Flashback Fridays


Tent cabins at night

On Sunday, May 25, I accompanied the grade six students from Salt Spring Elementary and Fernwood schools on their major field trip ofthe year to Strathcona Lodge on Vancouver Island. This was my first opportunity to participate in a major trip, and I looked forward to it with great anticipation.
As a parent, I have always been one hundred percent in favor of field trips, but now, as a school trustee, I have a further responsibility, to ensure that we are offering our students a thorough, well-rounded education; one that will prepare them to take their place in society with the best educational foundation possible.

By joining the kids on this outing, I would have an opportunity to witness first-hand the value of this type of program. After a bit of confusion (who would not be confused, trying to bed down 63 kids) we stowed our gear in our respective areas of accommodation. It was obvious from the start that there was favouritism girl and boy-wise at Strathcona. The girls got the plush ‘college’ building, complete with indoor plumbing (including showers), shag carpets, heat and brand new beds, and the boys got the tent- cabins, shipped directly to Strathcona at great expense right after the Boer war.

I was with group four, consisting of seven boys and four girls. Our first experience was to be the dreaded ropes course. Not for the faint of heart, this course has eleven different sections, each increasing in both height and difficulty.

To do any part of the course takes a fair amount of courage and self confidence, but the most difficult part was a real killer. Even to get on to it was difficult enough. It was on the opposite side of a three-foot-thick tree from the section preceding it, and the only aid was a one inch thick rope tied around the tree which you used as a toe hold. To get around, you hugged the tree with your hands and arms and inched your way around, using the one inch rope as your foothold, and all of this took place 20 feet off the ground.

This section consisted of a 1 1⁄2 inch rope tied to the tree at approximately twenty-five feet up and going down at a forty-five degree angle to a platform seven feet off the ground. To get down, you lie on the rope with one leg on it and the other dangling below you for balance. You then let yourself down the rope slowly, the trick being to stay on top and not lose your balance and find yourself hanging under the rope.


The kids went through the course with no hesitation whatsoever, and rather than having to encourage them to try it, our leader, Doug Paterson, had to slow them down and tell them to wait until the person in front was off his section of the course. They had no sooner finished than they were running back to the start to try it again. Doug was visibly impressed. He agreed to let them do the course again but as it would not be as great a challenge the second time, he would have to make it harder. This was accomplished by doing the course in a more difficult way. Where they might have crawled across a log on hands and knees before, they now had to walk across it upright.  The grand finale, however, came on the single rope section. As they were lowering themselves down, he had them stop mid-way and let go of the rope with their feet so that they were hanging under the rope by their  hands.

Ropes Course

To get back on, they had to start themselves swinging until they could get a foot over the rope. Now they swung themselves sideways until they got enough momentum to flip themselves up on top of the rope, and continue down to the platform.


As the last of our group was completing the course, Doug walked over to me, obviously worked up. “I can’t believe these kids,” he said. I answered something to the effect, “yeah, they’re a good group of kids.”
“You don’t understand what I’m saying,” he said. “This is unreal. Normally when we bring an age group like this up here we think it is terrific if half of them try the whole course.”

Doug Paterson

I guess I did not look impressed enough because he insisted that we wait and watch another group who were just finishing the first part of the rope course and were going to start the second, more difficult half. These were a group of grade ten students from Vancouver, and of the fourteen in their group, only five made it all the way, and none was anxious to try it again.


“Now do you see what I mean?” Doug said. And now I really did begin to see what he meant.
Somewhere along the line, somebody is doing something very right with our kids and it does not really matter whether it is at home or at school or just because they live on Salt Spring but one thing for sure, we have
got to keep doing it.

As the week rolled by, I became more and more impressed with both the kids and the Strathcona program. It would take whole page to tell of all the incidents that made me feel this way, but as the program unfolded and the kids learned more about themselves through kayaking, canoeing, climbing, hiking, map and compass reading, bog walking, initiative games and numerous other courses, something more important was happening: the kids were becoming more tolerant of each other.

They began to realize that just because a kid could not run the 100-yard dash did not mean he was not athletic; he sure handled that canoe well, and just because he did not get 100% in all his tests did not mean he was dumb; he knew all the plants on the bog walk, and just because he goes to Fernwood or Salt Spring does not mean he is weird; he was a real good tent-mate, and the dinner he cooked on the overnight was great.  For me, the value of the trip was summed up on the final day as we were getting on the bus to leave.


One of the kids is always late or last for everything, and on other outings with this group when he has been late, there have been yells of “close the door”, “let’s go”, “just leave him” and much harassing when he does finally arrive. As usual, he was late again. As we were ready to leave, someone yelled, “Hey…. Isn’t here”, and with nothing said from any of the adults on the bus, three boys ran off the bus, down to the tent- cabins and helped him get his gear and himself up to the bus. When they got on the bus, there was some friendly kidding and a few questions like, “did you remember your canteen?” and “did you get your towel out of the wash-up shack?” But he was a member of this group now, and there were 63 kids in it; and so what if he was last, someone had to be.