Stability for us like everything, was like shifting sand
The Rocky Ridge Ranch worked fairly smoothly for awhile, but there were some underlying difficulties of a philosophical nature. They were an evangelical Christian facility, and were never totally in tune with what we were trying to do, nor us with them. The concept of leadership was a case in point. They did not understand our concept of involving our students in decision making, feeling that staff were the leaders and should lead, and students should be made to follow and not question. We wanted students to feel free to speak up, and question, and problem solve. This did not fit their vision or values. Clashes with them steadily increased and our relationship deteriorated. It came to a head, when one of our students, left a candle burning in a cabin, which caused some minor damage. This happened at a time, when there was significant tension, so It finally was decided that Doug Jacques and John would trade sites for the next semester. By then, both Doug and John were happy to make the switch. Doug had been having some difficulties with the Oakville scouters over property usage. The major problem there, was, that the camp property was actually owned by the next door gravel pit, and the pit was slowly expanding into the camp, and would eventually eat it up.
The search for a new home was on again, and we eventually came to terms, with a lovely Latvian church facility, Sidrabene, located in North Burlington, our final and most stable home. We had a great relationship with the Latvian community, and it’s very accommodating site manager, Peter Kusmanis, who lived on site. There was a river that ran through the property, and some great-forested areas, that fit our program needs, as well as buildings suitable for our day to day teaching and overnight programs. The program at Rocky Ridge didn’t fare much better with Doug, and we eventually were forced to look elsewhere. We did find a temporary second site at the Kelso conservation area, before finding a more stable facility, at another Scout site, Mount Nemo scout camp, and Doug moved his program there. We were then able to carry on, more or less as usual.
As stable as we thought we were, in 1994, during the Mike Harris Conservative government in Ontario, education programs were being slashed everywhere, due to financial restraints. Staff were one day, out of the blue, told by our principal, that Bronte Creek was going to be cut by the Halton Board, even though we were pretty self sufficient financially. Students, alumni and supportive parents were upset and a meeting was called, to see what could be done. Over 200 people turned out for that meeting. It was decided, to form a committee made up of four students and four parents to make a presentation to the board of education. Tony Gabriel, a CFL hall of fame player, whose daughter was in the program, was one of the members of that committee.
On the night of the presentation, the board conference room was filled with supporters and, there was such a crowd, they had to establish an overflow room with a video conferencing TV. When the meeting was called to order though, the doors to the board room opened up and the overflow group filed in, wanting to see the meeting live. They surrounded the u-shaped room, standing peacefully and quietly listening. Pretty much all were students, many wearing their T-shirts and other BCP gear. The presenters did a great job, and the board was convinced, that the program should live to fight another day. It was clear that they were shocked by the level of support for the program, as were the program staff.
Following that, staff had to get a bit creative around finances. We began charging our students $200 each for the semester, which covered their daily meal and the wilderness trip at the end of the semester. It was about that time, that we also got into the rotation of the school groups from Elgin, taking turns, running nights at a local bingo hall. Not the most environmentally friendly environment for students, but our share of the proceeds certainly helped.
In 1999, after 20 years running the program, John McKillop decided to retire. Mike Craig, a queens university teaching grad, who had worked as an auxiliary staff with John for a number of years, was named to replace him. Mike had to teach one course in the classroom in order to be eligible for the job, as the opening had to be advertised internally. Brenda Kearney was the Lord Elgin Principal at the time, and she was able to facilitate this move. Mike was a very creative and experienced staff member and was the most natural choice for this job.