Whitehorse students return safe from France after terrorist scare

Madisen Bacon-Traplin never imagined her first trip to Europe would end with having to reassure her parents she was nowhere near a terrorist attack. But that's what happened last weekend. 

Madisen Bacon-Traplin never imagined her first trip to Europe would end with having to reassure her parents she was nowhere near a terrorist attack.

But that’s what happened last weekend.

The Grade 10 student from F.H. Collins Secondary School was part of a small group that recently toured France for two weeks, visiting sites such as Normandy, Vimy and Lancieux, one of Whitehorse’s sister cities.

Last Friday, terrorists targeted several locations in Paris, killing 132 and injuring hundreds more.

French President Francois Hollande closed the country’s borders and declared a state of emergency.

Luckily, the students were staying with their host families in a small town called Arras, about 180 kilometres north of Paris.

The original itinerary for the trip called for the last three days to be spent in Paris, Bacon-Traplin said, but it was eventually changed.

“I love travelling and I really wanted to see Europe,” she said as her reason for taking part in the trip.

“It worked out well because some of my best friends were going with me.”

Around 11 p.m. on Friday night, she’d just finished showering and decided to check Facebook before heading to bed.

She noticed one of her friends had posted a message about peace for Paris.

“I Googled it and by that time, only a few people had died,” she said.

“So I quickly texted my mom and told her what happened. Then my dad messaged me and asked if I was safe.

“Then everybody from Whitehorse did, too. I got tons of messages.”

The event didn’t sink in at first, but when it did, she became scared.

The next morning, her host family was visibly upset by the attacks.

Residents of Arras had already lined up 128 candles, one for every victim at the time, in front of a large church.

“It was really sad and people were crying,” she said.

Some of the students had planned on spending their last days in Paris, or in nearby Lille, but those plans were cancelled, she added.

The night of the attack, Yann Herry stayed up until early Saturday morning to coordinate with the Department of Education and staff at F.H. Collins.

A former French immersion teacher in Whitehorse, Herry has organized the annual trip to France since 1998.

The focus is on taking students to sites that have a Yukon or Canadian connection. It’s also a great opportunity for students to put their French language skills to use, he said.

But he’s never experienced anything like this before, he added.

“The first thing that went through my mind was the students’ safety,” he said.

“We contacted all the host families the next morning to let them know the students shouldn’t leave town. And we also got in touch with families back in the Yukon to reassure them everybody was safe.

“Thankfully we were far away from the events.”

Initially, Herry was concerned the group wouldn’t be able to fly out of France on Sunday, given the restrictions.

But a fellow Swedish exchange group, which had flown back to Sweden on Saturday, notified the Whitehorse group upon its arrival that there wouldn’t be too much of a delay.

“Our flight was only delayed by 45 minutes,” Herry said, “and we made it up in the air.”

Stephen Dunbar-Edge, Madisen’s father, said social media played a big role in alleviating his fears last weekend.

He heard from his daughter almost instantly after messaging her to see if she was all right.

“When she replied it was instant relief,” he said, “but you’re still concerned that she has to get out of the country.”

“Social media sure has its foibles, but boy it sure has its plusses.”

Dunbar-Edge said he was asked whether he would object to sending his daughter on another school trip.

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Bad things happen everywhere – and in fact, people have lost their lives on trips to the Yukon, he added.

“There are no guarantees, you cross your fingers and wait for them to come back.”

The group returned to Whitehorse at around 12:45 a.m. early Monday morning.

Contact Myles Dolphin at