Banff Jasper Collection

If there's one thing that's clear about young people and climate change, it's that no matter the weather, they feel a sense of urgency. So when a group of local high school students gathered on top of Sulphur Mountain to speak with other youth and leaders around the world about the pressing global issue, it only heightened their senses that the thermometer was reading -20°C.

Held in conjunction with and live-streamed to the COP24 Conference (the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in Poland, the Gondola's event was organized by the Centre for Global Education in Edmonton and by the team at Pursuit, lead by Interpretive Programs Coordinator Anne Brouillette.

High Views on Big Issues

On the outdoor observatory deck of the Banff Gondola Upper Terminal, students from Canmore Collegiate High School (CCHS) and Robert Thirsk High School (RTHS) in Calgary joined other young scholars from across the globe—all connected via webcam.

Alberta's Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, speaking via webcam from Edmonton, opened the discussion by acknowledging that young people aren't as "patient about climate change" as many others are. She urged the group to share resources and to collaborate on concrete steps for moving forward.

From the COP24 Conference itself, a small group of youth activists led by Terry Godwaldt from the Centre for Global Education provided an update on the talks. Students from the US, Taiwan, China, Poland and Colombia were also able to ask questions and make presentations about the impact of climate change in their home environments.

Then, local speakers discussed the importance of glaciers to people here in the Rockies.

"A glacier has a feeling, it has a song to sing,"

Barry Wesley, Bighorn Stoney Band Manager and a Traditional Knowledge Keeper, spoke to the students here in Banff and around the world about what places like the Columbia Icefield mean to him and his culture.

Barry Wesley addresses a group of students on a mountain observation deck.

Photo: Barry Wesley address the group, including students in person and those connecting from around the world.

"A glacier has a feeling, it has a song to sing," he said. "Water is a form of life. It's time to take a step back and just breathe and connect with nature."

Local mountain guide Peter Lemieux, who has been leading people on explorations of local glaciers for decades, shared images of the Columbia Icefield over the years. In front of him, bundled-up students sat around a fire pit listening carefully. And around the world, students connected via web conferencing were amazed by the location's beauty.

Getting Their Voices Heard

For the local students, it was a chance to "dip a foot" into the important high-level conversations happening in Poland, says CCHS teacher Hans Holtuis.

RTHS teacher Warren Lake said that the opportunity for his students to interact and learn from Barry Wesley, a 'wisdom keeper', in such an intimate setting was also outstanding.

"The kids picked up everything he said—they really paid attention to him," Lake said.

A Sunrise to Remember

For Pursuit, operating in national parks like Banff and Jasper brings a responsibility for stewardship. Providing the space, equipment and hospitality to host this event at the top of the Banff Gondola was a privilege, Brouillette says (even if the cold temperatures created some technical challenges). She said the emotional element of hosting this event at the top of the Gondola was important and inspiring.

An interpretive guide presents to a group of students with a computer.

Photo: Pursuit's Anne Brouillette shared her passion for glaciers with the students.

"Some of the students had never been on top of a mountain before, so this was a really special educational experience for them," she said. "They were engaged, interested and curious. It was really inspiring to see them want to be part of something much bigger than them, their school or even their town."

And then there was the frigid sunrise.

Through all the important conversations, opportunites to ask questions and access to experts, it may have been the simple uniqueness of the moment that most stays with the students, their teachers agreed.

"Even for a Canmore kid, who grows up in these beautiful mountains, seeing the sunrise on top of a mountain in the winter is incredibly unique," Holtuis said. "It was amazing and rare."

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