Ayla Kreelac was truly impressed the first time she beheld the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. Ayla, suffice to say, was a long way from her home in landlocked Baker Lake, Nunavut – but enjoyed every day she spent on the East Coast in Antigonish.
Baker Lake is an inland Arctic community – so naturally, Ayla was excited to see the Atlantic from the coast of Nova Scotia.
“I’ve never see the sea before. It was great to see how far the sea can go,” she said.
Also, many things Nova Scotians and Antigonishers may take for granted – things as exotic as beds of flowers, and crickets – were novel to encounter, and gave Ayla pause.
“We don’t have those back home. We only have black flies and mosquitos at home, so when I saw a cricket today for the first time, I was like, wow,” she said.
Ayla, who will be starting Grade 12 year this fall, visited Antigonish as part of her participation in the Northern Youth Abroad (NYA) program. The program brings students from communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut to more southerly regions in Canada as part of an educational experience.
In the NYA program, students get the excitement of a far-flung adventure to new places, and gain insight into the cultures and customs of the rest of Canada, ‘south of 60.’
While in Antigonish, Ayla split her time between three job placements, at Ecole Acadienne de Pomquet, Chez Deslauriers and the Antigonish Heritage Museum. Ayla noted all have been incredibly positive experiences in which she found herself learning a great deal, and spoke particularly fondly of her time working as a server at Chez Deslauriers.
Ayla noted that her work at the Antigonish Heritage Museum was varied, including plant watering, labelling and administrative duties, such as filing. She has been consistently impressed with what she has found while spending time in Antigonish, noting that the historical items and properties that can be found in Nova Scotia are fascinating.
“While filing, I found out there are a lot of buildings around here that are still here today. Ones that are from back in the early 1900s,” Ayla said.
Naturally, her enthusiasm at beholding the enormity of the Atlantic was mirrored by that which she felt, taking in the vistas that are at its threshold, in places like Cape George, Pomquet Bach, Arisaig and the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton.
“When I visited those places, I thought, ‘I can see myself retiring here,’ ”Ayla said.
Another memorable moment occurred for Ayla shortly after disembarking from a plane at a stop along the way here, in Winnipeg, when she stepped outside, and “was really surprised by how hot it was,” feeling the warmth of the Prairie summer.
To become eligible for the NYA program, Ayla and the other students were required to do a number of preparatory assignments that got participants primed for their work placements. These assignments entailed information on job safety, first aid and other similar measures.
After those were completed, she and her fellow southern sojourners were brought to Ottawa where they were given job placements.
“The assignments were pretty good, but the most difficult part was the traveling,” Ayla said, noting the entire trip south amounted to a full day of traveling.
This year, more than 60 students participated in the NYA program, who like Ayla, explored southern communities in Canada, and immersed themselves in new cultures across the country.
While getting ready to tackle some more filing at the museum Ayla said she was eager to watch the Special Olympics and enjoy as much of the east coast hospitality of Antigonish as she can, before heading home to Nunavut.