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Forest wardens last chapter in BC

Outdoor program teaches conservation and wilderness survival
Forest wardens last chapter in BC

by Kyle Wells Powell River’s Junior Forest Wardens chapter started as one of the first in BC and it is now the very last as it heads into its 67th year of teaching youth the wonders and responsibilities of the outdoors.

Junior Forest Wardens are youth aged anywhere from around the age of 10 and up who, along with parent volunteers and organizers, learn about wilderness through educational sessions and camping trips. All of the organization’s outdoor programs are run out of its camp near Lois Lake where the youth learn about wilderness survival and conservation.

The forest wardens started in 1929 after an article appeared in an outdoor magazine about a group of boys on Bowen Island who formed a club and managed to discover and help put out a forest fire. The story inspired other children from across BC to get involved. At first 300 boys were appointed in various communities as Junior Fire Rangers and were made representatives of the Canadian Forestry Association.

In 1931 the name changed to Junior Forest Wardens to avoid confusion with municipal fire departments. Local forest warden clubs began to form in the late 1930s due to the interest of the young people involved.

One of the earliest clubs started in Powell River. With the help of Al Chard from the Powell River Company’s engineering department, the club formed in 1944 and held its first meeting in the spring of that year. At their first meeting the inaugural members met at Brooks High School to watch a film and listen to a talk from forest wardens chief warden Bill Myring. The next day the members, with help from local high school students, planted 10,000 trees at a site just west of the pulp and paper mill.

By the end of the 1950s the club had expanded to Cranberry Lake, Malaspina and Grief Point. A club for girls had been started too, called the Girl Forest Guards. In the 1970s the girls’ group joined with the boys group to make the Powell River Junior Forest Wardens a co-ed organization.

At its peak there were 82 junior forest warden clubs in BC. Now there is only Powell River’s. There are around 30 clubs in Alberta, which is the provincial association Powell River’s chapter is now joined with. There is also one chapter in Saskatchewan and two in Newfoundland.

The wardens meet every Wednesday night at Edgehill Elementary School where they work on completing programs that earn them badges and elevate their status through ranks. These meetings also feature a guest speaker who addresses the members about a topic related to the outdoors. Members then finish off the meetings with a game. Supervisor Tom Oldale described the group as similar to Scouts Canada but less regimented.

Registration for the junior wardens usually starts soon after the school year begins and the season runs until the end of April. Members go to the forest warden’s camp typically once a month for programs and a longer, two-night campout marks the end of the season. Some members stay with the group long enough to become junior leaders or eventually to move on to become supervisors. The size of the group changes from year to year but Oldale said this year in particular they have a large group.

Members focus on four main areas of outdoor recreation: forestry, ecology, outdoor skills and leadership. Oldale said the children learn a lot about wilderness survival with the group. One of their main projects is to put together a survival kit and once a year go into the woods for a survival campout. This involves three or four members going off on their own, never far from the main camp, to build their own lean-to and spend the night out in the woods with only what they have in their survival kit.

“They’re very good,” said Oldale. “I’m amazed at some of the kids at nine, 10 years old and they stay out overnight and sleep out there.”

One of the main points of the group is to teach the members to work together, whether it be during campouts or during games. Forest conservation is another focus and the Warden Code revolves around treating the earth in such a way that future generations are not punished or deprived of the outdoors because of our doings.

Oldale attributes the longevity and survival of the Powell River chapter to the commitment of the supervisors and organizers. For his part, Oldale has been with the organization for nearly 30 years, as has his fellow supervisor Mickey McCracken. Oldale became involved when his youngest son joined the group and has been there ever since. Parents in general have been a big part in keeping the organization going by donating time and effort to maintain the camp and keep the program running.

Among the most important and enjoyable aspects of the program, said Oldale, is giving the younger members a chance to work with and learn from the older members who have gone on to become junior leaders. Having the older youth to look up to gives the younger members a goal to work toward and a chance to learn from someone nearer to their age than their parents.

“I think the kids relate to these older supervisors,” said Oldale, “where it’s not just adults telling them all the time. When they do their lessons or whatever it be, the junior leaders sit down with them and help them and teach with them.”

Recent renovations to the camp have helped to ensure its continuation into the future. There are four cabins at the camp and all are in the process of being renovated or rebuilt. The old cookhouse cabin had to be torn down due to a bat infestation and thanks to donated materials, mostly scrounged up by president Wilma Quaye from local businesses, and labour, the organization rebuilt the cookhouse last year. Work is now ongoing to rebuild the sleeping cabins.

This year’s program is nearly full but anyone looking for information on the junior forest wardens can call Oldale at 604.485.4108.