An anglophone from the west. A francophone town. Hoo boy.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Three days in Kingston with Option Anglais

It was 5am, and I was up and getting ready to go for the day. Usually, I'm a late sleeper, but today I was getting a ride to Shawinigan to get on a tour bus with 59 students and three other teachers. Destination: Kingston, Ontario. Canada's first capital, home of Queen's University and known for its many penitentiaries. We'd be spending three days there to give the students a chance to visit a real anglophone community, and hopefully learn something along the way*.

Our departure was timed so that we would arrive in Montréal to pick up our guide** just in time for the morning rush hour. Oh joy! Having requested an anglophone guide for our English speaking tour, we were a bit surprised to find out that our admittedly very nice guide was not terribly comfortable in the language of Shakespeare. Nor that of Molière, according to the francophone teacher. Ouch. You know its not good when the tour bus of Secondary 2 students is snickering when the guide tells them when it is time "for to go" somwhere or asks them "are you understood?".

We had a very full schedule though: a tour of Upper Canada Village (a collection of turn of the previous century houses manned by guides in period costume)***. Like Heritage Park in Calgary, but on the shores of the St. Lawrence. After that, a quick cruise through the Thousand Islands, and finally on to the hotel for supper**** before a Haunted Walk of Kingston. Ooooooo... scary stuff kiddies!

The evening was less fun. Our hotel was out in the middle of fast food wasteland, so after the haunted walk, two of the teachers volunteered to take interested students to McDonalds for a snack. I stayed with another teacher to keep an eye on the students who opted for swimming in the hotel pool -- much to the consternation of the guides. Understandably, they were concerned about liability and accidents, having had a death in the past. We were more concerned with the students having something to do for the three hours before lights out. No mishaps, and we were off duty at 11pm when a security guard arrived to keep an eye on things.

The next day it was up bright and early again. After breakfast we were off to Bellevue House, and then on to a guided tour of Kingston. The students were less than energetic, and there were a few we caught sleeping during the tour. Not that I blame them. It's hard work travelling in another language!

Our last stop for the day was Fort Henry, where we were signed up as soldiers in the British Army, circa 1867. Uniforms, muster, inspections -- the works. Including guided tours and a scavenger hunt. And another evening of ghost stories... It was a great visit, marred only by the presence of a pack of princesses in our ranks. They lamented the "icky" food, the lack of showers, and the humidity (we had some light rain) that curled their hair. And do you believe it, there were no outlets for them to plug in their hair straighteners! They had to wait to plug them in on the bus the next day! Seriously. During the ghost tour they almost injured themselves (and my ears) with their screaming and panic. I (and the other teachers) was ready to slap them. Especially the ones who refused to eat because the food was "gross". They reminded me of the group of Alberta students who did a homestay in Japan while I was there, and reacted much the same way (much to the distress of their Japanese hosts). I guess it just goes to show that spoiled adolescents are, well, spoiled.

The evening was rounded out with a big show put on by the students, my favorite part of the trip I think. The students were given free reign to do whatever they wanted, and came up with some highly entertaining skits, songs and other entertainments. Even the teachers (myself included -- I gave an improptu Japanese lesson) participated. The evening wound down with a game of telephone, and then it was time for everyone to go to bed.

We slept in the "schoolroom" between the two girls dormitories. Well, I slept. The two other teachers didn't do so well what with the grandfather clock that chimed every 15 minutes and the heater that made noise every other 15 minutes. At least there were no ghosts!

We ended the trip with an hour of free time in Kingston and a quick tour of the penitentiary museum, before lunch at Swiss Chalet (holy nostalgia batman!) and getting back on the bus. Where we once again arrived just in time for rush hour in Montreal.

In all, it was a great trip and I think the students had a lot of fun (and maybe even got some English speaking in). In the words of our guide, "it was very fun to trip with you".

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*One parent complained there was no reason to go to Kingston -- what was there to do there? Wasn't there more to do in Boston or New York? Keeping in mind that this is a group of Grade 7 and 8 students. Because you really want to be crossing international borders and dealing with passports with that age group. I blame a lack of knowledge of Canadian history (and tourism). I heard much the same question from francophone friends.

** No, the guide didn't come with the bus to Shawinigan. It's much more fun to go through the middle of Montréal to pick them up. Weird.

*** Another bump in the road here -- UCV wasn't actually open yet, so the buildings were all locked. So instead of a free visit, we had a guide. Not a grave problem, but not something that speaks well for the tour company organizing the trip.

**** Another problem: hungry, cranky teens; small hotel lobby; and not enough food for everyone. Well, according to the guides there was enough, but there were only drinks for half. If they understood drinks for 30, wouldn't there be food for 30? Hmmmm...

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