Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre Celebrates 50 Years

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The Ray Fenton Historical Barn at the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre.
By Joanne Rodgers, Bruce Peninsula Press

A staff alumni brunch was held May 6, 2023 at the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre (BOEC) to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the BOEC. 

This event marks the end to a year of celebrations with past and present staff being treated to a brunch, followed by recognizing the founding staff, Principals, and key supporters such as the Bluewater Education Foundation (BEF) and Bluewater District School Board. Also featured were the Board of Education (BOE), teachers, support staff and volunteers who through the years were integral to the BOEC achieving such a significant milestone. 

The Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre staff at the 50th anniversary celebration on May 6th (L-R) – Deborah Diebel, Peter Allemang, Arthur Murgatroyd, Jen Cowan, Emily Cole (front), Keely Rice and Rob Klunder.

The BOEC is located at 3092 Bruce County Road 13, Wiarton/South Bruce Peninsula (between Wiarton and Oliphant). The 320 acre property has a myriad of ecosystems from wetlands to woodlands and meadows which support migration paths for birds, habitat for amphibians, insects, mammals, and other local wildlife. The site was designated a Dark Sky Preserve in 2012 by the Royal Astronomical Society. This unique site offers the 17,400 school children of the Bluewater District School Board (BWDSB) the opportunity to discover the wonders of the Saugeen Bruce Peninsula through experiential and environmentally focused learning. 

Many visitors to BOEC will remember the directional sign featuring many BWDSB schools.

Jane Thomson, Bluewater District School Board Chair and local School Trustee describes the Centre as having “a half century of excellence in experiential and environmental education in this rare jewel of a facility that is truly unique to our local area”. Thomson emphasized that “our Board of Trustees remains firmly committed to the continued long-term success and viability of the Bluewater Outdoor Education Center.”

Early on, the founders sought to protect this property in perpetuity for Outdoor Education. Ray Fenton, past BEF President explained that in order to protect the site the then Bruce County Board of Education sold the property to the Outdoor Education Trust for $1 in 2003. The Bluewater Education Foundation (BEF) was created with a stated goal: “The flagship initiative of the foundation is the redevelopment and continued sustainability of the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre.”

BOEC Site Manager Deborah Diebel says that the founders and staff have left a valuable legacy and through the BEF, “there is the sense of security for the protection of the space”. Special mention was made of Peter Middleton and Clarke Birchard, with Diebel crediting them as the reason the Centre’s programming is so strong, and provincially acknowledged.

Recapping the first 25 years of the Centre, from 1973 -1998, Middleton and Birchard talked about the need to develop a solid platform for offering outdoor experiential experiences. The Centre aimed to use this outdoor classroom in every season, bringing to their youthful audience lessons on astronomy, birds, amphibians, flora, fauna, poetry, meditation, simulated archaeology programs, early pioneer programs, snowshoeing, cross country skiing; encapsulating various skills for outdoor survival and adventure. They also paid tribute to the vision, passion, commitment and knowledge of the people who brought these programs to life from the teachers, support staff, volunteers, administrators, and parents, to the Foundation Members.

Mike Schwindt, Economic Development Manager of BEF listed some of the various infrastructure projects such as a new dock, boilers and composting toilets. Schwindt says that summer camps are happening again this year and the site is also available for rentals. BEF is looking to expand programming, with Schwindt saying it is “time to grow from 50 to the future.”

Doug Cunningham, former Outers and Science Teacher at Bruce Peninsula District School and former teacher at the Outdoor Education Centre, says the Centre continues to be a leader in outdoor education in the Province.

For more information visit oec.bwdsb.on.ca/home and bef-oec.org