A new 14-foot climbing wall has been installed in the northern Quebec Cree community of Waskaganish, as part of a pilot project to give youth there a constructive place to go, particularly in the cold winter months.
Eeyou Bouldering is located in a former supermarket in a mini-mall in downtown Waskaganish.
It is the dream of two teachers — Jeanne de Metz and Vincent Rodrigue — who for two years co-taught grades 3 and 5 at the local elementary school, cole Annie Whiskeychan Memorial Elementary School.
“Our students used to come and knock on our door at night, just because they were looking for something to do, a place to go,” said de Metz.
Our students…were looking for something to do, a place to go.– Jeanne de Metz, Eeyou Bouldering
Rodrigue and de Metz also have a passion for rock climbing and say it’s a dream of theirs to share that passion with the Cree youth they have grown to love. The space is free and climbing shoes in all sizes are available.
“We feel very emotional about it because we’re passionate about climbing. Climbing changed my life,” said Rodrigue. “So I hope it can change some lives here in the community.”
Air hockey, foosball and smoothies
The space opened on April 21 and has couches, air hockey and foosball tables, board games, magazines and a kitchen corner with a fridge, a microwave and a blender to make smoothies.
The most significant difference between rock climbing and bouldering is that bouldering only requires climbing shoes and the use of 14-inch crash-pads to break a fall. In rock climbing, a climber is roped in and wears protective gear.
“We felt like the bouldering gym would fit really well with the culture here and that need, for an accessible sport — accessible to everyone at any time,” said Rodrigue.
The pair want it to be a safe and warm place where young people can come to socialize and learn problem-solving skills that are very much a part of the culture of climbing.
Each of the colored climbing holds that are on the wall are part of a line or “a problem” to be solved, explained Rodrigue. The holds will be changed every week, meaning different problems to be solved.
Both teachers say it’s incredible to see youth push their limits and problem solve their way to the top of the wall.
“You see a kid going up halfway and then being scared and then climbing back down and then, you know, looking at the wall for 5 minutes, going back and going a few feet higher,” said Rodrigue, adding that at the end of the hour, they’ve made it to the top.
“It’s so nice, our job is to teach them how to climb and every day we see them getting better and better,” said de Metz.
The space is open from 4 to 7 pm for youth aged eight and up, and then from 7 to 10 pm for youth aged 12 and up. On Sunday afternoons, it’s available for the whole community.
A Montreal-based company, Murs Nomad Walls, designed the climbing wall, which typically costs around $50,000. They are also letting de Metz and Rodrigue pay it off in installments.
Reaction is ‘pure joy’
Eeyou Bouldering opened just as Cree families were heading out to their spring goose camps, but the teachers say more and more youth and their parents are showing interest.
“As soon as people came back [from the bush], it just exploded. Parents have been coming in as they were very surprised and pleased about our initiative,” said Rodrigue.
The reaction from the youth is just pure joy.– Vincent Rodrigue, Eeyou Bouldering
“And the reaction from the youth is just pure joy.”
The goal is to train local youth to work at the space.
The pilot project has funding until June with local sponsors, and regional funding from the Cree Youth Development Fund, as well as some federal funding through Jordan’s Principle, through Indigenous Services Canada.
De Metz and Rodrigue are focused on getting funding in place for next Fall. Their vision is to one day bring Eeyou Bouldering to other Cree community.