Cheakamus Centre

Squamish Success Stories: Education

Now in its 49th year, Cheakamus Centre is a special place that continues to inspire thousands of learners of all ages and transform countless lives through time spent in nature. The Centre is located in Paradise Valley, on 165 hectares of ecological reserve along the banks of the Cheakamus River. Unique features include ancient cedars, a teaching hatchery and network of restored spawning channels, large numbers of wintering bald eagles, a small farm, edible gardens and honeybees. All provide unique learning experiences for students.

Formerly named and fondly remembered by many as the “North Vancouver Outdoor School”, Cheakamus Centre is a well-loved tradition. The Centre hosts over 15,000 visitors annually from the Sea to Sky, Lower Mainland and beyond. The renowned overnight field school immerses students in nature-based activities that instill a sense of respect and appreciation for the natural world. Skw’une-was, another time-honoured program developed in conjunction with Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Elders in the 80’s, shares some of the traditional daily activities of the Ch’iyáḵmesh people. At the longhouse, cultural interpreters, parents, teachers and students engage in a variety of pursuits. Even as adults, people frequently talk about these overnight learning experiences as highlights of their school careers. What started in 1969 as one teacher’s idea to get kids outside, in a then little-known town of Squamish, is emerging as a centre of excellence for outdoor education and a welcoming place for gathering and sharing in nature. 

Cheakamus Centre also hosts visitors from around the world for special events, conferences, meetings and retreats. The Centre has received numerous provincial, national, and international awards for their education programs and for leadership in green building with the LEED Platinum BlueShore Environmental Learning Centre.

At the heart of Cheakamus is the place and people. Talented staff and volunteers are passionate about outdoor education and preserving the natural beauty and health of the community for future generations. And community-minded education partners facilitate opportunities for secondary and post-secondary students to participate in conservation projects.

Another source of pride is the great numbers of salmon presently spawning on property as the result of over three decades of partnership efforts to restore salmon habitat. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Squamish Nation, Squamish Watershed Society and a community of friends have been working together on the salmon project since 1981. As a result of these successful partnerships, Cheakamus Centre has the most restored side-channels in the Squamish Watershed.

Cheakamus Centre teacer Heidi Lessman Simm shares that “this unique outdoor classroom enables students to become immersed in place-based learning and make lifelong connections with the environment.” Fellow teacher Teresa Rowley concurs and states, “understanding how we are interconnected with nature also provides for an important way for youth to better understand themselves and our community.” Both teachers are not only responsible for instruction but are also leading curriculum enhancements that demonstrate how Cheakamus Centre offerings mesh with BC’s new educational curriculum.

All of the program staff and facilitators continue to build on the visionary dreams and hard work of people who believed in what Cheakamus Centre could become. The group has an ambitious vision for campus renewal and new partnership initiatives to ensure a sustainable legacy for generations to come.

"As we look forward to the next chapter in Cheakamus Centre's long and rich history, there has never been a more exciting time to be in Squamish. To celebrate, each May our Open House hosts thousands of members of the Squamish community, including current and former students. This year marks our 49th anniversary, and we invite you and your friends and family to join us on Sunday, May 6th."

Gini "Juniper" Beaumont, Cheakamus Centre Program Manager