How a Whitehorse teacher inspired one of Canada's new astronauts

Ted Hupe used to tell students about his travel adventures. Astronaut Joshua Kutryk remembers those stories well. 'I'm not shy about saying that he left a life-lasting impact.'

'You want to make an impact, a positive impact on every child you teach,' says Ted Hupe

'This is what hard work and determination can do,' said Whitehorse school principal Ted Hupe, left, about his former student Joshua Kutryk. Kutryk was named one of Canada's new astronauts last week. (Ted Hupe/Canadian Space Agency)

Ted Hupe is kind of embarrassed to be receiving any unusual attention this week.

"I'm truly humbled because really, I was just his Grade 6 teacher," he said.

The student he's referring to is Joshua Kutryk, who was recently named by the Prime Minister as one of Canada's two new astronauts (the other is Jennifer Sidey of Calgary).

​Kutryk now calls Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. home, but as a child he spent some formative years in Whitehorse. Hupe — now a school principal — was his teacher at Christ the King Elementary School.

As Kutryk tells it, Hupe was not "just" another teacher. He was a major inspiration.

It was the early 1990s, and Hupe had recently moved to Whitehorse after a year-long round-the-world trip that involved trekking in Nepal, and cycling in New Zealand and India.

His students would lap up his tales of adventure.

Hupe with another Kutryk - Joshua's brother Matthew, who's a CF-18 pilot with the Canadian Forces. (Submitted by Ted Hupe)

"I'd tell them stories about cycling, about travelling, and I'd teach the kids how to tear apart a bicycle and rebuild it. And so I think some of those stories had an impact," he recalled.

"Sometimes you're not really sure what's going to strike with a child, and I guess those stories stuck."

They stuck all right, Kutryk says.

"To me as a Grade 6 child, that was one of the things that ignited this exploratory sense, the explorer within me, that has really been there for the whole ride — the last 30 years," Kutryk said.

"I'm not shy about saying that he left a life-lasting impact."

'Proud and grateful'

Kutryk spent just five years in Whitehorse, but says he's "very, very proud and grateful" for those years.

"I've always wanted to explore and I can remember, that [impulse] was there when I lived in Whitehorse. I would disappear on a bike when I was with my friends, and we'd be gone for 18 hours, literally," he said.

"I have very, very fond memories of living in Whitehorse."

These days, though, he's spending more time looking forward than back. He'll soon be off to the Johnson Space Centre in Houston to begin two years of studying and training.

After that, he'll have a better idea what role he might play on any Canadian Space Agency missions. 

Dream come true

Kutryk said being named by the Prime Minister last week, and then later walking into the Canadian Space Agency to begin his new job, was humbling.

Joshua Kutryk participating in the Canadian Space Agency's astronaut selection process last March. 'I don't think it's fully sunk in yet ... it's a childhood dream come true,' he said. (Canadian Space Agency/Chris Ringius)

"It makes you feel proud to represent Canada, to be a Canadian, and really feel proud to work for the Canadian Space Agency," he said.

"I don't think it's fully sunk in yet ... it's a childhood dream come true."

His former teacher is just as proud.

"This is what hard work and determination can do," Hupe said.

"You want to make an impact, a positive impact on every child you teach. And to have one of our own from the Yukon, one of our elementary students, aspire to something this great is really a good feeling."

With files from Meagan Deuling

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