A curious mind and an adventurous spirit

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 / Online

Mathew Sloan playing guitar

Over the past few years, Mathew Sloan has been to Korea, England, Tennessee, and a remote island in Lake Superior.

That’s because the Lakehead alumnus has wide-ranging passions. As well as being a virtuoso guitarist, a former lighthouse keeper, and a novice bonsai gardener, Mathew is proficient in several languages – French, Spanish, Korean, Hawaiian Creole, and Arabic (his mother is from Lebanon).

Even more impressively, Mathew managed to combine these interests with studying environmental management at Lakehead’s Thunder Bay campus.

“I was drawn to the program’s focus on providing the knowledge and tools to preserve forests and create a healthy and manageable future,” he says.

Mathew received his Honours Bachelor of Environmental Management degree in May 2020 and, as part of the ceremony, he was chosen to give the valedictorian speech and play a song on his guitar, which had to be pre-recorded and shared online because of the pandemic.

His time at Lakehead coincided with his evolution as a musician. Mathew studied classical music as a child before gravitating towards the acoustic guitar after hearing flamenco and fingerstyle guitarist Matt Sellick (a fellow Lakehead grad) perform.

“Every week, my brother and I would go to Starbucks and listen to Matt play. I was fascinated by the emotion that goes into his sound,” he says.

Mathew’s attraction to fingerstyle guitar – playing the guitar without a pick – became even stronger when he heard the legendary country musician Chet Atkins on YouTube.

“I fell in love with his music and joined the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society, and in 2019, I was able to go to the Society’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee, and meet other musicians and friends of Chet Atkins. It was a real thrill.”

Mathew also began forging musical connections in South Korea.

“There’s a famous guitar player called Sungha Jung who I really admire, so during the summer between my first and second years at Lakehead I went to Seoul to play music and listen to Sungha and other guitarists.”

While Mathew was there, he caught the attention of a company called Gopher Wood Guitars.

“They told me that if I was committed to coming back and playing concerts, they’d sponsor me to make an album with one of their guitars.”


Listen to Mathew perform Rocky Roads: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuvvT6cv2n8&feature=emb_logo


His alternative folk EP, Peregrine, was successfully launched in 2017. This was the same year that Mathew got a summer job as an assistant lighthouse keeper on Porphyry Island off the shore of Lake Superior.

“The island is a 45-minute boat ride from Silver Islet – it’s really remote,” Mathew says.

Besides archiving files and cleaning up the lighthouse, Mathew tracked birds and wildlife on the island. The nights, however, were his favourite time of day.

“When the sun went down you could see the stars and the lighthouse beam. It was magical.”

More recently, in February 2020, Mathew went to England to work at the nursery of master bonsai gardener Peter Chan to explore another aspect of the natural world. This overseas journey was a turning point for Mathew. He is now hoping to do a master’s in landscape architecture at the University of British Columbia.

“But,” Mathew says, “no matter where I go in life, I will always remember the adventures I’ve had at Lakehead.”


Listen to more of Mathew’s music:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/5CVgJmhSf9YEx2pO93TOnB 

Apple Music: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/mathew-sloan/id1294477900



Dinosaur Days

Thursday, September 10, 2020 /

Carmen sweeps the floor during an office renovation at the computer software firm, Trimble, where she has worked for the past 19 years.

As the Coronavirus emptied out the streets in the Finnish city of Espoo, sidewalk life became less vibrant.

But that changed in one neighbourhood in the city of nearly 300,000 when a red, six-foot-tall T-Rex dinosaur arrived on the scene.

The T-Rex in question is none other than Carmen Pekkarinen (HBOR ’95) – the president of Lakehead’s Finland Alumni Chapter and a documentation specialist with the computer software firm, Trimble.  

“I had a brainwave one day back in March that it would be fun to stand on the street in a T-Rex suit to cheer up people driving by.”

Her next step was to investigate how much a T-Rex suit would cost – it’s quite expensive – and put up a poll on Facebook asking her friends if they thought it was a good idea.

“They said, ‘You only live once, just do it.’”

That’s why, every day, you’ll find Carmen at her local bus stop waving at passing cars. “Most people wave back,” she says. “I also have a few signs I hold up – Wash your Hands, Have a Nice Day, #BeSafe, and Stay at Home.”

The dinosaur suit isn’t the most comfortable get-up to wander around in. It’s made of nylon and can get very hot. There’s a battery power pack inside that runs constantly to keep the suit inflated, and in order to see, Carmen has to peer through a plastic window in the dinosaur.

As news of the red dinosaur spread through Espoo, people began sharing photos on Facebook. One of the first Facebook posts said, “Thank you to the person in the T-Rex suit for waving at us, my kids were still talking about it at bedtime,” Carmen reports.

As her fame grew, readers of Helsingin Sanomat – the biggest daily newspaper in Finland – wanted to know who the person was. Carmen’s husband outed her, prompting the newspaper to feature a story about her in their supplement, Helsingin Sanomat Espoo in Finnish and English. The story also appeared on Helsingin Sanomat’s website.

So how has a Lakehead outdoor recreation grad from Elliot Lake, Ontario, ended up in living in Finland for over 20 years?

“Just after I finished my second university degree, I travelled around the country for three months and then returned to Canada. Just over a year later, in 1998, I got a contract job teaching English at a nursing college and came back,” Carmen says.

“The first time I came to Finland, I was so homesick my first two weeks here. I kept asking myself why on earth I’d come. Then I realized that that I was there to learn something I would never learn from a book or sitting in a classroom. That summer I travelled all over the country and met lots of people. When I had to leave, boy, did I every cry.”

She had such a great experience that when she returned to Canada after her six-month contract at the nursing college ended, she began searching for other employment opportunities in Finland. In early 1999, Carmen secured a freelance job teaching English to employees at telecommunications company Nokia. And she hasn’t looked back since starting with Trimble Solutions (formerly Tekla Corporation) over 19 years ago.

Carmen also appreciates the landscape that surrounds her. Even though she lives in a busy city, she only has to walk 10 minutes to be in the wilderness.

“You could put someone from Thunder Bay on a plane with a blindfold and drop them in the middle of Finland and they’d swear they were still in Northwestern Ontario.”


Lakehead Orillia graduate credits his degree on college pathway program

Monday, November 5, 2018 /

Cody Avery is on the hunt.

Cody (HBASc’18) grew up in Tottenham, a small town approximately one hour southwest of Orillia.

He was part of Lakehead Orillia’s graduating class on Saturday, June 9, 2018. He majored in Criminology with a minor in Environmental Sustainability. Before that, he studied Police Foundations at Georgian College.

“I had no intentions of going to college, let alone university. I wouldn’t have gone to university if it wasn’t for the transfer program that they have arranged there,” he said.

Since he graduated from Georgian with an average of 70 per cent or higher, Cody started in his second year of the four-year Criminology program at Lakehead University Orillia, thanks to the pathway program.

“What was especially helpful was the location. I was already living in Orillia, so all I had to do was change schools. The transfer program was a huge part of why I went to university,” he said.

When Cody started at Lakehead Orillia he wanted to become a police officer after graduation, but within a few months he became friends with students in Lakehead’s Environmental Sustainability program and that’s when he declared his minor.

Now that he has graduated, Cody’s hunt for a career has begun.

“My focus has shifted to environmental law enforcement. I would like to work in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry – it could be hunting and fishing compliance. There’s a variety of options in the field,” he said.

For anyone considering attending Lakehead, he recommended getting involved on campus.

“I worked for the student union and met people around campus. That made my experience at Lakehead a lot more enjoyable. The more involved you are the more you get out of it,” he said.

“One goes to university for your studies, but hands down the second most important thing is getting involved. I also worked with the research centre.”

And he played intramural sports at Lakehead, such as volleyball, soccer, and tag football.

He said his biggest challenge was balancing work and school.

“Making connections on campus, that kind of support helped me to keep pushing and stay motivated. The people you meet, the friends you have, help you push through the hard times.”

Cody is confident his Lakehead University education will help him land a job that will kick-start his career.

“For me coming from a small town in Simcoe County, being able to go to a smaller university was important. Not to say a big university is bad, but I really enjoyed the atmosphere of Lakehead Orillia.”

That atmosphere includes professors who know your name.

“Even as simple as seeing professors out in the community and at school and they know you by your first name. You hear stories about people who go to schools with 30,000 or 40,000 students and you are just a number in the audience. Lakehead is not like other schools,” he said.


Cody is now working for Water First as the Manager of Development. Water First is the only organization in Canada that is working on skills development and in-depth training for Indigenous youth to become water treatment operators.  

“In Canada, the crisis of First Nation water challenges and boil water advisories are often a matter of capacity issues in communities,” he said. “I’m working to support Indigenous youth through the program and support our partners and donors.”

Lakehead graduate managing Hamilton’s COVID-19 hotline

Wednesday, May 27, 2020 /

Michael Bush headshot

By Brandon Walker

Michael Bush (HBCom’08, MSMgt’09) is currently managing the Public Health COVID-19 hotline for the City of Hamilton.

Prior to COVID-19 arriving in Canada, Michael was in charge of inventory management, storage and handling practices, and data management for the City of Hamilton vaccine program.

Then COVID-19 reached Canada and his superiors asked Michael to manage the Covid19 hotline. For Michael, this change was an adjustment, but he felt prepared. His confidence came from managing the city’s vaccine program and from working as a project manager.

“For myself, the biggest challenge moving into a management role was that I’m not the type of person who walks away from things,” Michael says.

When he was promoted to vaccine program supervisor, Michael was working on several projects that he needed to leave behind.

“I had to overcome the idea of not completing those projects and being given new responsibilities overnight,” he says.

“The challenge in coming from frontline to leadership was stepping back,” he says. “In a supervisor role, not only did I have to think about my own work, but also the work of the team. Learning how to better delegate tasks became important because, when done successfully, it can encouraged and empower your team.”

When the city promoted him to vaccine program supervisor, Michael immediately began learning more about the vaccine world and his confidence grew.

“This was all new to me,” he says. “I quickly had to bring myself up to speed with the knowledge and competencies involved in being the vaccine program supervisor and being in a leadership role.”

That was October 2016. Fast forward to April 2020 when Michael was once again asked to switch gears by managing the COVID-19 hotline.

“I came in around week three or four.  I had more than 40 new teammates who I was able to orchestrate and organize in a fashion that made sense. In this management role, it has been extremely fast-paced with many challenges and issues.

“But with a lot of hard work and dedication from both myself, my colleagues and our teammates, I think we’ve been really successful in bringing forward solutions and creating a positive work environment while providing sensational service to the citizens of Hamilton.”

Hamilton’s COVID-19 hotline takes calls from citizens who have concerns about people who are not self-isolating or about non-essential businesses that are operating, and about other concerns.

Michael credits his success to his Lakehead University education.

“Lakehead prepared me to think critically, to be a problem solver and emotionally intelligent, which is a key aspect of being a leader,” he says.

“My undergrad helped instill the values of teamwork, innovation and passion, of being a high level achiever and doing that with fairness. My Master of Science degree certainly got me to the place I am today.

“I was able to hit the ground running as a confident, motivated and driven employee. Without my Master’s degree I probably wouldn’t be in the position I am now.”

Treks into the Wilderness

Monday, May 4, 2015 /

Darlene Upton headshot

It was the first day of high school when Darlene Upton (HBOR/BSC’91) came across a poster that changed her life.

In the school guidance counselor’s office was an advertisement for the Junior Rangers Program – an initiative geared towards ambitious teenagers interested in working in the bounty and beauty of Ontario’s protected parks.

The Ministry of Natural Resources established the program in 1944. Every summer, in camps across the province, youth busily cleared trails, planted trees, learned how to canoe, took part in fish and wildlife projects, and established lifelong friendships with other rangers. At the time, Darlene was too young to join.

Several years later, she was determined to be a Junior Ranger. “Before my 17th birthday I searched for that poster and put my application in stating that I wanted to go as far north as possible,” she says.

Darlene was accepted to the program. With her bags packed, she left Newmarket – the town north of Toronto where she grew up – passing through Thunder Bay on her way to Atikokan.

“I never really turned back,” she says. “I loved the north and decided to apply to Lakehead University so I could head back there when I finished high school.”

Today, Darlene lives in Ottawa and is the executive director of Waterways for Parks Canada. She’s responsible for seven of the nine canals managed by Parks Canada, including the Rideau Canal, the Trent-Severn Waterway, and Montreal’s Lachine Canal.

Darlene graduated from Lakehead’s Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism program in 1991 with a second major in natural sciences and a certificate in tourism.

“I seized opportunities that interested me and always focused on the moment and succeeding in whatever I was doing, not worrying about what was next. The most surprising thing to me now was just how many great opportunities came my way.”

After Lakehead, Darlene became a research canoeist in Algonquin Park for the Royal Ontario Museum. Her research was part of Dr. E.J. Crossman’s book, Fishes of Algonquin Provincial Park.

When her work wrapped up, Darlene went backpacking and kayaking in Central America before returning to the Royal Ontario Museum to catch salamanders in Haliburton, Ontario. This experience inspired Darlene to pursue a master’s in zoology at the University of Toronto.

While working on a PhD in 1996, Darlene was offered a dream job with Parks Canada. She became a park warden at Bruce Peninsula Park.

“When you can match your values with those of the organization you are going to devote a good part of your life to, it can’t be beat. I am proud to say I work for Parks Canada and I feel connected to my colleagues here and around the world working in parks.”

Outside of work, Darlene runs a weekly craft program with the ladies at Cornerstone Housing for Women. She focuses on creating crafts they can use or give as gifts to the people in their lives. She’s been volunteering there for four years.

“This volunteer work balances me, allows me to express my creative side, grounds me in reality, and has educated me on women’s issues.”

As an avid traveller, it’s not uncommon to find Darlene browsing in the travel section at Chapters with grande half sweet soy Earl Grey tea latte in hand, flipping through travel guides.

“The fact that I don’t have anything specific planned for the future makes waking up each day very exciting,” she says. “Who knows what the future will hold!”

Exploring Education, Activism, and the Outdoors

Monday, September 7, 2015 /

Gregory Lowan-Trudeau headshot

“My time at Lakehead was transformational,” says Gregory Lowan-Trudeau, the winner of the 2014 Pat Clifford Award for Early Career Research from the Canadian Education Association. “I immediately felt a strong cultural and geographical connection to Northwestern Ontario."

But for this rising star, his Lakehead sojourn is just one part of his quest to expand how we think about education.

Igloo building while a teaching assistant with Lakehead's OE3 program on Lake Marie Louise in 2008
Gregory grew up in Calgary, but his family’s cabin north of the city was one of his favourite childhood haunts. It offered the attractions of “canoeing, fishing, skiing, and just generally wandering in the woods,” Gregory says.

His fondness for the outdoors and athletics led Gregory to enrol in the University of Calgary’s Bachelor of Kinesiology program. After finishing his degree, Gregory taught English in Japan, followed by a stint as an outdoor pursuits and wellness program facilitator for young adults with disabilities in Calgary.

The power of physical activity and the natural environment to enrich the learning process inspired Gregory to return to school.

He was doing an online search for unique university education programs when he discovered Lakehead University’s Outdoor, Ecological and Experiential Education (OE3) program.

“As a Métis student interested in outdoor and environmental education, Lakehead’s focus on northern, environmental, and Indigenous studies made it a perfect fit.”

He graduated from Lakehead with a Bachelor of Education (First Class) in 2006, and then stayed on to do a Master of Education (Thesis). His time at Lakehead also gave him the opportunity to work as an instructor at Outward Bound Canada’s Giwaykiwin Program – a land-based Indigenous education initiative in north-central Ontario.

These experiences prompted him to pursue a PhD in intercultural and Indigenous environmental education at the University of Calgary. While still immersed in his PhD research, Gregory returned to lecture at Lakehead’s Thunder Bay campus.

Although he’s finished his degrees, Gregory has not slowed down.

He spent a year as an Assistant Professor of First Nations Studies at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). During that same period, Gregory co-organized an Idle No More teach-in series and engaged in ecological activism challenging the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.

“It was a very memorable year” Gregory says, “I realized that a lot of teaching and learning can happen through activism related to critical societal issues.”

Gregory left UNBC to accept a position as Assistant Professor of Indigenous Science and Environmental Education at the University of Calgary’s Werklund School of Education. He’s also excited about the release of his first book by Peter Lang Publishers in New York.

“I am part of a growing group of Indigenous scholars working to expand critical understanding of – and initiatives related to – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit education in our school and the university at large.”

Reflecting on his life so far, Gregory feels fortunate to be able to pursue his passions through his career – including spending time on the land and water with Elders, students, colleagues, and mentors.

“My time at Lakehead,” Gregory says, “was pivotal in setting me on this path.”

Hayden Gorman: What I Did This Summer!

Monday, November 16, 2015 /

Hayden Gorman on the field  at the Pan-Am Games

With the arrival of fall comes the arrival of new and returning students. Their books are bought, their supplies are packed, and the campus buzzes with activity once again.

Returning to school also means sharing fun highlights of the past summer with friends. For  – a second-year outdoor recreation/concurrent education student – this meant being surrounded by the best-of-the-best in international sport at the Toronto 2015 Pan-Am and ParaPan Am Games.

“I had an amazing experience working at the games,” Hayden says. “I was a presenter and athlete escort for medal ceremonies.” Competing on the Lakehead University Nordic ski team and offering campus tours to prospective students gave Hayden valuable experience for his Pan-Am dream job.

Running for a total of 16 days, the Pan-Am and ParaPan-Am Games were two of the most anticipated events of the year, featuring 48 sports in 33 Toronto-area sporting venues.

“I was in many locations which allowed me to see venues of all different sizes, as well as different sports. I witnessed the highs and lows of athletes winning or just missing the top spot.”

Like most Canadians, Hayden enjoys playing hockey, skiing, and enjoying the outdoors –whether it’s in his native southern Ontario or his newly-adopted northern home. “Lakehead University in Thunder Bay is one with the environment. You have nature right in your backyard. All you have to do is walk five minutes to feel like you are in a forest.”

Now that Hayden is back in classes, he’s focusing on his future. Hayden will graduate in 2020 and says that he’d “like to be a school teacher or work for an organization setting up Olympic or world cup events around the globe.”

There’s no doubt that Lakehead will play a major role getting him ready to achieve his goals. “Lakehead University is a small school but it has a big heart,” Hayden says. “For students and Alumni, there are so many different opportunities for success.”

At Home in the Boreal Forest

Monday, February 8, 2016 /

Maureen Kershaw at convocation

Maureen Kershaw faced an unexpected dilemma in 2006.

She was an established environmental and forestry consultant and a former lecturer in biology and conservation biology at Nipissing University. But if she wanted to keep a promise made over a decade earlier – and fulfil a lifelong goal – she would be returning to university as a student.

“I had a bet with my son Devon when he was in elementary school,” Maureen says. “I told him that if he ever competed in the Olympics, I would complete a PhD. And darned if he didn’t make the Olympics in 2006!”

Devon, a talented Canadian World Cup cross country skier, would go on to compete in three Olympic Games and lead the Canadian men’s ski team to World Cup medals. So Maureen went ahead and enrolled in a PhD program in natural resources management at Lakehead University – even though she’d just moved to Thunder Bay to start a demanding part-time job. “Being a mature student is humbling,” she says, “but it creates an amazing perspective on life.”

For the next eight years, Maureen toiled away at her PhD in the evenings and on weekends while spending her days as working chair of the Forestry Futures Trust (FFT) Committee.

Forestry Futures Trust is an arms-length organization that preserves Ontario’s Crown forests by disbursing up to $20 million a year to programs including re-establishing forests after natural disturbances, to overseeing the province’s independent forest audit program, and funding for the provincial forest inventory.

Maureen’s academic success wouldn’t have been possible without an incredible support network of friends and colleagues – the Lakehead University Masters Running Club, Thunder Bay’s ski community, and the FFT Committee. “They stepped in to keep me going when I was ready to give up.”

Maureen’s love of the natural world was sparked as a youngster growing up in Guelph, Ontario. “I was forever collecting leaves, exploring a nearby woodlot, and mucking in the water,” she says, “so I always had in mind that I wanted to be part of work healing the land.”

She did a Bachelor of Environmental Studies at the University of Waterloo followed by a Master of Science in Plant Ecology at the University of Alberta. After finishing her master’s, Maureen put her education to practical use.

She began her career in western Canada before relocating to Wawa as a district land use planner for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR). Two years later, she transferred to the MNR in Sudbury where she was a regional soil specialist and then a regional forest ecologist between 1979 and 1989. At that point, she left the public sector to found her own company – Devlin Environmental Consulting – at the same time that she was having her third child.

Sudbury’s proximity to the outdoors allowed Maureen to share her love of nature with her kids. “We’re a granola-crunching, ski-through-the-forest-type of family,” she says. By the time Maureen took on the Forestry Futures Trust position in Thunder Bay, her children were young adults and beginning to strike out on their own paths.

Maureen graduated with her PhD in the spring of 2014, making all of her children tremendously proud of her. Her daughter Linnaea, a writer and teacher as well as a Lakehead grad, and her youngest son Sean, an artist and copy editor, were both there when Maureen walked across the stage of the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium to receive her degree. “Convocation was the greatest celebration,” she says, “it was very special having them there.”

A new adventure began for Maureen in April 2015. After eight years in Thunder Bay, she was hired as a forest ecosystems science coordinator with the Ontario Forest Research Institute in Sault Ste. Marie – and her passion for maintaining the integrity of Ontario’s ecosystems continues unabated.


School uses hockey to keep kids in class

Monday, March 21, 2016 /

Steve Dumonski on ice rink

Sioux Lookout, Ont. — Steve Dumonski's Grade 8 class at Sioux Mountain Public School seems normal enough: 25 or so kids busily doing their work. But it's actually pretty unique. Until recently, a lot of the kids just didn't come to class.

Watch CBC Full Story:  https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2682216801/

"We have kids that you're happy that they showed up that morning," Dumonski said. "You're happy when they walk through the door, whether it's on time or it's at 10:30 in the morning. I know the students who are struggling to be here."

Dumonski, whom the students call Mr. D, grew up in northwestern Ontario and understands what it can be like to live in one of the poorest and most-troubled areas of the country.

"The boys are over here in the woods getting high on marijuana or crack or whatever it might be. That's reality," he said. "And I've had two students in the past try to commit suicide on a weekend. One tried to commit suicide after school right here."

Steve Dumonski (pictured right) is a teacher and hockey coach at Sioux Mountain Public School. He says many of his students have problems with substance abuse and some have been victims of sexual abuse. They used to spend their days doing drugs and skipping school, but hockey has helped draw them back to class, he says. (Leonardo Palleja/CBC)

Dumonski says some of his students have also been victims of sexual abuse.

These are some of the big problems facing the Keewatin-Patricia School Board, which oversees 23 schools in northwestern Ontario spread over an area the size of New Brunswick, including those in Sioux Lookout, a community of about 5,000 people 400 km northwest of Thunder Bay.

Watch "Hockey Academy" clip:  https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2682216809/

Coach Steve Dumonski helps one of his young students navigate the ice in Sioux Lookout, Ont., where schools are using hockey to keep kids out of trouble 1:01
Recently, the board came up with a solution to get kids more engaged in school: get them playing hockey.

It made hockey part of the phys-ed curriculum at several of its schools. At Sioux Mountain, students in grades one to six hit the ice once a week and grades seven and eight twice a week.

The program, dubbed "hockey academy," was started in 2012 by a gym teacher in Kenora named Dave Tresoor who noticed that some kids had no problem showing up regularly for hockey practice but had poor attendance when it came to school.

Sioux Lookout is a remote community of roughly 5,000 in northwestern Ontario, about 400 km northwest of Thunder Bay. 'There's a lot of drug and alcohol problems,' says resident Irene Shakakeesic, who is trying desperately to keep her grandchildren from encountering the same kind of addiction problems that her own daughter suffered from. (Leonardo Palleja/CBC)

"I looked at it as an opportunity to take something that they really liked, bring it into the school world, and we can combine the two, and it's been very successful," he said.

Twenty-two of the 23 kids who participated that first year have since graduated, and the program now exists in three communities in the region, with plans to expand to more next year.

No school, no ice time
The kids at Sioux Mountain don't have to pay to participate in the program, which is sponsored by Hockey Canada, and get brand new hockey gear through Jumpstart, a charitable organization focused on children and sport.

The only catch is if you don't go to school, or don't do your school work, you don't get on the ice.

Dumonski says that in the three months since the program was introduced at Sioux Mountain, it has turned one of his troubled students, 13-year-old Jericho Crane, around.

"He was late all the time, wasn't coming to school regularly, getting into some trouble at school, out of school. Hanging out with some older high school kids that were kind of leading him in the wrong direction," Dumonski said.

Jericho says that before he joined the hockey program, he had little interest in school.

"I wouldn't listen and all that. Just slack off, wouldn't do my work," he said.

He says having hockey in his life has made it easier to pay attention in class.

It helps that Dumonski is a mentor he can relate to both in the classroom and on the ice. He's Jericho's teacher and coach, but he also played five seasons of professional hockey in the East Coast Hockey League and the now defunct United Hockey League. He was invited to three NHL training camps.

Asked where he would be if he didn't have the hockey academy, Jericho says he's not sure but probably nowhere good.

"I'd probably be out of school, being out there and just getting into other stuff like bad stuff, mischief, like drugs and all that," he said. "[Hockey] keeps me out of that. So, I'm so lucky I have hockey just to get me away from that stuff."

One of the clearest signs the hockey program in Sioux Lookout is working can be seen after school at the local outdoor rink, where the ice is crowded with students like Jericho, practicing their moves and dreaming of making it.

"It's getting me out of trouble," says Jericho. "It's helping me. It's helping me on my hockey, my career. I'm hoping one day I'll be in the NHL."

Attendance up since program began
On a recent Thursday morning at Sioux Mountain, there is another sign the program is working: kids are arriving at school 45 minutes before the first bell. There are 105 kids in the hockey program, about a quarter of the school, and their attendance is up by 25 per cent since the program began, according to the principal.

The Shakakeesics live right across the street from the school, so they don't have to leave for class until the bell rings.

That Thursday, Shayden Shakakeesic-Day, 8, Jase Shakakeesic-Day, 7, and Honor Day, 6, are excited because they have hockey academy. They play with a makeshift tape puck in the basement before their grandmother, Irene Shakakeesic, calls them up to make their lunches.

Shakakeesic has taken care of the three since they were little, and they call her mom. Their biological mother struggled with addiction, and the siblings would have gone into the care of social services had Shakakeesic not stepped in.

"There's a lot of drug and alcohol problems [in the community]," Shakakeesic said.​ "That's one of the things that I really worry about my grandkids, especially with the problems that their mom had."

She says she is determined to keep them away from drugs and alcohol and in school.

"I kind of worry about, you know, what direction they're going to take as they get older," she said. "So, I'm kind of hoping with the hockey academy that could be an incentive for them to keep them in the sport. I want them to have a successful life."

Graduation is the goal
Back on the ice, Dumonski is running the Grade 7 and 8 students through their drills. Some of the kids have played hockey before; others can barely skate. Dumonski is teaching the kids skills, but he might also be filling a hole in their lives that goes beyond sport.

"Sometimes, you do feel like a dad," he says. "I have kids that come and give me a hug every morning. My daughters don't do that. You know what I mean? I try to have a connection with them, joke around with them, lay the hammer down when I have to."

The ultimate goal of the academy, even though the kids might not realize it, isn't to make them into hockey players but to get them to graduate. Graduation rates in the region are below the national average. Among students who identify as aboriginal, the rates are some of the lowest in the country: 53 per cent for four-year graduates and 61 per cent for those who take five years.

"If I graduate high school, I'll be the first one in my family to graduate high school," Jericho said. "That is kind of … exciting."


  The popularity of the hockey program is evident even after school, when    many kids continue practising in hopes of one day making the big     leagues.









Nick Purdon
Current Affairs Correspondent

Nick Purdon is a Current Affairs Correspondent with CBC News' The National. You can follow him on Twitter at @nickpurdoncbc

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Theresa Thibert Attracts the Attention of Opera Lovers

Monday, March 21, 2016 /

Theresa Thibert headshot

No longer will opera enthusiasts in Thunder Bay need to watch productions in the local movie theatre or out of town. They now have the opportunity to watch it live – thanks to Lakehead alumna Theresa Thibert (HBA’08, BEd’13).

“People ask, ‘Why opera in Thunder Bay?’” says Theresa. “To me, it’s not a matter of why, but rather why not?”

After four years away, Theresa moved back to Thunder Bay because she loves the city and its arts community, which passionately supports both a successful professional theatre and symphony.

Opera Northwest, founded by Theresa along with friend and pianist Sean Kim, made its debut with a concert this past January. Theresa saw a big appetite for opera, signalling to her that there is also room for a local opera company.

Theresa, who is Opera Northwest’s artistic director, is now preparing a fully-staged production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro this June. Mozart is a favourite of hers. “His characters are relatable and his stories are big audience-pleasers.”

The Figaro production will feature Theresa along with other classically-trained and veteran singers from Thunder Bay, London, Mount Brydges, Toronto, and Kenora. Theresa wants local artists to keep working in their community. Opera Northwest is described as an opera company for young, emerging artists in Thunder Bay.

Theresa began performing in musicals at St. Patrick High School in Thunder Bay. Her love of singing and acting led her to Lakehead University’s music program. “Being able to study voice with a small faculty allowed me the opportunity to be asked to sing as a soloist with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra, something I have now done three times,” she says.

Theresa also had one of the lead roles in Lakehead’s first opera, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, with director and conductor Professor Dean Jobin Bevans.

After Lakehead, Theresa attended the University of Manitoba for a Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Performance (opera), then received a full academic scholarship for a Master of Music (opera/vocal performance and pedagogy) at Western University.

She has since participated in many young artist development programs including the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy and Accademia Europea dell’Opera (AEDA) in Lucca, Tuscany.

While in Italy, Theresa sang roles from Handel, Puccini, Mozart, and Rossini operas – a career highlight, she says. Her others include solo performances with the Roy Coran Big Band, Mood Indigo Jazz, Cambrian Players, Orchestra London Canada, and singing anthems at Lakehead Thunderwolves hockey games.

She is returning, by special invitation, to Italy this summer to perform a third season with the AEDO in Tuscany singing Handel’s Radamisto.

Performing can be a challenging career choice. “This is a skill one needs to develop and exercise in order to work,” Theresa says. “If you’re willing to create your own art and opportunities, you will flourish and inspire others to perform and engage as well.”

For now, Theresa plans to continue teaching, directing, and pursuing her passion for theatre in Thunder Bay – motivating other local performers to create their own destinies.