Friday, 11 December 2015

Giving Tuesday at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Historic Fort Normandeau

Tuesday, December 1st is known as Giving Tuesday and is the opening day of the giving season; a time to celebrate and encourage activities that support charities and non-profits. This Giving Tuesday, we wanted to highlight some of the great work Alberta museums are doing in their communities, and to encourage support for these institutions through the Robert R. Janes Award for Social Responsibility. We spent the day in Red Deer getting to know the 2015 recipient of the Robert R. Janes Award for Social Responsibility: the KerryWood Nature Centre and Historic Fort Normandeau

A little background before we get into our adventures: The Robert R. Janes Award for Social Responsibility supports and furthers the work of museums that are solving community issues and promoting health and well-being through programs that affect real social and environmental change. Recipients are awarded $3000 to put towards investigating why their programs are so successful and modelling these successes for other museums in Alberta through a one-day workshop. As the third recipient of the Janes Award, Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Historic Fort Normandeau will host a workshop  in the spring of 2016 to share their experiences with other museum professionals.
Accepting the Robert R. Janes Award for Social Responsibility at the Alberta Museums Association 2015 Conference
We arrived at the Nature Centre in the morning ready to explore. Our hosts Jim Robertson, Executive Director and Todd Nivens, Program Coordinator did not disappoint, providing a day of discovery, learning, and sharing that we shared on Twitter under the hashtags #GivingTuesdayCA and #MuseumsEngage.
Welcome to the Kerry Wood Nature Centre
The Kerry Wood Nature Centre and Historic Fort Normandeau are located on the banks of the Red Deer River. Historic Fort Normandeau is just to the west of the Red Deer at the point where First Nations, Metis, and Europeans gathered to cross the river before the railway between Calgary and Edmonton was completed. The Kerry Wood Nature Centre is on the eastern edge of Red Deer between the river and the Gaetz Lake Bird Sanctuary. Fort Normandeau is closed in the winter, but we got a great summary from Jim and Todd of the reconciliation and cultural renewal work being done with local First Nations and Metis, and we are excited to experience the site in the spring.


The Centre’s enthusiasm for and involvement with the community was evident in every conversation we had. Discussions of past projects flowed into plans for future development as we met with a number of the Centre’s partners.

The City of Red Deer’s Environmental Services Department  described the City’s Environmental Master Plan and the support the Nature Centre provides in promoting programs that encourage citizens to reduce waste, increase energy and efficiency, and be more environmentally conscious overall. One of the most exciting (and topical!) collaborations was the Christmas Light Exchange. Residents of Red Deer were encouraged to bring their old strings of incandescent outdoor lights to the Nature Centre to be recycled and, in return, receive a new string of energy efficient LED lights. Between 2009 and 2014, the program collected enough strings of lights to run the reclaimed copper wire from Red Deer to Vancouver, a distance of nearly 1100 km. Even more impressive is the fact that the program is no longer in operation – because it is no longer needed! After five years, nearly all the incandescent lights in the city have been replaced with efficient LED lights.  
CARE Offices
At the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) we learned about the development of camping and literacy programs that introduce new Canadians to nature and outdoor recreation. A literacy pilot project at the Centre offers space for English language classes. Running at the same time is a nature-based childcare program, so children can enjoy three hours of hands-on, exploratory learning in the outdoors while their parents attend class. Families can attend introduction to camping programs that teach the basics of pitching a tent, building fires, and other survival skills, and then apply these skills during a weekend trip to a nearby provincial park. Both CARE and the Centre were obviously passionate about the importance of nature education, and the important role it plays in helping people adjust to a new country and community – and proud, just as we are, of showing off our beautiful, wild province. 

Climbing in the Imagination Grove's natural playground.
As we crossed the city and learned new stories from each partner, it became very clear that every project and plan is rooted in the needs of the Red Deer community. From roving interpreters in Red Deer’s parks, to outdoor children’s programming, the Nature Centre works to remove the physical and psychological barriers to nature and promote a deeper understanding of our place in the environment in the past, present, and future.
Finding music in the Harmony Garden
Before heading back to Edmonton we took some time to explore. We banged out tunes on the musical equipment in the Kiwanis Harmony Garden, climbed trees in Imagination Grove, read a story on the Gaetz Lake path, and crawled through tunnels in the galleries. Inside the galleries, there are wooden books about the environment and Red Deer’s many environmentalists, a subtle homage to the books that made Kerry Wood a famous author. The only technology is a bicycle connected to a video screen that tours Red Deer’s river valley parks as you pedal. 

Exploring the Red Deer River park system in all weather.

We really got into the new exhibits
In the coming months, we will be working with Jim and Todd to plan a workshop in June to model how the Centre created, nurtured, and maintained these connections in its community. Keep an eye on museums.ab.ca for details on this hands-on workshop – all we can tell you for now is that you should be prepared to get outside, get dirty, and quite possibly get your feet wet!


Lauren Wheeler, Program Lead
Katrina Peredun, Communications Lead

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