View from the North: USJE Public Prosecution Service of Canada member learns key lesson during wilderness survival training

USJE Member, Tyler Morehouse, has worked with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in Yellowknife since 2017. He presently works as a Crown Witness Coordinator (CWC).  The job of a CWC requires members to travel to remote communities so all CWCs in the North take wilderness training to ensure they’d survive were they stranded in a remote area.  Read below Tyler’s account of this demanding training:  

Winter in the Northwest Territories can be brisk. The subarctic climate often drops to -40 Celsius, especially above the tree line up near the Arctic Ocean. But in the South, just outside of Yellowknife on the Northern coast of Great Slave Lake, the climate can be more forgiving. The day of January 6th, 2021 was a relatively mild -20 Celsius. On this day, ten colleagues and I – all of us, prosecutors and civil servants – took part in a winter survival training program hosted by Arctic Response.

Before leaving, the instructors had gone over the equipment we would be using and what to expect. They had warned us that this experience would not be like camping. They were not lying.

We left our homes early on the morning of January 6th and drove 10 kilometres outside of Yellowknife.  After a 20-minute hike, we arrived in a forested grove, which would be our home for the next 24 hours.

Soon after arriving, we began by gathering snow to create a quinzhee, a structure made of compressed snow.  Unfortunately, a member of our group threw out their back so we were unable to finish it. 

The instructors then encouraged us to pair up for the next portion of the exercise. My partner and I set off in a slightly different direction from the group, thinking we would want to leave sufficient space so as to not have to compete with others for wood.  This would prove to be a mistake. 

As the sun started to set around 3:00 pm, my partner and I scrambled to complete one of the two shelters we had hoped to make. We then lit a fire that ran the length of the structure and hoped the pile of wood we gathered would keep it going for the night. We had to make four additional runs for wood in the middle of the night.

Our lean-to was roughshod; twine was all that held it together. I had tried to pack branches on the roof and floor for padding, but I only had enough time to do sparse work. By the time the sun had set, it was too dark to work much further, and we were rapidly running out of energy. My initial idea of seeing how the rest of the teams were doing would not happen that night. All our efforts would be concentrated on keeping our fire going.

Sunset (3:40 pm), the night of January 6, 2021.  This picture was taken shortly before Tyler’s phone froze.

During the night, my partner and I decided to take turns sleeping so that someone would keep the fire going. I took my sleeping shift second. I had left my equipment in the snow, away from the fire. When I slipped into my sleeping bag, instead of trapping heat, it was the temperature of the surrounding night that leached heat from me. Despite this being a simulated exercise, I experienced actual panic as I was inches from a fire and unable to get warm.

Needless to say, it was a difficult night to get through – between tending a fire, finding more firewood, feeling very very cold and learning to stay warm enough, however, we made it through.  Around ten in the morning, after the sun had finally started to rise, the Arctic Response instructors ended the exercise.

The instructors gathered everyone together and we had a look at the results of everyone’s night. Not everyone had made it. Some had, for various reasons, found the night too hard to keep going and had asked to leave. We had started as a group of eleven and were now a group of eight.

The eight individuals who completed the training.  Tyler is in the back row, two from the left, with eyes closed.

I was struck by how close everyone else had stuck together, and how they had all benefited from this. They were able to support each other and all of them had finished their shelters. One group had even been able to finish additional walls, turning their dual lean-to and fire into basically a walled camp. Working together, they had accomplished so much more than my partner and I had been able to do alone.

In the end, that is the biggest lesson that I took away from the wilderness training. People accomplish so much more together than they can on their own. The greatest tool that made the difference was not a saw or supplies, of which my partner and I had plenty, it was cooperation.


Thanks to Tyler for sharing this workplace story.  If you are a USJE member and have a workplace story to share, please send it to: