North Carolina youth enjoy North Channel

by Alicia McCutcheon

SCHREIBER ISLAND—Under a hot Northern Ontario sun last month, five teenage boys from North Carolina shared the opportunity of a lifetime—enjoying all that the North Channel has to offer and learning some valuable life lessons in the process.

The Monteith family, with son John Monteith at the helm, pulled together to provide these five boys with an unforgettable week in a new land on the family’s own Schreiber Island, located 10 minutes from Little Current by boat.

The Island, purchased by father Monty in the early 1970s, was once home to a logging camp with many of the original buildings still standing. The family has kept the rustic look of the main lodge and bunkhouse and recently finished the inside with pine “to help keep the mice out,” joked Mike Monteith.

An interesting twist to the boys’ Northern adventure is the fact that Schreiber Island has electricity only to run a water pump. The fridge and freezer are run on propane, while the cooking was all done on a woodstove by Diane Smith (Monteith), John and Mike’s sister, who was charged with the task of feeding the troops as she herself has seven children.

Three of the teens—Stephon Coleman, Dante Moore, and Dequabian Reid—were chosen for this adventure thanks to the Teach for America program at their school in Charlotte, North Carolina. Teach for America recruits only the top teachers to teach in schools with high levels of poverty to ensure those students get a high level of education with the goal of closing the achievement gap.

Students showing leadership skills and qualities with positive personalities were encouraged to write an essay sharing why they thought they should be chosen to make the trip to north, with the aforementioned three being chosen.

Kyley Maddox is a Teach for America teacher and Stephon, Dante and Dequabian’s science teacher in Charlotte and it was her first visit to Canada as well.

“This whole thing has taken them so far out of their neighbourhood,” she said, sunning herself after a swim with the boys. “I never envisioned being here, on an island, with them. I’ve never been to Canada, or on a lake this big or this clear. I’ve seen pictures, but they don’t do it justice.”

“They are so far out of their element, but it’s a testament to how resilient they are,” Ms. Maddox continued. “I really shouldn’t be surprised at how well they’ve taken it. For all of them, it was their first time on a plane. We could have ended the whole trip right there and they’d have been happy.”

The young woman noted that this trip has given the students context about the things they learn about in school or seen on television, and life in general.

In her Georgia accent, the teacher said she hopes, through her work with Teach for America, to help bridge that achievement gap that has become very real for her. “I had always heard about the gap, but it’s so much more real to put a face and a name to it,” she said as she glanced at the young men enjoying a game in the water.

“They are so smart and deserve a good education,” Ms. Maddox added.

Fourteen-year-old Stephon Coleman told this reporter that back home, he would normally be working for his church during his summer vacation as church is a big part of his life.

“I’ve never been out of the country and it will open a lot of doors for me,” he said. “Now I have a passport so I can go to Nicaragua with my church.”

Stephon noted the beauty of the area, “especially at night. I’ve never seen the stars like that—especially the Milky Way.”

When asked about the over 30�C heat, Stephon replied that it wasn’t too bad and wasn’t nearly as hot as Charlotte in the summertime.

The teenagers had the opportunity to spend their days fishing, boating to Baie Fine and hiking the trail to Topaz Lake, tubing, wakeboarding, swimming (they had to pass a swimming test before the trip), canoeing and camping—not to mention their Blue Jays/Yankees game at the Rogers Centre and their trip to the CN Tower in Toronto before heading to Northern Ontario.

“I was thinking that when I get home I’ll be able to appreciate more things—like air conditioning,” Stephon said thoughtfully. “If I had to choose, I’d stay here (for the rest of the summer). I miss my family and everything, but this isn’t like any experience I’ve ever had.”

Dante Moore, also 14, explained that he really wanted to have the experience because living in a city and having the chance to come to Canada, “it would be dumb not to go.”

“Did not having any power matter much?” this reporter asked.

“Nah. We bonded with everybody so we just talked a lot,” Dante responded. “I thought the houses would be different here, but they’re just like the ones back home.”

“I thought it was going to be cold,” he continued. “The list said to bring long-sleeved shirts and stuff. The water’s pretty cold, but it’s very good to drink.”

Dante said he’s learned leadership through his experience and said he wants to learn more and explore the world around him and knows the value of “always having a buddy with him.”

Dante said he would definitely like to come back and visit the North Channel, but noted his dislike for horseflies.

Akeem Flynn, at 19, was the oldest of the boys and was chosen for the trip through his Boys and Girl Club. His visit to Schreiber Island started off on a stressful note with his passport arriving the day he was supposed to have left. The Monteith family had to involve a US senator and hire an attorney to move thee process along, causing Akeem to make the trek to Ontario by himself—an adventure all on its own, involving four planes.

“I was excited to be asked,” he said. “There’s no running water and we bath in the lake. It’s a change and I like it. We went mountain climbing and went to Barren Island and I worked out with Mr. (John) Balfe. I jumped off a huge cliff into the water too. I screamed. It’s mostly like man versus wild,” he added.

“I knew that Canada was a cold place and that it snows, but it’s great ’cause you could swim in the water and not worry about alligators,” Akeem noted.

A common theme among the boys was also “Miss Diane’s cooking.”

“She knows how to cook a four-course meal,” Akeem said, looking rather satisfied at the thought.

When he gets back to his home in Wilmington, North Carolina, Akeem said he plans to use less energy (since he knows now it can be done) and find more things to do outside.

“We made a wolf pack—a bond between us—and we’re going to stay in touch too,” he added.

And advice for the traveler?

“Just know that you better be ready. Oh, and get your passport ahead of time,” Akeem advised. “I’m a miss Canada—and hanging out with these guys too.”

Fifteen-year-old Daquabian Reid said he didn’t expect so much water, such a beautiful view or so much fun.

“I’m going to take my journal home and have my family read it,” Daquabian said, noting that his family assured him he would have a good time. “I wish we had more time here. Overall, this is the greatest experience I’ve ever had and it makes me want to travel more.”

McKinley Herns was the youngest of the group at 12 and said he was picked by a teacher at his school for his hard work and showing leadership in the classroom.

“I had to think about coming for a little while because it is going to a whole different country without my mom,” he explained. “Everything that I expected was right here.” Everything, that is, except for the outhouse, which, he said, he would rather swap for more modern amenities.

McKinley said he would normally be spending his summer watching TV, playing with his dog and sleeping and while he would miss Schreiber Island, he was missing his mom and his sister.

“I wouldn’t want to travel anywhere else,” he said. “I love being on the lake and swimming every day.”

Master chef Diane Smith, or Miss Diane, explained that her brother John got the bug to do something to help the youth of his adopted city of Charlotte (where he has an office for the family’s Monteith Building Group) after seeing Geoff Canada speak. Mr. Canada is the president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York, an organization that states its goal is to increase high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem.

“John thought ‘what can I do? How can I create something that would tap into this?'” his sister explained. “He teamed up with Teach for America to help with the selection process.”

“We’re trying to develop an ongoing program—it’s not about one week in Northern Ontario,” Ms. Smith continued. “We will continue to mentor them throughout the year and the boys will be invited back, but they will have to earn it with good grades. Our idea is to keep it smaller so we can do a good job of mentoring.”

Ms. Smith is momentarily distracted by a commotion on the floating dock anchored out from the Island. The boys are all there, dripping wet, and are having a rhythm contest, stomping and clapping out beats on the dock and finishing with a showy pose. The boys try to outdo each other and marks are based on the reaction from the remaining four.

“Isn’t that amazing?” Ms. Smith asks, beaming from ear to ear.

David Monteith, John’s nephew, was also on hand to act as the counsellor and each night after supper, he explained, the group would meet with David and talk about planning for college and university. The teens learned about the salaries for different jobs and the level of education needed to attain them. The final night ended with the boys going over a North Carolina State University application as a hard example of what admissions is looking for in a student.

Manitoulin Island and the North Channel have provided memories for many over generations, but one gets the feelings there’s something extra special about these memories and the future of their keepers.