The Outdoor School heads to Vancouver Island

Students from Wadena Composite recently embarked on the first Outdoor School trip in the school’s history. Developed by Principal Darin Faubert, it is the only cross-Canada curricular Outdoor School in Canada. From May 6 to 11, students and chaperones were on Vancouver Island to take part in a number of activities and tours, obtaining a credit in Wildlife Management 20 or Native Studies 20. Students had been preparing for months by doing projects associated with the places they would visit.

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Students beachcombing along the beautiful Pacific Rim.

Upon arrival in Victoria, B.C., group members settled into their hotel located in beautiful Victoria Harbour. They walked around the harbour area, visited the Empress Hotel, the British Columbia Parliament buildings and Thunderbird Park, home to an impressive collection of totem poles. The highlight of the tour was taking a water taxi to Fisherman’s Wharf, which features many unique restaurants and a number of floating homes. The students enjoyed eating supper while seals swam within inches of their feet. Some even took the opportunity to feed fish to the seals, while an otter tried to steal it from their hands.

The second day began with a trip to the world-famous Butchart Gardens. One student commented that it was “unbelievable that that garden is in Canada.” Many remarked that the Victoria area itself was the most beautiful place they had seen. After a self-guided tour through the Gardens, a thrilling adventure featured a whale-watching and biological study in the Juan de Fuca Strait. The killer whale tour lasted three hours. The first mammal the group came across was a humpback whale. Humpback whale sightings at this time of year are not common so it was an exciting addition to the possible list of sea creatures the group might see. A marine biologist who accompanied the group provided everything necessary to know about the mammals and birds seen throughout the wildlife cruise.

The next sighting, the highlight of the cruise, was a pod of transient killer whales. Unlike the resident killer whale pods, their distant relatives, transient killer whales simply pass through areas and feed on large mammals like seals and sea lions. The biologist explained in great detail the family history of the transient killer whale pod, which circumnavigated an island of seals and a separate island of sea lions, permitting the group to witness the hunting techniques of the ocean’s top predator. The students also got to watch numerous harbour seals and Steller’s sea lions and see their behaviour as large family groups. The final impressive sighting on the boat tour was a group of hundreds of harbour porpoises; one playful little porpoise provided some excitement to wrap up the boat trip.

The group carried on to Campbell River, seeing a number of black-tailed deer and a wolf along the scenic drive. The next day began with a salmon-fishing trip around Quadra Island. The students fished for king salmon at depths up to 300 feet. Trolling with downriggers, they felt the strength of these prized sports fish. Many students brought one into the boat; a few also caught lingcod.

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Leaving Campbell River, the group was off to the Mount Washington area of Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Provincial Park, where the students and chaperones embarked upon a 10-km hike through the Paradise Meadows of the Forbidden Plateau. The scenic trail went through Alpine tundra and a forest of huge cedar trees.

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Hiking through Paradise Meadows, Mount Washington.

Along the way students saw ptarmigans and a black bear. Afterward they did some beachcombing and watched seals swim by their rooms at a seaside motel at Qualicum Beach.

Another morning brought them to Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park. Following a one-km hike up to the caves, learning all about cave formation and plate tectonics, the group entered a cave that at times barely fit a human. After going through the first cave, it was off to a second much more difficult and tighter one. To enter, everyone had to turn sideways and fit through a small opening. Once inside, the group was treated to spectacular cave scenery. Two ladders were used to get into the extremely tight rooms, barely fitting one person at a time.

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Regan Mikush entering Horne Lake caves.

They entered many cave rooms and learned about the formation of stalagmites and stalactites. They saw one of four spiral stalactites in North America; it is four inches long and took 400 years to form. The students also experienced absolute darkness, where no light can enter. After a minute they all started to “see things,” part of the sensory deprivation that happens when the lights on the caving helmets are shut off. To get out of the caves, a slide was used; everyone had to stay low and lie down to avoid a rock face. The two hours spent in the Horne Lake caves won’t soon be forgotten.

Then the class began its trip to Tofino. The main stop along the way was the Coombs market, featuring goats actually grazing on the grass-covered rooftops. Two hours later, the group arrived at Pacific Rim National Park. With two stops at Long Beach, there was plenty of time to beachcomb and check out the surfers. The awe of Pacific Rim (especially for Prairie folks) was evident in the students when they first stepped onto the massive beach and looked out over the open ocean. In Tofino, the students did some Mother’s Day shopping and wandered around the docks, where they saw otters and a California sea lion and visited with the locals.

The following morning the group went whale-watching on the ocean along Long Beach with the Tofino Whale Centre. They were given a safety briefing, put on their survival suits and got ready to see some wildlife in the world-famous Clayoquot Sound. On the way out, the first major sighting was a sea otter, a rarity until a recent successful comeback of the species in the area. Then it was out to “big water” to see migrating gray whales. Ten gray whales were spotted, including one mother and calf. At one time, five whales surrounded the boat.

The tour guide also made two island stops, one to see a harbour seal colony of about 100 and another island that was home to more than 100 Steller’s sea lions. The students loved the adventure, including the giant waves offshore at Pacific Rim National Park.

On the way back to Victoria, the group stopped at Cathedral Grove in Macmillan Provincial Park, home to the big trees . . . really big trees. The largest was an 800-year-old Douglas fir 76 metres high and 9 metres round. The massive height and size of the trees along Big Tree Trail left the group awestruck.

Wherever their travels took them, the students were great ambassadors for Wadena Composite School.
The next major school excursion Principal Faubert has organized is to Churchill, Man., to study polar bears. The trip will begin at the end of October; 40 people have already filled up the roster.

The Outdoor School itself has received international recognition for alternative ways for students to receive high school credits. The benefits of seeing Canada and linking it to curricula are enormous. Many more excursions are being planned so parents and students should keep their eyes open for future trip meetings.


Photos courtesy Darin Faubert

Wadena News


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