Thursday, September 01, 2016

Jim Robertson on his retirement

As this mere player leaves the stage …
Looking back on 31 years in Waskasoo Park

Paraphrased and cribbed shamelessly from an article by Martin Edwards

Shakespeare’s As You Like It features a speech by the melancholy Jacques on the seven ages of mankind. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” he begins, and reflects on the seven-stage journey from infancy to old age. With 31 years under my belt in my current job, I think there were also seven stages of my time at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and with the entire Waskasoo Park Interpretive Program.

First, there was the honeymoon, when I had seemingly infinite goodwill, momentum, political support, and thus had the maximum opportunity for creating the best urban park interpretive program that I could. This was so refreshing! After leaving the oh-so-political bureaucracy of the national parks, all of a sudden the whole of my political world was in support. City Council and senior administration, even our local provincial and federal politicians loved what was happening in Waskasoo Park. Some even came to have their pictures taken here!

The second stage was resistance. Maybe I was oblivious or just lucky, but apart from the hard dollars-and-cents issues that plague anyone working in the real world, I never noticed great resistance to what we tried to do here. Going to cost-recovery programming met some opposition, but has since proved to be our salvation. Originally, everything we did in the interpretive program was free of charge. We now raise fully one third of our budget, and that enables us to do so much more than simply keep the doors open and the lights on.

After resistance came building. We did the first revamp of Fort Normandeau’s exhibits in 1990, when the park interpretive program took over the operation of the fort, and then completely replaced them in 2013–2014. We expanded the Nature Centre twice, first in 1989 and again in 2000, and did two interim exhibit renewals before completely redoing them last year. Our staff numbers have increased over the years, in part from the support of the City and largely due to our “self-generated revenue”. This is what pays for the approximately 800 programs we deliver every year.

The fourth stage has been embedding the successes. This was when achievements were fixed in place and, through policy, board development, repetition, and collaboration with our partners, became part of the organisation’s DNA and what the community expected of us.

To be honest, the fifth stage was boredom. We brought in the changes, won the battles, built and embedded. I then asked “what now?” The thought of another year of developing and monitoring our budget, supervising ordinary day-to-day operations, and changing light bulbs didn’t appeal to me. I did look around for other possible jobs, but I’m glad I didn’t leave, because I would have missed out on the sixth, innovative stage: renewal.

I was able to use this time to challenge the organisation—and myself—to reach for new heights. While I was very happy with how the Waskasoo Park Interpretive Program got started, it has been the renewal stage that I am most proud of today. We have re-invented ourselves as a stand-alone society, separate from the Museum and the City. I went back to school and—with support from the Normandeau Society (now WEES)—got my MA in Environmental Education. We have replaced all the old, outdated exhibits with ones better suited to today with modern messaging. Our programs are well received. Our nature preschool program was a cutting-edge program when it started, and is still a model for similar new programs. Our finances are sound. City Council and administration are still happy with us. The NOVA Imagination Grove and the Kiwanis Harmony Garden are amazingly successful. Structures and trails in the Sanctuary are being rebuilt, and the interpretive signage along the Waskasoo Park trails is being renewed.

Finally, there is a seventh stage. I’m unsure what it is yet. I would like to think that I could cycle past boredom again into another time of renewal, thus delaying the final stage. There is still so much to be done. The interpretive signage in the Sanctuary and throughout Waskasoo Park has to be replaced. Our programs always need to be tweaked, and sometimes need wholesale replacement as Alberta Education changes its curriculum. Parts of our new exhibits could be improved upon. I’d love to see our self-generated funding increase further, so that we could expand the operating season at Fort Normandeau and bring in some special expertise at the Nature Centre.

But I could be wrong. It might be the seventh age according to Jacques: decrepitude, when the years of toil have taken their toll on the player and it is time to leave the stage and go without fear into the calm pastures beyond. Everyone has a “best-before” date. I see that we now have a strong team in place to continue to build on the foundation we’ve created since 1985. I’m happy to step aside and watch where fresh new ideas and energy take the Waskasoo Park Interpretive Program. Besides, I still have things to do, places to go, and people to see. I’d better get on with it before decrepitude seriously sets in.

There will be a goodbye drop-in reception for Jim from 3:00 to 5:00 on Friday September 2nd in the 
Nature Centre.

Jim at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre opening in 1986.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Coming up in January

The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour may have sold out, but there are still plenty of things going on in around around the Kerry Wood Nature Centre. Here are some highlights:

  • There's still just time to sign up for our Youth Survival/Leave No Trace workshop on Saturday the 9th. Registration closes on Thursday the 7th for this fun and informative look at winter camping for youths ages 11 - 15.
  • Learn about the winter sky with Family Planetarium on Sunday the 10th. $3 person/$10 family. Show starts at 1 pm.
  • Kids 5 years and under and their caregivers can learn about nature through songs, hands-on exploration, and interactive walks on Earth Play Saturday, January 16th. Things start at 10:30 am; $5 per couple/ $10 family of five.
  • Learn to repurpose sweaters with our Fantastic Felt Workshop on Sunday, January 23rd. Preregistration is required by January 21. 1 - 4 pm; $15 + GST members/ $17 + GST non-members. All materials are provided.
  • Feel like just getting out for a stroll? Come down For Random Snowshoeing on the 17th and the 30th. 1 - 4 pm; $3 person/$10 family. Dress for the weather, and please no high heels on boots.
Have questions about our events or workshops? Call us at 403-346-2010, drop us an e-mail at, or as us on Twitter (@NatureCentre) or Facebook!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Myrna Pearman book signing

Backyard Bird Feeding-An Alberta Guide;
Book signing by author Myrna. Pearman
Sunday, December 20 at 3:30 to 4:30 pm
Kerry Wood Nature Centre.

Meet Myrna and have your copy of
Backyard Bird Feeding- signed by her.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Once again, the Kerry Wood Nature Centre is taking part in Bower Place's Red & White Night charity shopping event this year. On the evening of November 22nd, the mall will only be open to people who have bought tickets to the event. It's a great way to do some Christmas shopping without fighting the crowds.

Charities receive a percentage of all the tickets they sell, so we ask that if you are interested in going, please pick up your tickets from us at the Nature Centre, or call 403-346-2010. Thanks in advance!

Friday, August 07, 2015

New Exhibit Update

As of today, our thirty year old permanent displays have been closed down and will be dismantled to prepare for the construction of new displays. The building itself, including the Bookstore, Theatre, and Discovery Room, will still be open, and of course the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary is always available for quiet nature observation.

Our new displays are scheduled to open October 31st, 2015. Watch this space, Facebook, and Twitter for updates on construction progress!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Our summer team

Yes, that was our summer staff for Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Fort Normandeau that you may have seen taking pictures (and, um, doing performance art) around the park system today. Looks like a great team this year, and I think we're all raring to go...

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Concern, Care, and Communication

Here at the Nature Centre we recognise that we are extremely fortunate to work adjacent to 300 acres of stunningly beautiful, natural habitat. We also recognise that the students at the local schools, and our neighbours in surrounding neighbourhoods share in this good fortune.

Imagine if you as a kid, had access to a place like the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary. There are cool, dark forests; wide-open, bright grasslands; and of course the two lakes. All of these habitats work together to provide food, shelter, and habitat for the plants and animals that share them. You would have access to a place that has the ability to be either peaceful and serene, or vibrant and dramatic. It is a place that is good for nature, good for the community, good for the soul.

We take our stewardship of the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary extremely seriously. We are charged with ensuring that the environments remain healthy, that the plants and animals are free to live their lives with minimal interference, and that the activities that take place in the Sanctuary are complementary to its well-being. We also strive to get as many people as possible outside and in nature.

We also want to ensure that as many people, of all ages, from all walks of life have the chance to enjoy the Sanctuary. We want people walking the trails. We want people using the viewing decks and the bird blind. We want people taking pictures, recording sounds, drawing and painting what they see, and immersing themselves in the experience of being in nature.

Over the past week one of our structures, the south viewing deck located behind Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive Highschool, was extensively vandalised. Beginning on Monday April 20, graffiti began to appear. We started photo-documenting the damage and posted the images to Facebook and Twitter; being very careful to not jump to conclusions about who may or may not be creating the damage. On Thursday morning April 23 we installed a motion-detecting, wildlife camera in a tree, overlooking the south viewing deck. At that time we again documented the existing graffiti.

On Friday, April 24 we took down the camera, documented the new graffiti that appeared while it was in place, and went back to the Nature Centre to look at the images. What we saw was a number of groups of teenagers, on the viewing deck, during school hours. These groups of people were the only people recorded on the deck during the period when new vandalism appeared. When we zoomed in on the images we saw scenes of people stashing things under the deck - we have since recovered a pipe used to smoke marijuana - and scenes of people using these items to smoke something, on the deck. Again, all during hours that school is in session.

On Monday of this week, we met with the LTCHS administration team to show them the images and try to work a solution to this problem. One of our larger concerns - and theirs - was that kids have been recorded breaking the law and then returning to class under the influence of an illicit substance. The Thurber team identified the people in the images as Thurber students, agreed that this was a serious issue, and that these actions, combined with the vandalism showed that the school wasn't being a good neighbour. Sadly the actions of a few kids were making 1700 students, their teachers, and the administration look really bad.

We left the meeting with assurances from the admin team that they would deal with the issue appropriately, have meeting with the students who were recorded on the deck, and set some ground rules for what students can and cannot do during school hours.

Please understand, this isn't about the Nature Centre staff trying to get people in trouble. We deliberately decided not to release the images we recorded, to the public. We don't want to shame people publicly, or have anybody take it upon themselves to deliver reprisals. This is about keeping the Gaetz Lakes Sanctuary as a place where everybody can go to enjoy nature. Preschool children from our preschool and the two neighbouring preschools use the Sanctuary during school hours. Seniors walk the trails during the day. We want all our visitors to use the Sanctuary appropriately and not put other users in an comfortable, dangerous, or adversarial position.

We are not in a position to comment on the announcement from Thurber admin. We appreciate them taking the situation seriously and attempting to assist us in solving this issue. If you would like to help us, please talk to your kids, to your friends and family, and to us about how best to enjoy the natural jewel that sits in the heart of our community.

And if you have any sandpaper, give us a call. We have some clean-up work to do.

All the best
The Kerry Wood Nature Centre team