People & Culture

Our Country: Clara Hughes

The Olympic medallist and mental-health-awareness champion shares her memories of inspiration in northern Labrador’s Torngat Mountains
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The word Torngait actually means “place of spirits” in Inuktitut, and you can really feel that when you’re in the Torngat Mountains. Every peak has a presence.

On a six-day backcountry trip last summer, I saw circles of stones that were ancient tent rings, and you could tell they were old because of the lichens on them. These were the places where Inuit ancestors would stop when travelling and hunting in the North. I also saw inuksuit, very old route markers. They’re all over the North, and they come in different forms depending on the landscape. I’d see them in the distance and say, “That’s not an animal.”

After that I visited the Torngat Mountains Base Camp and Research Station. They host a youth program for kids from the Nunatsiavut area of Labrador and the Nunavik region of northern Quebec. It’s about empowering the Inuit, fostering leadership and addressing mental health by connecting them with the outdoors. I was lucky enough to be part of that inspiring experience for the first time last year — seeing kids learning new things, taking what they learned and building on those lessons. It felt like a window on the Inuit community..

On the last day of the camp, staff talked to the youth about their strengths and potential. Some of these kids come from really difficult places, and seeing the look in their eyes when they were being praised is something I’ll never forget. It reminded me of when I started in sports. I came from a difficult background myself, and I remember being told for the first time in my life that I was very damn good. Seeing and witnessing that happen was really special.

I came out of the Torngats feeling that the spirit of the place has been with all the generations who have travelled through that land.

Famous Canadians and Canadian Geographic readers have shared their favourite places in our country on an interactive map. See it here.

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This story is from the January/February 2014 Issue

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