When asked how they spent their summer vacation, many law school students describe 14-hour days in office buildings trying to impress people in expensive suits. But Joshua Sutherland decided to do things differently. The third-year U of T law student cycled across Western Canada, visiting native reserves and promoting post-secondary education.
Sutherland is Métis; he grew up in the Windsor area, but spent his summers visiting extended family on a reserve near Thunder Bay, Ontario. In August he cycled to four reserves in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskat chewan to peddle his “if I can do it, you can do it” message. He was motivated by the under representation of aboriginals in post-secondary institutions in general, and law school in particular, as well as an ambition to bike across a large chunk of the country.
Starting out in Vancouver, he cycled approximately eight hours a day – not easy for someone who hadn’t ridden a bicycle often in the past several years. “It was rough,” he acknowledges. “I had a few violent cramps for the first week and I would wake up almost in tears.” Finding a place to sleep was also rough. Sutherland, 26, camped out in a variety of places, including a provincial park, under a porcupine-infested tree, the floor of an auto mechanic’s garage and an abandoned farmhouse “like something out of a Hitchcock movie.”
The approximately 100 people Sutherland spoke to eagerly absorbed his message. “As soon as I arrived on the reserve with a bike helmet, goofy little tights and a neat-looking bike, it drew a lot of attention,” he says. Drawing interest to his high-end bicycle and gear was part of Sutherland’s plan to appeal to young people. “I think the kids were attracted to the idea of riding a bike such a great distance. They wanted to hear what I had to say.”
The total cost of the trip (including flights, bike and camping supplies) was roughly $7,500. He raised $5,500 from sponsors, including several Toronto law firms and U of T’s Faculty of Law, and paid the other $2,000 out of pocket.
Sutherland hopes to make the journey an annual sponsored event. But next summer, he’ll start his articling position with the Crown attorney’s office in Thunder Bay, and would like to pass the torch to another law student. “I’d hate to rob someone else of that opportunity,” he says.