The McQueen Lake Environmental Education Centre was originally conceived in the late 1960s as the brainchild of a group of teachers, fish and game club members, and Rotarians. A short drive from Kamloops, the center is tucked away in the trees. Surrounded by woods, lakes and grasslands, it provides students with the opportunity to connect with nature as they explore the outdoors, learn survival skills, and separate from electronics. Students come for day trips as well as overnight trips.
Built primarily by volunteer labour and donations, most of the centre’s log buildings have no electricity or running water. This rustic approach is deliberate, as it forces students to unplug. The sleeping cabins, once heated by wood stoves, are now warmed by propane and furnished with hand-constructed bunks. For added comfort, students and users are expected to bring their own mattresses and sleeping bags. An original cabin from 1969 has been restored and is used for demonstrations on pioneer life. Bread bakes in a wood-fired oven while students learn about life in the early 1900’s.
Although replete with basic elements, the centre does offer some high technology. Electricity is provided by two giant solar panels that track the sun across the sky. The panels provide most of the energy needed during the summer months; the remainder is supplemented by a generator. One of the few buildings with electricity is the centre’s washhouse. Coupled with running water, the high tech washhouse features composting toilets.
Each group of students is expected to be self-sufficient. Water is pumped by hand and carried to the kitchen in buckets. Students cook, clean up after themselves, make their beds, and sweep their cabin floors. As they further their independence, students learn navigational and ecology skills. They hike, explore the lake edge, and learn about the area’s ecosystem.
They take photos, watch birds and learn about local plants. A system of trails has been developed through the area, including a fully accessible trail around Isobel Lake. Students learn how to use a compass, read a map, and follow GPS co-ordinates. During the winter months, students learn how to ski and snowshoe. After spending their day outside, they gather in the dining hall and warm up next to the fire.
Creating lasting relationships and interpersonal skills is a further benefit to time spent at McQueen Lake. Leadership students retreat to the centre to learn about themselves and how to connect to others. They learn cooperation and self-confidence as they go over the centre’s obstacle course. They work together and — without the constant stimulation of cellphones and the isolation of head phones — they connect.
McQueen Lake Environmental Education Centre has served over a quarter of a million guests since it first opened. Lessons learned here resonate; students remember their visit as an experience they will never forget.