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U of T students to embark on Canada 150 expedition

Grace King, an environmental studies and anthropology student, is set to explore the west coast on the Canada C3 expedition, a trip commemorating the 150th anniversary of Confederation (photo by Geoffrey Vendeville)

Undergraduate student and PhD candidate set to explore the west coast and Canadian identity

Grace King, a proud Newfoundlander, has spent most of her life on the eastern edge of the country. In a few weeks, she will see Canada’s west coast for the first time – and explore what it means to be Canadian – aboard a 50-foot icebreaker. 

The University of Toronto undergraduate was picked to be a youth representative on a leg of the Canada C3 expedition, a 150-day, 23,000-kilometre journey. The trip, which began in Toronto and ends in Victoria on Oct. 28, marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation. 
 
Each leg brings together a cross-section of Canadian society, including Indigenous elders, historians and scientists. King’s shipmates are an oceanographer, museum curators, a chef, a musician and Candice Lys, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto. 
 
The diversity on board should be a recipe for stimulating – maybe even unsettling – conversations about Canada’s history and its future, King says. 
 
“You bring 20-something Canadians from different regions with different narratives together on a ship … and suddenly the opportunity arises for discussion of every uncomfortable and important part of Canada’s history,” she says. 
 
As youth ambassador, she plans to raise issues that she says are particularly important to younger Canadians, namely climate change and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.


An introduction to St. John's, N.L, by Grace King, a student in the Faculty of Arts & Science who is joining the Canada C3 expedition.

The U of T students link up with the ship after it finishes circling Alaska. They will be on the second-to-last leg of the expedition, leaving Bella Bella, B.C. and arriving in Campbell River, with a number of stops along the way. They will visit Koeye Camp, a Heiltsuk First Nation youth camp connecting young people with elders, and the Hakai Institute, a scientific centre that focuses on remote locations on the B.C. coast. 
 
Lys, who is working toward a PhD in public health science, is a co-founder of an arts-based sexual health education program that empowers young women in northern Canada. FOXY, which stands for Fostering Open eXpression among Youth, uses photography, music and traditional arts to help young people express themselves and ask questions in a supportive environment. In 2012, the organization won a $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize, enabling it to expand from the Northwest Territories to Yukon and Nunavut. They recently founded a parallel program for men called SMASH (Strength, Masculinities and Sexual Health).
 
Lys, who grew up in a Métis family in Fort Smith, N.W.T., says the 150th anniversary of Confederation has been a “confusing” event to commemorate.
 
“Canada 150 has been a difficult thing to celebrate when we’re having a lot of struggles with our Indigenous folks in Canada,” she says. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reflect on all of these things on the ship.” 
 
She added that she’s looking forward to travelling through the Haida Gwaii archipelago and learning about local Indigenous cultures.
Candice Lys
Candice Lys, a PhD student in public health science at U of T, is linking up with the Canada C3 expedition. She is the founder of arts-based sexual health education programs FOXY and SMASH (photo courtesy of Candice Lys)
 

Read more about FOXY in CBC News North 

Geoff Green, executive director of the Students on Ice Foundation, which organized the trip, says each person on board brings a different perspective to the table. 
 
“They’re the eyes, the ears and the voices for Canada, and they share the journey with the rest of the country,” he says. 
 
Each day on the ship has been an adventure, he added, from a Tragically Hip concert (minus Gord Downie) on the back deck to a visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Charlottetown. 
 
Green says he hopes the trips spur discussion on truth and reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples, and that C3 passengers come away from the expedition with a better understanding of the country and the need to be an international leader on ocean conservation and climate change. 
 
“I hope they are motivated and inspired for the future, to be the best they can be, and help make Canada a better country,” he says.