By Tiffany Jarva
When you walk into the office of Kingsway Park Public School principal Darren Lentz, his love of the land immediately hits you: there is a stretched beaver pelt, traditional snowshoes that he crafted himself, and a myriad of pictures of him (drawings by students and photos) in the great outdoors.
“A big part of the connection to the land for me is to understand and appreciate what we have. Land sustains,” explains Lentz. “I try to build a relationship with the land to myself, to my community, and to the world at large.”
Lentz’s interest in the outdoors started off as experiential learning—he initially moved to Thunder Bay to pursue a degree in Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism at Lakehead University, and he stayed. Now, he says he loves having opportunities as an educator to help instill the values of stewardship and a love of land during all seasons. He has run dog sleds in the past and has camped in many areas of the northwest region. He recommends trying winter camping as a really meaningful and unique way to connect with family and friends.
“You are looking at things with a different lens when you look at the winter landscape. Even the sky is different,” says Lentz, stressing the importance of discovering and enjoying all the seasons. “The environment is alive all times of the year. It’s a different point of view during the winter. There are different animals to see.” Winter is special because it is a little bit out of the ordinary, requiring proper planning and preparation. It also has a special appeal because it’s an opportunity for Lentz to use and test things he likes to make, such as snowshoes, specialized sleds and shovels. He also has a trapline that he checks on regularly in the winter, whether he decides to camp or stay in his cabin.
Over the years, Lentz says he has really appreciated the ability to hone his skills—like his better understanding of ice conditions, cooking methods, hunting, canoe building, and trapping—by spending time with his father-in-law and Indigenous Elders. “They shared knowledge with me that’s on an entirely different level because of their lifetime of living on the land,” Lentz says. He hopes that as he gets older he will spend more continuous time outside in the winter, such as a month-long trip travelling by traditional means, like snowshoes or dog sled.
“I am most proud of my kids having an appreciation for the land,” says Lentz. “My son and daughter went winter camping for the first time at ages 3 and 4. And now they spend time in the outdoors on their own.” He recalls an especially favourite winter camping outing when he and his partner brought their girls out together for the first time. “It was a magical time on the land. We built a snowman. We fished. We did all sorts of things.” At school, Lentz encourages students to embrace the outdoors, which includes providing snowshoes. “If we provide opportunities for kids to be on the land, then they’ll be protective of the land. It does wonders for them,” says Lentz. “The best investment we can make in our children is to teach a love of the land.”