic rhetoric are the non-profits, public-private, pseudo-corporate, non-government, social enterprise or capitalistic businesses, each guided by a mostly societally-driven set of rules that portray right and wrong. Though the labels might seem redundant, they actually cause an abrupt inability to borrow ideas along the ever-stretching plane of organizational designation. Beware the name you assign your business orientation; it can and will define how you do business.

How we define business is how we do business.

How we define business is how we do business.

In Canada, no one organizational term strikes a more prevalent ideal in the hearts of our citizens than that of the charity. Mention the vernacular and prepare for a tidal wave of altruistic business-crushing idiom. We expect that the bright light emanating from charitable organizations can and will operate outside of the basic principles of good business, but by demonizing things like overhead, administrative costs and internal investment we provide little means to support those same do-gooders that founded that ever-struggling humane society you donate $20 to every month. And why do we dangle our charities on thin rope or cut off their only means of sustainable growth?

(Pssssst: it’s because we hate for-profit business!)

Okay, we don’t actually hate for-profit or private enterprise, but we do hate all of the nasty consequences it reaps on our economy, social class and the planet in general. And so we should be critical of how such externalities are created by the blind sightedness of corporations big and small everywhere – but does that mean there aren’t any positive lessons to be learned from Canada’s most successful businesses? The answer is no. Because there are many.

Unfortunately for charities these lessons fall on deaf ears. It’s not entirely the fault of the people who run them, either – much like major Canadian companies like The Bay or Telus are accountable to their stakeholders, charities are immensely privy to the direction of funders (probably because funders are kinda responsible for their survival and all). So when you gather a bunch of white philanthropists that sustain the work of, say, The Red Cross Society, and allow them almost absolute power in decision making because they just keep throwing money at you, your organization can quickly establish a puppet-puppeteer type of relationship where they say ‘jump’ and you say ‘we all have asthma, but what the hell…how high?!?’.

If operating a charity is multi-dimensional, why can't our perceptions of them follow suit?

If operating a charity is multi-dimensional, why can’t our perceptions of them follow suit?

And guess what? All those little feelies you have about the way a Charity ought to operate are now choking their only opportunity to survive. Here’s an example: apparently, according to this same approach, we must pay employees working for charities medial sums, because why the hell would anyone need to afford a family and food and whatnot? That same frame of mind has made employees working for charities one of the least paid workers in Canada. Of course, there’s always the standard counter-argument ‘but CEO’s of charities get paid SO much! That’s not fair!!’ Well, actually, when you think about it logically, it sort of is. One rule of good business is that when you want effective leadership and guidance that will help maximize the potential of your organization you have to pay for it. I just don’t understand how anyone believes that it’s okay to ask a high-level director to take a massive pay cut in the name of altruism. It hasn’t worked, will never work and will only continue to serve poorly for Canadian charities. If you want the right people taking charge in your charity, you have to pay them on par with executives from private counterparts.

Which brings me to my next point: overhead. This is the single most stifling aspect of charities in Canada today. As donors, we fear overhead and cannot bear to watch as our hard earned dollars are funnelled back into the operational budget. Our demands for direct service-related funding ignore the rudimentary foundations of any organization: to sustain, you must invest. This fetish with limiting overhead is exactly what causes low wages, poor marketing and terrible leadership – all things ripe in Canadian charity work. It’s also leading a horrific amount of start-ups into failure within their first year.

Do you want to see the organization you donate to branch out and become successful? My first suggestion would be to advocate for a substantial increase in organizational re-investment, then look at how it is run to suggest changes in efficiencies. This is a paradigm that is long overdue for a cultural smashing in Canada, and we can start by selectively choosing or borrowing ideas from the private realm. We can no longer hold such thick delineations between the ways we do business. If we don’t change the way we perceive and donate to our charities, we may very well end up living in a world where they no longer exist. And that’s not a place I want to be.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

Categories: AUC Shorts | Leave a comment

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