Academics, community members and donors gathered at the Thompson Rivers University Wells Gray Research and Education Centre (WGREC) on Thursday (June 2) for the unveiling of the “wall of recognition.” The event and wall honoured those who donated their time, money and efforts into making the facility a reality.
The centre was officially opened in November 2021, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a ceremony was held virtually by key university and community leaders. The site includes buildings from the Upper Clearwater schoolhouse on a five-hectare lot of land donated by Trevor Goward and Helen Knight.
The 500 hectares of Crown land bordering the property is officially designated for educational and research purposes, and many trails leading from the WGREC go through Wells Gray Provincial Park.
A few dozen people attended the event, and many of took the podium to speak, including Rachel Bowser, Simpcw First Nation cultural coordinator, Amanda Celesta, SFN councillor, Clearwater Mayor Merlin Blackwell, local author and naturalist Trevor Goward and Odette Dempsey-Caputo, speaking on behalf of her husband federal MP Frank Caputo.
Blackwell, who worked in Wells Gray Park for over 30 years, said a person learns a lot from working in the park, such as tourism, business, marketing and climate change, and is happy to see TRU students will get the opportunity to do so with the facility.
“All of the miracles and wonders of nature that my family, my staff experienced over the years, there’s going to be students that get to experience that as well,” he said. “The park itself, it’s definitely a teacher. You can’t come here without being inspired by the awe and wonder of the place.”
Dr. Tom Dickinson, TRU emeritus professor and former dean of science, spoke to the crowd, providing a history of the land, facility and program, making note of many people who had donated their time, money and efforts to help make the facility a reality. Other university members, including TRU president and vice chancellor Dr. Brett Fairburn and current dean of science Dr. Gregory Anderson, made speeches as well.
“I do think for me, as an educator, one of my primary ideas about this facility is to allow students to be immersed in a learning environment that isn’t a classroom, somewhere where they can touch, feel, smell and learn with their senses and learn on the land,” said Anderson. “Create this experience that gets them excited about science, to be a better scientist, to take that into their learning and move forward with that and become productive citizens and espouse the wonderful education that they had here.”
Other presentations took place, including the gift of a painting of an eagle by Robert Bateman and a map that was coloured topographically by local artist Doris Laner.
Afterwards, Goward took the mic to talk about climate change and wilderness trails, which he has actively followed and mapped out around the facility.
“Some of the oldest trails that were placed there are still in use today,” he said. “My thesis is that this TRU wilderness centre is situated in such a way that it could become a nexus, it could become a node, it could become a real centre that is known internationally and this trail system will help that happen.
It was also announced at the event that Canadian volcanologist Catherine Hickson, who’s PhD thesis was written about the volcanic history of Wells Gray Park, donated an additional $52,300 to the TRU facility to purchase additional teaching materials, trail signage and to keep the trails in good working order, among other things.
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