The Rangers were told to wear their hard hats and steel toed boots, their camp logos, have a personal flotation device on hand and ensure they had a bailing bucket and a paddle.
While it sounds like they're preparing for a trek into the great outdoors, hundreds of former Ontario Youth Rangers were actually getting ready to march at Queen's Park, to fight for a program they believe in.
This fall the Ministry of Natural Resources announced the closure of the OYR program, along with other cost-saving initiatives like closing 10 parks, modernizing the way the Ministry supports community-based stewardship activities and channelling its efforts for Outdoor Card renewals through social media and magazine ads.
Heartbroken that he couldn't be there in person, longtime Ranger supervisor Marty Dubuc said he's happy others are bringing their fight to the public eye. The Sudburian was slated to provide closing comments at the Jan. 4 rally after helping organize the protest, before other commitments prevented him from making the trek to Toronto.
Help Us Help Youth:, followed by various statements illustrating what the program does, was the slogan for the event.
With so many groups hitting up Queen's Park, Dubuc said the Rangers wanted to stand out. That's why they arrived with all their outdoor gear — let the general public know what the program is all about.
“All the Ranger staff and people who have been Rangers know, but a lot of people didn't know what Rangers did,” Dubuc said.
For those who aren't sure, Rangers would help keep green spaces tidy, clear trails and fulfil other duties at the request of the ministry. While they had the opportunity to learn about the great outdoors, the 17-year-olds in the program also learned about work ethic, environmental responsibility and leadership.
Somewhere between 150 and 200 people attended the rally to show their support. Emily Kerton, who spearheaded the rally, said it was “super energetic.” Despite the cold, she said spirits were high.
“Everyone who was there was invested in the program,” she said.
Their concerns were echoed by Timmins-James Bay NDP MPP Gilles Bisson.
“In the grand scheme of things, this program cost the province very little, and had huge benefits for everyone involved,” said Bisson. “For many program participants, this was a life-changing program, and parks benefited from additional workers and community involvement.”
The decisions made by the MNR means savings of about $7.1 million annually, at the expense of 28 full-time jobs and 102 seasonal jobs.
“The biggest strength of our program can't be measured in dollars and cents,” Dubuc said. “These are priceless influences on youth's lives.”
Dubuc said in the years he's been involved, he's seen the positive effects. Just this summer he ran into a Ranger who was still wearing a bracelet he got at Ranger camp in 2004.
“The Ontario Ranger Program benefits young teens by keeping them active, providing work experience, introducing them to careers they may never have otherwise heard of, teaching them life skills like leadership and teamwork while giving them independence and helping them grow as individuals,” a former Ranger wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to saving the program.
To replace the 13 overnight Ranger camps closing, the MNR said a day-based youth program will be implemented. Dubuc said the two are nothing alike.
“It's not the same vibe at all,” he said.
It's not just the atmosphere that's lost when the program is cut from an eight-week adventure to an eight-to-four job.
Travel time means Rangers will be forced to stay close to home, and the smaller team they will be working on will prevent them from tackling major projects.
Dubuc said he realizes it may not be realistic to think all 13 Ranger camps will stay open, but he said a compromise would be nice.
For more information on the Ontario Youth Ranger program, visit friendsoftheorp.com. To sign the petition to help save the program, visit www.change.org/ontariorangers.