As a youth justice worker in Agassiz from 2004 to 2015, Adam Palmer didn’t see the value in taking the kids referred to him by schools, police and the province to pick up garbage. Instead, he would ask the probation officer if he could take them for a hike.
“That’s actually how I got involved in taking kids climbing in the mountains,” Palmer told the Observer, adding that he’s been climbing mountains and glaciers himself since the age of 12.
When his youth justice position changed to part-time, Palmer went looking for a new opportunity. He found it at the Sts’Ailes Community School, where he’s been the mountain skills and wilderness program coordinator for about five years.
For the first trip of the program, he took a group of six students caving in his backyard — the Chilliwack River Valley.
“It was awesome,” Palmer said. “The kids got to see how the caves were formed and how water penetrates the ground.”
After the trip the students made a presentation back in the classroom, complete with graphs and diagrams. Other kids got interested and the program expanded.
Palmer started acquiring equipment, such as headlamps for future caving trips and axes for climbing up ice. He now takes students on large trips — twice a month — to Mount Slesse, Doctors Point and beyond. He even lands the odd helicopter trip for his students, as a trade-off for his role as an adventure host for his friend’s company Librico Helicopters.
“It’s not just about taking kids hiking, it’s actually about connecting them to the land,” he said. “Every mountain and every place we go to in our class has a cultural significance to it.
“That’s our main goal — to get these kids to be storytellers again and to keep that oral history alive.”
On a hiking trip to Labour Day Summit in June 2019, for example, Grade 11 student Tatiana Charlie was able to pick wild ginger and learn about her family’s tea traditions.
“It’s nice to see the plants that my grandparents used to make tea out of and to actually find them myself,” Charlie said. “It was really fun to actually learn about them too.”
To make time to participate in the program, Palmer said students work ahead on their other school work.
“The whole program wouldn’t be possible if other teachers in the school didn’t support it,” he said.
Students’ participation can also be counted toward work experience. Palmer works with a guide from the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides to ensure students get certificates for their accomplishments, something he said looks great on a resume.
For example, Grade 11 student Elias Hart said when they go for snowboarding trips, they learn about tree wells and how to not get caught in them.
“If you can handle six days in the wilderness, you can handle a shift working in the restaurant,” Palmer said, adding that a few of his students have decided to become mountain guides after participating in the program.
“One out of 50 kids, it might change their life forever.”
Some students have even landed jobs already, as production assistants.
In addition to coordinating the mountain skills and wilderness program, Palmer is also the cyber film instructor at the school. He has a background in film — when he’s not teaching he searches for lost treasure on the History Channel’s “Curse of the Frozen Gold” show — and sometimes gets asked to help film crews scout locations in the area.
Last year, a location scout working on Apple’s “See” web series starring actor Jason Momoa contacted Palmer about potentially filming in Abbotsford. Palmer didn’t think the proposed location was right and suggested going out with his Sts’Ailes students to scout a location in their area.
“Sure enough they liked the location and they filmed a few episodes there,” he said. “It’s great because one of the things I like to do is get my students involved in that area as well.”