Learning to drive an all-terrain vehicle safely was one of the most important training sites as well as one of the most popular at Camp Loon, the annual advanced training camp for selected Junior Canadian Rangers from across the Far North of Ontario
“It is one of the most popular training stands at the camp,” said Sergeant Kevin Meikle, the Canadian Army instructor in charge of the site. “A lot of the children have never ridden an ATV but by the end of the day they’re very competent on them. So there’s always a lot of smiles.”
The week-long camp, held in the bush north of Geraldton, provides a range of training subjects for the Junior Rangers. All of them stress safety – on the land and water and in their personal lifestyles.
The Junior Rangers are a Canadian Armed Forces program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities across the Canadian North.
There is no formal training in how to operate an ATV in the First Nations of Northern Ontario and accidents resulting in injuries are frequent. There are occasional deaths.
“This is very valuable training for the kids,” said Master Corporal John Meeseetawageesic of Eabametoong First Nation and a Canadian Ranger ATV instructor. “They take what they learn back home with them and they pass on that knowledge to the other kids.
“I wish I could change the system back home and teach everyone what we teach here.”
The Junior Rangers learned how to check their machines for mechanical and other defects before they ride them. They learned to wear gloves, long sleeves, long trousers, shoes, eye protection, and, most importantly, a helmet.
“We start off very slowly,” Sergeant Meikle said. “The training we do is very progressive. We start them with the basics, moving very slowly, and as we progress we increase the speed so they feel comfortable.”
The highlight of the training for Junior Rangers was a challenging cross-country ride that took more than an hour to complete. “The ride has many features, such as turns and hills, and obstacles,” he said. “So it’s a good challenge for them and it boosts their confidence. By the end they feel they can ride an ATV.”
“The ATV training is the best thing at the camp,” said Junior Ranger Timothy Winter, 13, from Wapekeka First Nation. “It’s good fun and they teach you a lot. When I get home I’m going to tell my friends about it.”
The training is supported by Polaris Inc., which provides ATVs in different sizes for the young riders. “The generous support we get from Polaris is fantastic,” said Captain John McNeil, the Canadian Army officer who commands the 1,000 Junior Rangers in the Far North of Ontario. “The ATV training is a vital part of our program at Camp Loon. Polar never fails to support it in the interest of promoting safety.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)