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One year after tragedy, La Loche comes to Toronto

Saskatchewan students visit Ryerson during whirlwind trip
By: Will Sloan. Photos by Clifton Li.
January 17, 2017

In January 2016 in La Loche, Saskatchewan, a shooting at La Loche Community School claimed four lives and injured seven others. The tragedy was a devastating blow for the rural, mostly aboriginal community, and its shockwaves were felt across the country.

One of the reporters who covered it was Marci Ien, at the time news anchor and cohost of Canada AM and reporter for CTV News. “It was one of those stories that just stuck with me. I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said.

“The Globe & Mail had a picture—front page—of students from La Loche around what looked like a big bonfire, and they called it a Forgiveness Circle. The idea in the community is that if someone does wrong, the whole community is responsible. I was astounded by that concept—that in this place that was rocked by tragedy, the first thing they did was look for forgiveness.”

Looking at the picture, Ien noticed that one of the students was wearing a Toronto Raptors cap. Taking off her reporter’s hat, she got in touch with the Raptors and asked if they could help bring the students to Toronto to see a game. Ien, a Ryerson RTA alum, also got in touch with her alma mater.

“I learned so much here,” said Ien of Ryerson. “I grew here. I owe so much to being at this place. I want them to maybe experience a little of what I did. It’s a special place with a caring community.”

On January 13, nearly one year after the tragedy, 10 students and two staff members from La Loche Community School visited Ryerson as part of a four-day Toronto trip. Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi was on hand to greet the students at the external,Launch Zone at the Student Learning Centre, where they had breakfast, participated in science demonstrations, and learned about Ryerson’s interdisciplinary business incubators.

“This is part of our mission at Ryerson: reaching out to different communities, and the aboriginal community is a priority,” said Mohamed Lachemi. “We want to give high school students opportunities to think about their futures. That’s why we invited them to see what we do, and show that Ryerson can help them achieve their dreams.

Later in the day, the students visited the Mattamy Athletic Centre to meet with members of the Ryerson Rams basketball teams and shoot some hoops.

“They have an opportunity to see a university outside of our own province,” said La Loche principal Greg Hatch. “It also widens the worldview of our students. This is the first time any of these students have ever been to Toronto. And our sports program is good, so it’s huge to see that one building [the Mattamy Athletic Centre] can have basketball, weight training, an ice rink, everything.”

The Ryerson visit was part of a whirlwind four-day trip that also saw the students appear on CTV’s The Social, see the Raptors play, and even play a round of basketball with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

For Marci Ien, the trip was an example of institutions working together to help a community—and represented an important step in La Loche’s journey. “It’s such a close-knit community: there are less than 3,000 people there, and everybody was affected. There’s a heaviness still, and yet it is a strong community, and I get the sense from these kids that they don’t want to be defined by that.”