Coming Together: An Idea that Had Been Developing for a Long Time.
For the past 60 years, many Canadians have dreamed about creating an umbrella organization that would represent the many practitioners and organizations that promote the enjoyment and integrity of our incredible natural environments.
Throughout the years, several groups have banded together to address issues of risk management standards, access to crown lands, shortage of trained staff, and negative public perceptions towards outdoor activities.
However, most of these initiatives were short-lived because they lacked the resources and support necessary to tackle these complex issues.
In the early 2000s, a terrible accident in Rogers Pass (British Columbia) claimed the lives of 7 high school students, and another the lives of 2 Calgary students on a hiking trip in California. These tragedies created a ripple effect within the entire outdoor community and many stakeholders were affected in a negative manner.
As a result, new regulations appeared, some school boards were canceling their outdoor programs, service providers were being questioned about their policies and outdoor leaders were facing more and more challenges.
One Organization Takes a Stand and Makes a Generous Offer
In the fall of 2008, Kurt Kinnear, the Director of the Outdoor Centre at the University of Calgary, approached Albi Sole to see if he would consider spending a large portion of his Outdoor Centre Centre hours creating a national organization that would promote low-risk education and activity in outdoor environments. For the next six years, the Outdoor Centre team relieved Albi of some of his responsibilities so that he could be available to do this important work.
Albi began the process of consulting local and national stakeholders. This consultation process revealed that:
- Many people across the country saw the need for action.
- There was a need to create national initiatives that would support providers of outdoor activities.
- There was a need to create a national certification process for beginner outdoor leaders.
The need was obvious, the energy was present, the resources were available, and the time was now.
November 22nd, 2008
On a clear and windy Saturday, 21 leaders, representing K-12 public and private education, post-secondary education, summer camps, outdoor experiential education, certification bodies, adventure therapy, land managers, and outdoor enthusiasts came together in Calgary to discuss the challenges faced by the outdoor community and propose solutions.
The founders decided to create a nationally incorporated organization called the ‘Outdoor Council of Canada’/ le ‘Conseil canadien de plein-air’. To ensure the Council would be focused on serving the interest of the wider community, the ‘owners’ would be individual practitioners. The mission of the council would be to promote and enable accessible education and recreation in the outdoors.
Full of hope, this group of volunteers set out to create the necessary structures that would support the growth of such an organization.
More than just courses, the OCC is about people
Little by little, this small group of outdoor leaders grew far and wide. Motivated individuals created strong regional groups in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia and the Yukon. Organizations such as the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Capilano University, and Hike Nova Scotia saw the value in the OCC and became active collaborators.
None of this growth could have been possible without the direct and active support of the Outdoor Center at the University of Calgary. For seven years, the Outdoor Center respected their commitment to the OCC. Eventually, Albi retired from the Outdoor Center and dedicated himself completely to the growth of the OCC. We wish to extend our deepest gratitude to the Outdoor Center. Their essential financial support was paramount in our early years.
To this day, the OCC is still growing with increasing interest from all over the country. Discussions with other organizations are ongoing. The OCC is constantly looking for concrete ways in which it can work with others to promote high-quality experiences in the outdoors. We are engaged in meaningful partnerships with many organizations.
The first success
In less than 18 months, the OCC had already reached key objectives. The first Annual General Meeting was successfully held, a board was elected and the Curriculum Committee was created. This committee, composed of outdoor experts living throughout the country, was responsible for the development of courses for entry-level outdoor leaders.
In May 2010, the first version of the Field Leader course was run with a small group of outdoor practitioners. This course, built upon the shared wisdom of decades of outdoor experience, offers a simple, yet comprehensive package highlighting the most important practices to be an effective outdoor leader.
Over the next year, the course was honed and improved. This inspired the creation of the Field Leader program, a series of six courses that provide leadership training in hiking, paddling, navigation, equine, winter, and overnight trips.
Over the next five years, the Field Leader courses would be delivered by more than 150 instructors to more than 1200 outdoor leaders across the country.
Since its inception, the Field Leader program’s flexible and unifying concepts have played an essential role in developing a common language across the country and setting the foundation for the development of a strong outdoor community.
From certifying body to industry association serving a community
After reaching their tenth year of operation, it was time for the OCC to look beyond the Field Leader program. The courses were amazing at empowering individuals from all walks of life to deliver quality experiences outside. However, increasing the leadership knowledge of individuals who bring groups outside was not enough to truly accomplish the mission of the OCC.
Outdoor programs and outdoor leaders were facing many structural barriers hindering their ability to bring people outdoors. These barriers led to significant negative impacts on Canadian society as all outdoor programs contribute to sustainable economic growth, strengthen the people-nature connection, promote mental health resilience, deepen the connection to self, reinforce healthy living habits, and support community ties. The OCC knew it had the ability to do something about these barriers and added removing these structural barriers to its area of focus.
In 2018, the OCC brought together a collective of leaders in the outdoor community to design and implement the first ever Canadian Outdoor Summit. This project was an epic, national, historic project to co-create a reality where outdoor programs can thrive and be appreciated for their true worth. It enabled the creation of a more unified national outdoor community.
The Summit was intended to conclude in the fall of 2020. The COVID pandemic brought an extension of the project into 2022. From the Summit, a series of frameworks were created by the outdoor community for the outdoor community. You can find these documents on our website.
Following the Summit, the OCC continued its efforts to address structural barriers and engage with partners to leverage each organization’s expertise and achieve our common goals. You will find a description of our current projects on this page.
Although the future is impossible to predict, we have reasons to be hopeful. Much has been done since November 2008 and much remains to be done. It is with renewed excitement that OCC members and staff are working on rewriting the story of how we go outdoors in Canada.
With all the challenges and successes ahead of us, the only question that matters is; will you be part of that story?