Former Ontario Rangers are meeting in Huntsville on Saturday to protest the government's decision to end the program that helped teens develop outdoor skills and environmental awareness.

Donna Fry was hired as a ranger in 1977 to work at Obatanga Provincial Park.

Now a secondary school principal from Red Rock, Fry was devastated to hear that the rangers program was cut.

"I was really sad, in particular, that my students at my school would never have the opportunity to get into that program," she said.


Donna Fry says her life-long love of the north was nurtured by the experiences she has as an Ontario Ranger at Obatanga Provincial Park. (Supplied)

Fry, who will be master of ceremonies at the event in Huntsville, said she hopes the government will reinstate the program next year, once it sees how many people support the Ontario Rangers.

"[The experience was] a lot of work, low pay, but [rangers received] a great education and certainly an opportunity to really test out ... physical skills and ... team work skills," Fry added.

The work component of the program involved cleaning portages, clearing trails, maintenance, and so on, while the educational component involved visiting mines, power dams, and similar destinations around the north.

Fry said the job made her fall in love with the north shore of Lake Superior. Her daughter was also a ranger and was posted at Quetico Park. Her daughter now works as a senior officer with the Ministry of the Environment.

Cutbacks in fall of 2012

After the Ontario Ranger program was cutback in the fall of 2012, a group was formed to lobby the government to change its decision. Fry now belongs to the Friends of the Ontario Rangers group, which she says is brainstorming ways to convince the government to reinstate the program in its 2014 budget.

Fry said the province has put almost $300 million into youth employment and the group is hopeful some of that money could go toward the Rangers program.

According to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, more than 78,000 Ontario youth have participated in the 70-year old program that provides 17-year old students across Ontario with the opportunity to work in remote areas of the province through an intense eight-week program.

In May, OPSEU President Smokey Thomas sent a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne to reinstate the Ontario Ranger program.

"This low-cost program was as valuable to the young workers as it was to the province," the letter stated. "Students were paid the minimum wage and were required to cover their own room and board. Your government claimed the Ontario Ranger program was replaced with the Ontario Stewardship program, which is not the case. Your own website shows this resulted in a cut to 46 per cent of the jobs, as this program is entirely different. Former Toronto Mayor and MP David Crombie and MP Olivia Chow are two notable former Ontario Rangers."