Peterborough Ontario

Adventure in Understanding

Sandra Phinney


Funny how a heartsong moment in our lives can open doors … and lead us on both inner and outer journeys.

The first time I saw a Voyageur canoe (aside from photos in books or magazines) was in Peterborough, ON where I had joined some fellow travel writers on a trip called “Adventure in Understanding.” We would paddle up the Trent-Severn Waterway to Curve Lake First Nation. Over the course of the four-day trip we would be introduced to Indigenous culture, meet elders, eat traditional foods, visit historic sites and Canada’s largest indigenous art gallery, and learn from each other. In a nutshell, we would be taking a shortened version of what youth experience when they embark on this program (a partnership between the Rotary Club of Peterborough Kawartha, Curve Lake First Nation, Camp Kawartha and the Canadian Canoe Museum.) Its purpose? To create understanding and get us engaged in reconciliation.

I would need pages to do justice to this journey. But for me, the “aha” moment happened when we took a side trip to the Petroglyphs Provincial Park. Inside the park is a sacred place—an area with the largest known concentration of Indigenous rock carvings (petroglyphs) in Canada, also known as “The Teaching Rocks.” This was a place where the Ojibway (Nishnaabe) people came to pray, fast, conduct ceremonies, or seek guidance from the talking rocks as water coursed through the crevices. But when the petroglyphs were discovered by prospectors in 1954, in an attempt to protect the site, the government built a huge building surrounding it. In the process of digging the foundation to support the building, the water course was destroyed. The "talking rocks" were no more.

It was such a privilege to be able to enter that space and meet Meritt Taylor, an Elder. He did a smudging ceremony, then told us about the petroglyphs and the sacredness of this site. But at some point I felt a profound sorrow and wished that it had not been discovered. I felt that I didn’t belong there; that I was trespassing. I wept. On the way out, I shared my discomfort with our interpreter. “It’s OK. Be happy. Thank you for coming and hearing our stories.” We hugged each other, and the sorrow I felt earlier melted away. But the memory of that experience did not.

Somehow this moment spurred me on to learn more, and to figure out what this word “reconciliation” actually means—and what my responsibility is in the grand scheme of things. That in itself has been a huge undertaking for me, and a journey that will never end. (By the way, if you are looking for ways and means to do this, a great starting place is checking out 150 Acts of Reconciliation. You'll find it at ActiveHistory.ca. Tons of food for thought (and action!)

The icing on the cake? I was invited to give a presentation about my trip to the Rotary Club in Yarmouth and for the past four years, they have sent two students (one from Acadia First Nation and one non-indigenous) to take part in “Adventure in Understanding.” Invariably, it has enriched their lives, as it did mine.