NWT embarks on virtual canoe trip in classrooms

Last modified: October 16, 2020 at 3:30pm

A virtual canoe trip from Fort Smith to Tuktoyaktuk is the NWT’s latest teaching resource, exploring the importance of 32 historical and cultural sites along the way.

The website, entitled Your Big River Journey, was launched by the territorial government on Thursday. It supports the Grade 4 social studies curriculum.

Students stop at each online location to learn about Inuvialuit, Dene, and Métis ways of life.


The project was initially developed as a master’s thesis by student Michelle Swallow, who wrote and released a Mackenzie River guidebook in 2011.

Building on Swallow’s thesis project, three Indigenous territorial government employees – Sadetło Scott, Emily Sabourin, and Nikita Hehn – developed and researched additional text and visuals.

Mindy Willett, who oversaw much of the project’s development, told Cabin Radio: “Kids are way more interested in learning stories that connect with them, so it’s just for better education.

“One of the quotes I heard from somebody is you don’t have to go looking for a story. They’re right there, in front of you, everywhere. This is, like, storytelling heaven. So, it was pretty easy to pull together some beautiful pieces.”

In a news release, education minister RJ Simpson said the GNWT “is proud to release a new teaching resource that is culturally relevant to the North.”


Stops include the Grand Detour in the Slave River, where students can listen to a voyageur song sung by fur traders. At Reindeer Station, they can learn about reindeer herding and the different caribou herds.

A student journal with writing prompts and a teacher’s guide with lesson suggestions are included.

Willett said the materials are not just for children.

“I know I learned a lot,” she said. “If you haven’t had a chance to paddle the Slave River, I learned so much about how curly it was. I had no idea – you just think of it as this straight line. Well, it’s not.”


A French-language version of the website is in development.

Correction: October 16, 2020 – 07:39 MT. This article initially stated a thesis by Michelle Snow had inspired the website. In fact, the author of the thesis is Michelle Swallow.