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Walking with Wenjack


November 25, 2021


Students at Fort McMurray’s Thickwood Heights School created a series of
artistic displays as part of the Gord Downie Wenjack Legacy Schools program.


Fort McMurray students connect with Secret Path project


As part of the Gord Downie Wenjack Legacy Schools program, students at Fort McMurray’s Thickwood Heights School created a very meaningful display for Secret Path Week, which took place from Oct. 17 to 22.

The whole school participated in creating a series of displays in the school gymnasium. The hard work and commitment of the teachers and students was evident in the age-appropriate, deep learning demonstrated in every display.

Paper bag mask lanterns lined the path between each display, evoking yet another settler tradition replacing Indigenous traditions at school.

The kindergarten display of moss bags paid honour to call to action No. 5: We call on all governments in Canada to help parents in ways that respect their cultures and ways of life. 

Early childhood students laid body shapes on the ground in homage to those who were lost to the system. Grade 1 students made decorative eagle feathers symbolizing the gift of love residential school children should have received throughout their lives. Patterned footprints along the wall showed that Grade 2 students were “walking with Wenjack.” 

The grade 2/3s created a display entitled Shannen’s Dream, based on the experience of Shannen Koostachin, a former student from Ontario’s Attawapiskat First Nation who advocated for equitable education. That residential students were only numbers and had no names was presented with beautiful art from Grade 3.

A diorama of a residential school and unmarked graves showed that the Grade 4s were able to connect past events with contemporary news. Grade 5 presented artwork depicting that arduous journey that ended along the railway line. Poetry, artwork and an installation of the nightmare from the book Fatty Legs showed the Grade 6’s understanding of systemic maltreatment and neglect.

As a concrete “ReconciliAction,” Thickwood students made and sold handmade necklaces featuring a carved bone turtle representing the Teaching Truth. The emphasis this year is on always seeking truth with respect, love, courage, honesty, wisdom and humility.

Thickwood raised $1,000, which has been gifted to the Gord Downie Wenjack Foundation. ❚


David Parsons is the principal of Thickwood Heights Elementary School in Fort McMurray.

Shirley Oldnall is a teacher and First Nation Metis and Inuit liaison at Thickwood Heights Elementary School.


Chanie’s story

On Oct. 22, 1966, the body of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack was found next to the railway tracks. A week earlier, Wenjack had run away from a residential school in Kenora, Ont. He was trying to walk home to his family in Ogoki Post, some 600 kilometres away.

About the program

The Gord Downie Wenjack Legacy Schools program is a free national initiative to engage, empower and connect students and educators to further reconciliation through awareness, education and action. A reconciliACTION is a meaningful action that moves reconciliation forward and aims to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together in the spirit of reconciliation to create awareness, share and learn. 





Call for Submissions

Success Stories is an ongoing feature that enables teachers to share their successes with their colleagues. To submit an idea or an article about a new program or approach that you’ve instituted, please contact managing editor Cory Hare at


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