In House Programs

Program Descriptions

All programs at the BOEC are developed in concert with the individual teacher to ensure that the program we offer supports and enhances the curriculum in the class, and meets the needs of the visiting students. These unique learning opportunities offer tremendous growth potential in both personal and academic aspects of a student's life. Authentic, hands-on experiences are offered through the following programs, all of which can be adapted to various grade-levels:

Ecology - The Cornerstone of the BOEC Program Roster

Bird Brains
Spring and fall provide optimum opportunities for observing the diversity of birds that migrate through the Bruce as they are funneled up between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Our bird-brain recruits will use stuffed specimens, binoculars, field guides, and their keen powers of observation to discover the variety of adaptations and lifestyles that exist in bird land. In winter, our resident colour banded chickadee population provides an opportunity to study relationships and population dynamics among our feathered friends. Occasionally local banders can be called in for bird-banding demonstrations, including Saw-Whet Owl banding at night each spring and fall. Project Feeder-Watch can also be incorporated into the regular program.

Bogs and Fens, and Fens and Bogs....!
The poorly drained topography of the Bruce Peninsula and the Lake Huron
shoreline produce the combination of conditions necessary for the development of these unique wetlands. The ecology of these wetlands will be considered with detailed studies of some of the unusual plants such as pitcher plants, heaths, sundews, orchids and sphagnum moss. These areas may also be studied from a geographical perspective with emphasis on history and air photo interpretation, field sketching, map-making and surveying. Issues of preservation, conservation and land use conflicts can be discussed as they relate to areas which are being filled in for cottage development. This topic requires transportation to sites a few kilometers away from the Institute.

Bruce's Caves Visit
A popular off-site trip, a visit to Bruce's Caves is sure to make an impression on your students. This spectacular example of wave formation caves is one of the more popular destinations along the Bruce Peninsula. Students climb, crawl, and explore their way through their visit to the caves. Local lore, geology, and botany weave together to form the story of the caves, from their formation to their protected status of today. The caves make an excellent start to your trip, or can be a fun way to end your three days with us.

Flight - Pop Bottle Rockets
Explore the dynamics of flight by studying the wing structure of various birds, and then put this knowledge to the test in the development of your very own pop bottle rocket! To infinity, and beyond! By applying the scientific method, students are encouraged to narrow down what works in order to create the ultimate flying machine. If time permits, frisbees, kites, boomerangs, other flying apparatus and bird-watching may be incorporated into this lesson.

General Interpretive Hikes
Hikes may be designed for our property or other venues around Grey and Bruce to suit the needs of your class. Topics may include landforms, geology, formation of lakes, wildlife, water, forest resources, settlement history, or ecology. Methods could incorporate games, art, language, science methods, problem-solving, solo-sits, hands-on sensory activities, and/or guided discovery. Depending on the goals of your studies, hikes may also be designed for fitness.

Geology On The Rocks
Do rocks talk? They do if you know how to interpret them! Rocks hold the stories of our origins, and our unfolding history. Collection, classification and identification of specimens of rocks found in the area and elsewhere could be included in this program. Simple tests of hardness, acid reaction and cleavage could be conducted.

Role playing and costumes accompany this hands-on study of the insect life of the BOEC property. Students will gently capture butterflies, dragonflies, ladybeetles, and other insects in nets and bug-sucker traps for close-up inspection before releasing them again. This program is most suitable for younger students, but may be modified to include the skills of collecting, preserving, classifying and identifying insects for older students. Studies can be made of habitats, populations, life cycles, adaptations, relationships with man and the factors influencing populations. Insect studies may be extended to include an evening study of moths.

Instincts for Survival: A Simulation Game
Act like, think like, hunt like, hide like your animal .... become your animal. In this kill or be killed simulation game students are assigned the role of an animal indigenous to our local forest. They are required to take on the role of that animal for just over an hour, hunting or foraging for food and water, avoiding predators and disease, evading the hunter, and participating in that timeless quest for the courtship of a mate. Basic concepts of ecology and interactions within ecosystems are reinforced through this experiential adventure. Kids (and parents) Love This Game!

Lake Study - Freshwater Ecology
A short trek down to the shores of Boat Lake takes you into an underwater world that will delight students of any age. The focus of our studies can be adapted to Diversity of Living Things, Interactions within Ecosystems, Water, Limnology (see below), and various other topics depending on your classroom studies. Regardless of your focus, students will love exploring the underworld of our lake system and seeing the creatures that lurk there!

A detailed study of the water quality of an inland lake with emphasis on the chemical and physical characteristics. An ecological study of the same lake might stress the biological characteristics as they relate to chemical and physical characteristics. Spry Lake, being a marl lake, permits field observations of this unique water environment.

Usually conducted in winter, mammal studies on snowshoes utilize the tracks of mammals to learn details of the mammal's lifestyle and habitat requirements. Furs, bones and additional artifacts are also utilized in this hands-on program to assist students in deducing various pieces of mammal trivia. Students will follow tracks to determine the activities of mammals. Particularly lucky groups will catch glimpses of porcupine in their dens. On occasion local experts may be called in for special demonstrations, including Sabrina the Flying Squirrel.

Maple Syrup Production (and Tasting!...)
Join us in the original Mason Family Sugar Bush at the BOEC to explore traditional and modern techniques of harvesting Maple Syrup. This hands-on half-day program involves students in all stages of production and tasting, from the basics of learning to identify Maple trees to harvesting and boiling down the sap. OR...
Join us at the Saugeen Bluffs Conservation Authority for a demonstration divided into stations where students may experience various facets of a more modern maple syrup operation. Teacher involvement in the instruction of this program is necessary.

Measure Up!
Forest ecology becomes personal in this hands-on study of a small section of the BOEC forest. As a partner organization with ACER, contributing to the Man and the Biosphere UNESCO Biosphere Monitoring Program we maintain a one hectare plot of trees that is intensively studied every five years. Your class will learn various methods for identifying trees, measuring trees, and collecting and recording data. The data may be used as the basis for many math exercises back in class. This data may also be used in conjunction with the study of each pupil's Ecological Footprint. Please also see the ACER website for more details at .

The Niagara Escarpment
A half-day field trip to Bruce Caves, Spirit Rock, and a local quarry introduces students to the geological history of the escarpment and the processes that have changed it and continue to do so.

Plant Biology, Ecology, and Mystery
Have seeds or spores, will travel.....
Ferns, Mosses, Lichen, Fungi, Flowering Plants
We'll be honest. This program hasn't been done for a very long time, but if you have a special interest please be in touch and we'll see what we can put together for your group.

Seasons Hike
This adaptable hike is most often experienced by grade 2 - 4 students studying the passage of the seasons, habitat, and what the seasons mean to animals in their natural habitat. The clues are all around us, it is up to us to read the signals of the forest to determine how the natural community adapts to changing seasons.

Decomposition, dirt, and digging are all words that come to mind when considering soil and its role in our lives. Story-telling, field studies of soil profiles, soil formation processes, and soil textures form the basis of this study. Hands-on activities will demonstrate to students the process of turning rock to soil, and compost to soil. They will meet our red-wiggler friends who turn compost to soil. Participants should expect to get dirty during this program - it's a full immersion experience!

Tree Diversity
The diversity of life in a forest can be studied simply by looking at the variety of trees in any given section of a forest. Tree identification, ecology, and/or the succession and health of a forest can become the focus of this program. Poetry, Native legends, art and science combine to appeal to all learners in their hands-on study of the forest. We'll see the forest AND the trees!

Art in the Outdoors

Poetry in Motion
This new program aims to get students excited about creating poetry Inspired by Nature. By discovering their surroundings and brainstorming ways of expressing what they experience, students are encouraged to create original pieces of poetry in various styles.

Watercolour Painting
Watercolours are the medium, quiet and detailed observation is the goal. Painting a landscape allows us to pause for a few moments to really take in our surroundings and the nuances of colour, light, and interactions within ecosystems. Whether they choose a small scale subject such as a leaf or wildflower, or a wider landscape view students will have a new appreciation for their subject matter after spending some time thinking how to best represent it on the page. This program is best when painting can be done outside, but it can be adapted for inside on rainy days.

Group Building

Co-op Games and Initiatives
Delivered through games and varying levels of challenge, this program encourages your students to develop their "soft", social skills in a supportive atmosphere where fun and group achievement are the ultimate goals. Games and "low-ropes" challenges in our barn will be used, sometimes in combination with other outdoor challenges. This program may be used to set the stage for your three-day stay, or it may be offered as an evening program at the Centre. This program is also available as an Outreach program that can be delivered at your school.

Character Education
Tailored to the needs of your group, our character education program uses a series of games and challenges to develop specific traits identified by you as needing some practice by your students. A targeted approach allows your students to work on developing co-operation, communication, peer support, socialization, and positive feedback skills, among others. By discussing with you ahead of time the challenges faced in your classroom, we will tailor this program and your stay at the BOEC to address the needs of your students. This program is also available as an Outreach program that can be delivered at your school.

Historical Perspectives

The Great Canadian Fur Trade!
This day long adventure introduces students to the history of the Northwest Company and the fur trade as practiced in 1748. Students take the role of the Winter People, Les Hivernants and through the use of map reading, dramatic encounters, actual trading, and the practice of practical skills required of early fur traders students will experience this exciting era in Canada's history for themselves!

Dream Catchers
Weave the story of the dream catcher as your students learn this traditional craft. Dream catchers can be used as part of your native studies program, or as an indoor program to off-set an otherwise active day. Students will learn about the tradition of story-telling in traditional First Nations culture, as well as the use of natural materials from their surroundings illustrating that historically, "where they lived was how they lived". All craft supplies provided.

Fur Trading in the Modern Era
Challenge your students to explore this tradition and modern industry through many eyes. Students will learn about the logistics of trapping, the economic value of trapping, the biology behind trapping decisions, and a bit about the mammals typically trapped in our region. From there students are challenged to discuss the validity of trapping in a modern era, and decide from there how they feel about the industry. This program may be used as a basis for debate, and discussions on resource management, ethics, and decision-making.

Students will explore the use of natural resources, conservation ethics, and traditional crafting through the scraping of hides and crafting with leather. Typically students make a leather pouch for storing their treasures, but for smaller and more advanced groups the making of mittens can also be arranged. Additional charges may result in this case. Students often come away from this program with a greater understanding of and appreciation for the amount of time and work that traditionally went into the crafting of every-day goods.

Native Studies
Our Native Studies program has grown to be multi-faceted, including crafting, games, studies of the landscape, traditional cuisine, traditional shelters, story-telling, and visits to the M'Wikwedong Native Friendship Centre in Owen Sound. This program will be designed around the goals of the group. Evening campfires may also be designed around a traditional theme. With enough notice, special programs such as arranging for traditional dancers, drumming, or a visit from an elder could possibly be arranged. There may be extra costs associated with these visits.

Pioneer Studies
Let our farm-site transport you back to 1872, when the Mason family first arrived, 1886 when they began construction on their barn, or 1907 when their second dwelling was constructed. Students will play pioneer games, participate in traditional crafts, make apple cider or ice cream using the tools of the pioneers, or try their hand as farm-hands using the implements of the day. This hands-on program is most suitable for grade 3 or 4 students, but can be modified for older grades. Some activities are dependent on the season.

Shelter Building
A study of examples of traditional shelters from across Canada and their design jumpstarts the imaginations of your students before they venture out to build shelters of their own. Typically only materials from their surroundings are used in the construction of the shelters.

Spirit Rock and McNeill's Mansion (The Corran)
Alexander McNeill must have been aware of the legend of the Spirit Rock when he chose the site for his wife's new mansion, but it provides an ideal setting for the stories of intrigue that unfolded there over the years. McNeill's career itself was marked by success, and his time in the mansion known as a happy one rich with parties and rose gardens, but in the years since his death the mansion has fallen into disrepair. Although only an outside shell remains of McNeill's Corran, it continues to provides a beautiful backdrop to the history, geology, and tourism potential of this area of the Peninsula. Students will enjoy scrambling around on the rocks, exploring the grounds, and treading down the spiral staircase to the shores of Georgian Bay. A visit to McNeill's is often incorporated with a short hike on the Bruce Trail.

Traditional Fire-Building
As a stand-alone program, or incorporated into various other programs, this experience has it all: it's flashy, daring, and challenging. In the role of Voyageurs or early inhabitants of this region, students are challenged to build their own fire using traditional fire-building methods. Depending on the length of the program bow-drills, flint and steel, and more modern methods may be employed.

Traditional Crafts
Tailored to the needs of your class, this program may include leather-working, rope making, dream-catchers, candle-making, soap making, and the carding and spinning of wool.

Exclusively Winter Programs

Animal Survival In The Snow - Snow Studies
Using various tubes, bottles, jars, and hot water as models, students will learn how various animal adaptations help them to survive Canadian winters, and the challenges they face when winter days give way to warmer weather. Armed with these basic understandings, students will venture outside to study the dynamics of snow. In a season when animal sightings are less likely, this is a great way to illustrate animal adaptations.

Inuit Games
A celebration of winter cannot be complete without acknowledgement of our northern neighbours who thrive in Arctic winter conditions. The Inuit culture is highlighted in this program through a discussion of the changing Arctic landscape and culture, followed by the playing of traditional Inuit games. Students will challenge each other to the walrus race, the char chuck, and the stick and ring game among others. Snow-pants and mittens required!

Winter Wrap-Up!
Warm and snuggly in our winter gear, we will explore the stories of nature as they unfold before us in the snow. This program varies a great deal, depending on what the day brings. Usually travelling on snow-shoes, students will examine various ecosystems, learn to read the signs of life in nature, watch weather patterns change, compare animal activity in various habitats, experience walking on a frozen lake, and/or play games illustrating animal behaviour in winter along the way. Lucky groups will be treated to porcupine sightings. Winter birds will provide entertainment at our feeders and in the woods. Most importantly, students will learn that being outdoors in winter is fun!

Cross-Country Skiing
A set of cross-country ski equipment and a groomed system of trails is waiting for your class at the BOEC! Grades 6 through 12 will enjoy small group instruction using games and practice of technique before hitting the trails with BOEC staff. Explore the winter-wonderland of the forests of the BOEC, search for porcupine, defeat the snow-goblins, and tackle the hills! The level of difficulty of the time on the trails will be tailored to your group. For a more advanced challenge, groups may travel to one of the local ski trails. Additional bus fees, and trail fees apply. Students are welcome to bring their own equipment provided it is functioning and fitted properly.

Deep Freeze - Snow and Ice Studies
Field and laboratory investigations of such factors as depth, temperature, water content, solid particles, compaction and snow crystal classification may be undertaken. The influence of these factors on plants, wildlife, and people are considered.

Ideally adpated for winter travel, snowshoes provide a vehicle for exploring areas that are inaccessible in all but the winter season. Introductory lessons at your school or here at the Institute will explore the history, construction and use of snowshoes. Skill development and practice sessions are followed by hikes through varied terrain.

Evening Programs

Astronomy - the Night Sky Revealed
Love, scandal, bravery, deceit! Dramatic stories play themselves out each night overhead, and yet few of us take the time to gaze upon the celestial characters that populate these legends. Classes in residence or camping at the BOEC frequently experience a trip through the universe first by computer exploration, and then out in the bright star-light of our Dark Sky Preserve. They learn the facts and stories that connect our celestial beings to our seasons, culture, and scientific explorations. Naked eye astronomy might include locating and identifying common constellations and major stars, planets and the moon. Occasionally we are treated with observations of passing satellites and the Aurora Borealis. Binoculars and telescopes can also be used to enhance viewing. Always we are enraptured by the magic of our night skies!

Barn Dance - Yee-haw!
Our barn dance starts off with a review of the pioneering spirit and lifestyle that characterized our area not so long ago. Our 1886 barn is the perfect setting for the practice of pioneer skills and celebratory barn dance. Your entire class will learn some fancy new moves as they do-si-do, see-saw, and promenade their partners around the dance floor!

Campfire programs planned and carried out by students and staff may combine many creative arts - drama, dance, music, story telling, and games. Outdoor campfire pits on the Institute's property sit against backdrops of either deciduous woods or the sandy beaches of Spry Lake from where the setting sun can be viewed. Native studies or the lives of the Voyageurs can form the framework for your campfire depending on your needs back at school.

Owl Prowl - Scholars of the Night
Your students will be mesmerized by these creatures of the night. Examine owl pellets, prowl the forest at night calling for owls, learn about the adaptations of owls that allow them to survive in their habitats, and if you're lucky.... see or hear an owl in its natural habitat! This program varies somewhat depending on the season, and during the spring and fall may mean a chance to see a banded Saw-Whet owl in the hand. Our bird-bander catches owls in mist-nets each evening when conditions are right in March and October. She often brings an owl to meet the students briefly before releasing it to continue on its migration. It is truly magical for the students!

The Ultimate Group Challenge!
This evening program can stand alone or build on group building experiences from earlier in the day. Designed to focus students on working toward a successful end product (an indestructible egg-drop cushion!) by completing various challenges as a group, your students will practice the skills necessary for succeeding in a team-work environment. For students, this program is very "eggciting"!

Outdoor Recreation and Physical Education

Backpacking on the Bruce!
Our location, only a few kilometers drive from many attractions along the Niagara Escarpment and Bruce Trail makes for the perfect staging ground for any back-packing excursion. Day-trips or overnight hiking trips are ideal for older students ready for a challenge. Backpacking is probably the most challenging and demanding style of camping, with all belongings being carried by the camper on their back. The challenge provides a great spring-board for learning about our unique landscape, oneself, and the joy of putting the needs of others before your own. The BOEC provides camping gear, assistance in planning and leadership for backpacking on the Bruce.

Our site provides many options for classes interested in canoeing. Click on the canoe link for more details.

Camping Skills
This open-ended program can be designed with various modules that appeal to the goals of the teacher. It may include trip planning considerations, fire-building (traditional and modern methods), site selection and tent pitching, shelter building, menu planning and food storage, food preparation on camp-stoves and/or campfires, and basic wilderness first aid skills. This program can be adapted to the seasons, and to the level of challenge needed for various age groups.

Fitness Day Hikes
Hikes may be designed for our property or other venues around Grey and Bruce to suit the needs of your class. Our close proximity to the Bruce Trail, and our own trail system means that varying levels of challenge may be addressed depending on the needs of your group. One of our more popular day hikes takes us from Skinner's Bluffs to Bruce's Caves; this hike is roughly 12 km.

Orienteering - Navigation by Map and Compass
The use of map and compass will assist students as they explore the BOEC property, moving from one control station to the next. This sport is increasing in popularity in North America, and is a great way to get some exercise and spend time in the outdoors. Providing practical experience in geographical skills, as well as the thrill of the race (for those who choose to race - against the clock or each other) this program provides an exciting half-day for your students. Courses of varying length and difficulty are available to challenge students of different levels.

Skiing and Snowshoeing
Our skiing and snowshoeing programs are typically conducted on-site, but if you wish to visit another venue such as the Sauble Ski Trails, or any of the Bruce Ski Club's trails, it can be arranged for a small fee. Students must sign a waiver, and we will arrange the organization of equipment for the day with the teacher.


Typically offered before Thanksgiving and after Victoria Day, our canoeing programs may take many forms. Before doing any canoeing program at the BOEC, a swim test must be passed by each student. Swim test guidelines will be provided by BOEC staff during your planning visit, or you may check the OPHEA guidelines.

Introductory Canoeing for Grade 7 & 8 Students
This introduction to basic canoeing skills is provided for students in grades 7 and 8 in two stages (occasionally grade 6 students also participate). A dry-land introduction to safety considerations, equipment and basic strokes on the first day is typically followed by a two-hour excursion down the Rankin River in one of our large aluminum Voyageur canoes. Each boat is steered by an ORCKA certified BOEC staff member. Not only is this a valuable introduction to canoeing, but it is also an opportunity to practice group socialization skills and may provide opportunities to discuss local history, natural heritage, and canoe culture.

Safe Canoe
Depending on the size of the group, this program may last 2 to 4 hours. We offer this program to grades 7 through 12. Basic safety considerations and canoeing skills are the focus. Safe Canoe is similar to the program outlined above, but follows a more structured itinerary. This program is an official program of the Ontario Recreational Canoeing and Kayaking Organization, and is designed to encourage safe boating practices, and to promote an interest in canoeing in Ontario.

Canoeing for Secondary Students
Our canoeing program for secondary students can be tailored to the goals of the group. This more relaxed program is available for students who simply wish to learn a new skill and enjoy the outdoors. The basic introduction to safety considerations, equipment and canoeing skills will be conducted at Spry Lake. This introduction will usually include practice time on the water in our regular sized canoes. A follow-up trip may include a paddle around the perimeter of Spry Lake, a trip up the Rankin in the large Voyageur canoes, or a trip down the Rankin to Sauble Falls, depending on the skills of the group.

ORCKA Flatwater A
This 8-hour course serves as a basic introduction to canoeing safety and skills, and provides students with their Flatwater A certification. This program focuses on basic safety considerations, equipment, and basic canoeing skills. It also includes the instruction of more advanced tandem and soloing techniques. There is an additional fee of $10.00/student for this program.

Canoe Tripping
Canoe trips may be arranged through the BOEC, and staff may be asked to chaperone student trips with the regular classroom teacher. BOEC staff are qualified in First Aid, CPR, ORCKA certifications, as well as varying degrees of Wilderness First Aid as set out by OPHEA. Depending on the needs of teachers, staff may be involved in all or any of trip planning stages including skill development, gear management, menu planning and prep, route planning, and the trip approval process for the BWDSB. Varying fees apply depending on the level of involvement on the part of our staff. Please contact us to discuss possibilities. Any trip proposal must be submitted to the BWDSB at least 6 months prior to the date of the trip.

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