Burke O'Brien Fund

The Burke O’Brien Memorial Fund was established in memory of Burke, a longtime staff member and dedicated wilderness educator at Northwaters and Langskib. His work touched countless young people over the years, helping them to find inner strength, to face the challenges with courage, trust themselves, and to see the joy in the everyday. Through this program, we continue his work. Over the last thirteen years, nearly 100 young men and women have participated in this program and have invariably grown, learned, and taken their leadership skills to their own communities at home.

The dates for this year's trip are to be determined. The two-week program incorporates the elements of a Northwaters and Langskib wilderness canoe trip -- wilderness, connection to the land, leadership, personal growth, and community building -- adapted to work specifically with the group of young people that are identified and nominated to attend the program. For more details on the programs that Northwaters and Langskib offer please see their website at www.northwaters.com.


The trip begins when we meet the participants in Toronto for the drive to Temagami and the Northwaters Base Camp. The first evening, participants spend the night in rustic cabins and enjoy a late dinner in our dining hall. The next day is spent at base camp preparing for the trip, learning the necessary skills for a wilderness canoe trip, and discussing individual and group goals and expectations. Leaders provide direction and guidance, while students offer input, and create ownership of their trip. Together, the group reviews maps of possible routes and decides on what the physical trip will entail.

The next ten days are spent ‘on the trail’ traveling by canoe through the ancient system of lakes, rivers, and passages that make the spectacular Temagami wilderness. Participants sleep in tents, cook meals over an open fire, and learn to live simply and lightly on the land. The group moves to a new campsite most days, the length of travel time depending on the group, the weather and the route. Most days the group paddles for 4-6 hours leaving plenty of time for swimming, fishing,
playing, personal reflection, and community activities.

Depending on the needs of the group, the trip might include a trip to a traditional Anishnabai Tipi Camp to meet and learn about the true locals who have inhabited the Temagami region for over five thousand years. If it seems appropriate, a community service project could be integrated with this visit or elsewhere in the trip. This could be a great way to help reinforce the possibilities for participants to positively contribute to their own communities back home.

After ten days on the trail, the trip returns to Northwaters for a hero’s welcome and a celebratory feast. The last evening together is spent celebrating the group’s accomplishments as well as providing the participants help and guidance in taking the powerful lessons of their experience home. After breakfast the following day, we travel back to Toronto by powerboat and bus, where participants begin their separate journeys home, filled with new confidence, friendship, and inspiration.


Applicants for this program should be young men and women between the ages of 14-16 who have been identified as leaders in their own communities, or as having strong potential to become leaders. They should exhibit a strong desire to positively contribute to the program, as well as an intention to bring home lessons of their experience to schools, families, and communities.


Participants are chosen on the basis of merit and need, with an emphasis being on leadership potential. Participants are required to arrange their own transportation to Toronto. If you have any questions about the program or the application process, please contact us.