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The Village of Fort Simpson is known as the gateway to Nahanni National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts breathtaking mountains, plateaus, rivers and a waterfall that is almost twice the height of Niagara Falls.

As the only village in the Northwest Territories, this community of 1,250 people offers its own picturesque landmarks sprinkled with historical charm – including Heritage Park, home to the original Fort of the Forks built by the Northwest Company in the early 1800s, and the site of one of Fort Simpson’s best views of the Mackenzie and Liard rivers.

Village of Fort Simpson , NWT

But it takes a lot of effort and hard work to keep the community’s outdoor spaces looking their best. That’s why this past summer, the Village of Fort Simpson was thrilled to add Ryder Hardisty to its staff.

“It felt good knowing we would have more staff to work with,” says Billy Jo Burrill, the village’s recreation coordinator. “It takes some of the pressure off, because we have to cover a lot of the areas.”

Ryder’s position as a summer recreation staff member was funded by the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association’s Youth Employment Experience program. This program, funded by the Government of Canada, is designed to help parks and recreation organizations build capacity, while creating employment and skills building opportunities for youth in the sector.

In his role, Ryder worked closely with Trevor Kjeldsli, the village’s lead hand. As one of Ryder’s supervisors and mentors, Trevor helped Ryder learn how to mow grass, clean the area’s parks, and maintain its community trail and lawn equipment, along with other duties.

Trevor says it was great to see the youth grow over the 10-week experience and learn valuable skills.

The community also took notice, Trevor adds. Residents and visitors appreciated the great care that went into maintaining their outdoor spaces – and, was pleased that a young person was being given the opportunity to make a difference in their village.

“The community was happy to see that we were providing a young person with the experience necessary to enter the workforce,” he says.

Billy Jo adds that the job also helped Ryder build new skills he wouldn’t have otherwise received, including new knowledge of how parks and recreation departments operate. He says that Ryder was also able to build his professional network.

Each week, Ryder formed connections with co-workers, supervisors and community members who made great potential contacts in the parks and recreation sector – including Tyler Sibbeston, the village’s facility maintainer.

Tyler worked closely with Ryder and taught him how to provide general upkeep to the village’s various facilities, such as properly cleaning its fitness centre.

He says that the mentorship role was a positive experience for him, and that it was particularly rewarding to see Ryder become more comfortable and knowledgeable in facility maintenance.

“Over the weeks, I witnessed Ryder grow as an employee and complete the tasks assigned more confidently,” Tyler says. “He gained a lot of knowledge in maintenance, as well as safety. Overall, this grant gave us the ability to provide a youth with the experience and knowledge to enter the workforce.”