It was a bright and early Sunday morning, me (Heather), Benny and Spencer carpooled down to Clarence Park. As I hopped out of the car the first thing I had to do was meet each of the exchange students for I was so enthralled that they were finally here! We went on a TTC scavenger hunt. The plan was to conclude the TTC scavenger hunt at Chester Station, then from there we walked to Withrow Park. At the park we ate lunch and played some getting-to-know-you games. Ebin and his younger brother Aubrey were climbing trees. It was wicked to watch them climb, so second nature. We walked to an even bigger park called Riverdale and I and some of the exchange kids and YMCA kids rolled down the hill it was happy times. We waited at Riverdale for a recent graduate of the YMCA named Dakota and his brother Phoenix that is currently attending the school. We walked to Dakota and Phoenix’s house for a native ceremony to learn a little bit about the native rituals that originated from Toronto. All the Haida Gwaii kids gave a cedar rose to the drummers. It was a beautiful and tiring day but altogether one hundred percent worth, yawns.

We weren’t sure, beforehand, how many of our visitors were members of the Haida Nation, but we wanted to do our best to present them with a traditional native welcome. A good friend to the Academy, and parent of both a former and current student, Valentina, did not disappoint as she hosted a beautiful, spirited potluck at her home. She arranged a group of drummers and singers to perform several touching songs, each with a particular focus and meaning. The event took place in the courtyard of their housing complex and was so powerful it attracted surrounding neighbours and even stopped cars driving by. In a surprise twist, Pauline Shirt, an Elder of the Plains Cree who was leading the welcoming happened to know and have worked with an aunt of one of the youth visiting us. What a small world!

Our guests were very appreciative of the welcoming we gave them, but were also happy to return to their accommodations and rest up for what would be a long and exciting whirlwind week of activities. This day was the perfect start to such a week.

Check out more photos from this event on our Facebook page!

Youth Exchange Canada: Toronto – Day One

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