Northern Fun: Sandy Lake

SANDY LAKE, ON – We arrived in Sandy Lake on Monday afternoon. Our tiny little plane landed on the dirt runway and on one hand you quickly realized how little and how much the community had all at the same time.

It was impossible to speed on the roads in Sandy Lake because the condition of them was so poor. But as you drove through the community you saw the immense beauty that they get to wake up to each and every day. This would be a theme throughout the trip; you felt sorry for and felt envious of everyone you met all at the same time.

One of my favourite memories of the trip was the first thing that happened to us.  As we pulled up to the playground, we saw two small kids playing with two very large saws. It was alarming at first, but we saw a teacher approaching and I quickly realized that she was coming to help.  And then she said “I told you two that if you’re going to use those, you have to work together”.

Sandy Lake has a population of 2,650 people, the second largest reserve we visited, and is located 600 km NW of Thunder Bay. Neh gaaw saga’igan is the local translation of Sandy Lake. The name Wabitiquayang, which refers to the short narrow river between Sandy Lake and Finger Lake, was used in the mid-1900s.

We were welcomed to Sandy Lake by Chief Bart Meekis, Deputy Chief Robert Kakegamic and their eight councillors.

Sandy Lake is largely a traditional community where many of the community members speak Ojibway as their first language. There are 5 clans (Sturgeon, Caribou, Pelican, Crane and Sucker) in Sandy Lake.

It was clear from the start how much this playground meant to Chief Meekis and his community.  He told us the story of how 19 years ago a child died in a tragic accident on a playground set and the playground was torn down as a result.  They haven’t had a playground in their community since that time. And you could see the excitement in the eyes of each parent, teacher, and community leader as the kids played on the playground.

It was also exciting to see a garden project at the local school with 4 raised beds. They were growing tomatoes, squash, potatoes, peas, beans and more.  But the most exciting part was that the seeds for the raised beds were provided by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield.  He took them into space on his most recent trip and brought them back to the students of Sandy Lake.

My only regret in Sandy Lake was that we didn’t get to spend more time there.  Everyone was so friendly and helpful, although I’m still looking for the road that leads to California. You can’t trust everything you hear, I suppose.

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