Partnered with an assistant, Cindy Cantin-Starzenski demonstrated a strong “J” stroke in the stern of her canoe with ease. The boat effortlessly turned; an excellent maneuver. We all piled into our boats to give it a go, mimicking her straight posture and following the necessary tips yelled out during her tutorial.
Cantin-Starzenski, a Dawson College Outdoor Education instructor and the Chair of the Outdoor Education department, has been teaching various audiences about Nature for about 30 years, 17 at Dawson College. She is also a mother of three girls, ages 11, 14, and 19. The oldest, Tali, has already started working as an assistant instructor, taking after her mother. Cindy talks about all three of them with warmth and says it’s hard to go away on weekends, especially since her youngest needs her.
Our class of 19 students fresh from high school came to a campground North of Ottawa called Air-Eau-Bois to spend the weekend canoeing for the Canoe Skills Intensive course at Dawson College. Due to Cindy’s proficient teaching skills, we felt well-prepared, having gone over the packing arrangements and food strategies time and time again.
A lot can go wrong when a relatively large group of inexperienced youths go out in the wild, but her presence seemed to lead us all into a trance of tranquil autonomy, providing comfort and security. Things ran smoothly, and the overall experience was incredibly stress-free.
Romy Roussel-Lustgarten, a fellow student on the trip, described her as being very personable, and adaptable to everyone.
“To be a good educator you have to be a real person. Cindy’s a very real person,” Romy said.
Knowing Romy, this is a big compliment. She values people’s honesty and doesn’t like it when people are phony. She’s right – there isn’t a phony bone in Cindy’s body.
After a long day of canoeing, Cindy opened up by the campfire when our group was reduced to a keen few.
She told us how she started off her career as a guide at Coastal Kayaking in Bar Harbour, Maine. She attempted to start her own guiding company. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out as planned. She then worked for a number of different guiding companies before coming to Dawson in 2004.
A particularly memorable experience she recounted happened on the North-East Coast of Vancouver Island. The feeling of floating in a boat over a canopy of resident orcas came back to her as she explained their feeding habits:
“They are feeding, mating, and frolicking! I heard them vocalizing near the surface a couple of times as they traveled by.”
Experiences like these seem to be what drives her, as well as the fruitful interactions with strangers she is pushed into on a regular basis.
A few more logs were piled on the hot coals that night before we all went to bed smelling like the smoky fire, excited for the next day of paddling and sunshine that lay ahead.