Capilano University’s inaugural outdoor recreation program welcomed its first 18 students back in 1972. As was characteristic of the day, the program thrived on a reputation of being fiercely independent, comprising of a collective of students and instructors in a league of their own.
When the university’s doors sweep open in September, it will mark not only a new school year, but more significantly, the 40th anniversary of the faculty.
The program was spearheaded by Dr. Brian White and Don Basham.
“We were a pretty unruly outfit in those early days; the science students didn’t like us too much,” White recalled. “It was the ’70s… we did some very cool stuff, went on incredible expeditions, and didn’t play by the rules a whole lot. But we were focused on serious work. There was a lot of concern about training and public safety as people started to embark upon backcountry pursuits. We helped to professionalize the industry.”
Those pioneering students embraced a diverse curriculum that took them on cross-country skiing outings, backcountry expeditions to Garibaldi and Cathedral provincial parks and hiking or kayaking trips to Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail and the Broken Islands.
In addition to the wilderness expeditions, the faculty of tourism and outdoor recreation today offers B.C.’s first bachelor’s degree in tourism, Canada’s only professional scuba dive certificate and North America’s first mountain bike operations certificate.
Roy Jantzen has been an instructor within the faculty for the past 13 years and was a student in the 1980s.
When asked to describe what his job entails, he said a large portion of the courses he teaches is outdoors, “so I see it as very experiential education.”
On any given day Jantzen and students could be at the Squamish Estuary, the Seymour hatchery for a marine tourism class, or even at Harbour Air at the Squamish Airport for an ecotourism class.
“That’s what drew me to the course in the first place... I loved the fact that there were a lot of field trips and that it was experiential in terms of its education mandate.”
Jantzen said an essential part of the programming is the international component, where students have the chance to travel to places such as Vietnam and Paraguay to work in small communities.
“You can see amazing changes in the students — their eyes open up to what’s going on in other parts of the world.”
He went on to describe the experiences of international students who come here to study. On a field trip to Vancouver Island a few years ago, Jantzen asked the students to come down to the beach to look at the night sky and he prepared to give a talk on constellations. He recalled being flabbergasted when a couple of girls burst into tears at the sight of the clear night sky — they were from Seoul, Korea, and had never seen stars before.
Today, close to 3,000 graduates, including some of the province’s most innovative tourism entrepreneurs, are alumni of Capilano’s faculty of tourism and outdoor recreation. Many remain connected to Capilano and host work practicums and field trips.
Jon Burak is one such grad.
A graduate in the mid-1990s, what drew him to the program was his search for outdoor work, he said.
“The connections in the course, the people I met and the experiences I had confirmed that that’s what I wanted to do,” he said.
He went on to be a raft guide for 13 years and then founded Mountain Life magazine, along with another graduate, and is currently hosting three students who are undertaking their work practicums.
Burak said he believes giving people who want to work in the outdoors the opportunity to get an education that can help make that happen for them is what makes the course unique.
And he gained life-long friends from the program.
“It was awesome — I met some of my best friends in the world. That’s the other thing: You really tend to bond with people in those experiences.”
To maintain the momentum of the program, it must continually evolve to reflect the changing times, said Kim McLeod, the chair of the faculty of tourism and outdoor recreation.
“Our program is heavily focused on graduating students who are forward thinking and are helping the industry to move forward into the future... to do this we are continually keeping updated with what is going on in the industry.”
She pointed to recent additions to the program — a climate change course and Project Change, which focuses on sustainability and has evolved into a province-wide initiative.
“We have been leaders in taking this notion of Project Change and getting students out there to change the industry and to change the world in a positive way,” she said.
Capilano University has plans to host a 40th anniversary event in October.
For more information, go to www.capilanou.ca/tourism.