NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Saying goodbye to Fort Liard
Volunteer couple reminisce about time in the community

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Australian couple has left Fort Liard with heavy hearts.

NNSL photo/graphic

Gary Park, left, and Phyllis Merrett-Park spent the school year volunteering with the Hamlet of Fort Liard through the Frontiers Foundation's Beaver program. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

Gary Park and Phyllis Merrett-Park arrived in the community in September as Beaver volunteers with the Frontiers Foundation, a non-profit voluntary service organization. For the next nine months the couple volunteered with the Hamlet of Fort Liard and spent a lot of their time in Echo Dene School.

The couple, who left on June 3 to make their way home, said they are going to miss the community.

"We're just really getting into it," Merrett-Park said.

When Park and Merrett-Park arrived in September all they knew about Fort Liard was what they'd gleaned off of the hamlet's website. The couple, who had been looking at a few places to volunteer around the world, chose the NWT because they thought it would provide the greatest contrast to the part of western Australia they are from.

Merrett-Park had volunteered overseas before but this was the first time either had committed to volunteer on a long-term basis. Merrett-Park took a year off her job as manager of a disabilities service and Park left his job in the mining industry. The couple packed up their home and rented it out and said goodbye to their children and grandchildren.

Merrett-Park said one thing they've enjoyed about Fort Liard is the uniqueness of it, particularly in terms of the weather.

"It's completely different to anything we've ever experienced," she said.

Arriving in the fall the couple were able to see the leaves change colour and then experience snow, something their part of Australia doesn't get.

Both agreed that learning about a different culture was also a highlight. As part of his volunteer work, Park learned about drum dances and helped teach handgames. As a musician, he said he found it very interesting.

Park spent most of the year volunteering in the hamlet's recreation department, teaching a variety of sports including soccer and cross-country skiing. He also supervised dances and taught fiddling at the school.

Merrett-Park worked every day in the hamlet's library preparing it to be fully integrated into the territorial library system. She also organized community events including movie nights and worked on a genealogy project. Together the couple helped with the school's breakfast program and supervised students on field trips.

"It was good to be able to connect with the children," said Park.

At times, he said, you feel like you are creating a positive place for the youths. Merrett-Park said she also likes spending time with the adult students at Aurora College. She said she felt privileged to hear about their lives.

Merrett-Park said one of her volunteer highlights was organizing a fiddle performance with some of the Kole Crook Fiddle Association's instructors. Approximately 60 people attended the event, including one elder who fiddled. It was nice to see the generations mixing, she said.

"It was really special," said Merrett-Park.

Park said he enjoyed travelling on the highways and the moments where he fully realized that he was in northern Canada in the middle of nowhere.

Both Park and Merrett-Park said volunteering in Fort Liard has been well worth doing and they would encourage anyone who is adventurous to do the same.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.