Inuvik teacher honoured with national award for providing 'ultimate Canadian experience'

Inuvik East Three School teacher Denise Lipscombe has been awarded the Experiences Canada History Award for a French exchange program she organized with a school in Quebec City.

Inuvik East Three School teacher Denise Lipscombe honoured in Ottawa for work with school exchange program

Julie Payette, right, Governor General of Canada, presents the Experiences Canada Award to Inuvik teacher Denise Lipscombe in Ottawa on Nov. 22, 2017. (MCpl Vincent Carbonneau, Rideau Hall, OSGG)

Canada's governor general awarded Inuvik East Three School teacher Denise Lipscombe with the Experiences Canada History Award on Wednesday, a first for an N.W.T. teacher.

Lipscombe received the award for a French exchange program she organized with a school in Quebec City last spring.

When Lipscombe applied to Experiences Canada for funding for the exchange she had no idea she could be winning an award a year later.

"I was completely shocked. It came right out of the blue, I didn't even know this existed," Lipscombe said.

The French teacher was presented with the award in Ottawa by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette during the Governor General's History Awards.

According to a press release from Canada's History Society, the ceremony honours students, organizations and teachers who have shown initiative in projects for promoting "exploration of Canada's history."

First time award won by N.W.T. teacher

Although this is the second time that Lipscombe has done this exchange with the school, it's the first time that a teacher from the North has won this award, according to Deborah Morrison, Experiences Canada president.

Denise Lipscombe, left, a French immersion teacher at East Three Seoncdary School in Inuvik, will be presented with an award for her part in a French exchange program. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

While students visited Inuvik, they stayed with host families and got traditional northern experiences, including driving the ice road to Tuktoyaktuk, climbing the pingos, preparing traditional northern food and dog sledding.

"I think when kids think about travelling, they think about going to the museums and doing the big activities in the city," said Lipscombe.

"And up here we've got a lot of activities that they don't really consider. We have so many unique resources and activities."

Experiences Canada provides funding for exchanges involving about 5,000 youth every year. Morrison said the organization was impressed with the various activities the youth participated in during their stay in Inuvik.

Exhange students from Quebec and local Inuvik students spell out the word 'Tuk' on a pingo in Tuktoyaktuk. (Submitted by Denise Lipscombe)

'Experience of a lifetime'

"It wasn't just about history that you would learn in a textbook, it was about culture that was part of everyday life in Inuvik and also getting the youth out on the land, we thought was also an extraordinary component," said Morrison.

Morrison said the Quebec youth had an "experience of a lifetime" — maybe even "the ultimate Canadian experience" — thanks to the variety of different cultures and languages the students were exposed to.

It was a learning experience for students who participated in Inuvik as well, both when they visited Quebec and while hosting their partners.

Quebec exchange students gather with exchange students in Inuvik at the visitors information centre. (Submitted by Denise Lipscombe)

"I haven't done anything like this, especially living up here. It was really cool to have someone staying in my house and meeting new people," said Mataya Gillis, a Grade 9 student who participated in the exchange.

Some students like Isobel Jellema said there were a few experiences, like dog sledding, that many of the Inuvik students had never had.

Jellema was to be in Ottawa with Lipscombe representing East Three School, and says the students are very proud to see their teacher and school being honoured.

Lipscombe says that seeing the students reactions throughout the exchange was the real award.

Although Lipscombe is the named recipient of the award, she says she isn't the only one who should be getting praise.

"It really is for the whole community," she said. "I can coordinate and bring all the pieces together but it is because I have these pieces that I can help make it happen."

Along with the medal Lipscombe received on Wednesday, Experiences Canada will provide a gift voucher of about $2,000 for a future exchange.