Launched as a pilot program in September 2021 as part of Project Future, Shawnigan’s strategic plan, Beyond the Gates has taken a group of Grade 9 students through a dynamic experiential learning journey in its first year. The program aims to take learning out of the traditional classroom and into the beautiful and diverse wilderness of Vancouver Island, deliver a more hands-on approach to lessons, connect lived learning experiences with academic classes, focus on place-based learning, and challenge students in new and exciting ways.
The year culminated in a two-week multi-phase capstone trip on the west coast of Vancouver Island – an excursion towards which they had been working all year. While engaging in a variety of outdoor activities, the group learned about First Nations cultures, environmental sustainability, local ecology, leadership, and future-proofing skills.
The adventure began on the world-renowned West Coast Trail, located within the Pacific Rim National Park. The hike – in conjunction with the cool and wet weather – challenged the students both physically and mentally, and at the end, they emerged stronger and closer as a group, setting the stage for the rest of the trip.
At the end of the West Coast Trail lies Pachena Bay and the small village of Bamfield, where the group camped during the next phase of their trip. Their time was spent in a variety of ways, including engaging in learning at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, learning about the local environment and culture, and spending time together to meet, debrief, and play games as a group.
A particularly meaningful moment came when the students were given hand-written letters from their families at the end of their first evening campfire check-in and debrief in Pachena Bay, which they read in privacy from secluded spots spread along the beach. This was also their only chance to use their phones to check in with those in the outside world.
For the final phase of the journey, the group explored the stunning Broken Group Islands by sea kayak. Their time began with two nights at the Broken Islands Lodge, which gave them some much-deserved downtime as they prepared for the sea kayak expedition. The luxuries of catering, real beds, showers, and even a hot tub were a welcome change!
Over the course of the two-week trip, the students learned valuable academic and cultural lessons – and also a few unusual ones, such as: - what to pack (and what not to pack!) for a wilderness adventure - how to solve conflicts and make decisions as a group - how to keep a cool head when encountering wildlife - that Mr. Loiselle has an arsenal of corny jokes - that Mr. MacDonald takes food very, very seriously - that time spent away from technology can actually be more fun than time spent with it!
By the end of this life-changing trip, the group had walked across 35 watersheds and through three First Nations; traveled 33km by foot and 54km by paddle; consumed 16 bags of marshmallows; encountered a lot of wildlife, including black bears, sea lions, seals, marine invertebrates, and plankton; met with residential school survivors, a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, and Indigenous knowledge and language keepers; and witnessed breathtaking scenery at every turn.
Students and staff returned from this epic adventure energized and inspired and praising their experiences. We are all looking forward to seeing this exciting program continue to grow and evolve in year two and beyond!
We acknowledge with respect the Coast Salish Peoples on whose traditional lands and waterways we live, learn and play. We are grateful for the opportunity to share in this beautiful region, and we aspire to healthy and respectful relationships with those who have lived on and cared for these lands for millennia.
Shawnigan Lake School is an independent co-educational boarding school for ages 13 –18 on Canada’s beautiful West Coast. Our diverse, interdisciplinary and innovative programming helps shape the next generation of global leaders.