Outward Bound Canada (OBC) has equipped more than 150,000 people with outdoors experiences in Canada and beyond.

Now, the charity has a new base near Minden, where it will offer professionally-led outdoors trips as well as a brand-new academy for aspiring guides.

“We’re two and a half hours from Toronto, but close enough to all of the great tripping areas,” said Andrew Young, OBC executive director.

“Minden is really well set up for outdoor educators. There is a lifestyle that really suits our staff.”

OBC has moved into buildings at the Kinark Outdoor Centre, a 600-hectare multi-use outdoor facility off of Queens Line.

“For us, trying to own and operate a property of this size is a big task. For non-profit charities to come together and partner, we get a lot of synergy out of that,” Young said.

OBC will lead canoe trips, hiking expeditions and more from their new Minden base. But Maria Paterson, OBC Ontario Wilderness Program Manager, said it’s important to recognize how adventure facilitates character-building.

“Whether it’s a rainstorm that comes through, or you’re sleeping in a tent, it’s about ‘how do we push through, how do we learn from this’?”

She and Young said OBC is continually trying to expand who feels comfortable to venture outside with them, too. OBC offers trips especially for youth who identify as 2SLGBTQ+, indigenous teens, veterans and canoe trips for girls only, for example.

There is also funding available for anyone who might want to join a trip but can’t afford the cost.

“We can take a teen who doesn’t have any outdoor gear at all,” said Paterson, “and outfit them with boots, with rain gear, with backpacks, thanks to our funding and industry partners.”

Young said helping “democratize” the outdoors is at the heart of his passion for OBC.

“One of the main draws for me is to get the resources for people of all walks of life to participate,” he said.

Bridging industry gaps

OBC is testing a new program aimed at equipping adults with the skills to become outdoor guides.

The OBC Training Academy is a federally-funded education program spanning in-classroom education and in the field practical skills building.

“The COVID-19 pandemic saw more Canadians than ever enjoying Canada’s natural spaces. Yet, the Canadian outdoors sector also saw unprecedented employee attrition, creating labour shortages that threaten the long-term viability of the industry,” reads the OBC’s website.

Young said it’s a way to expose adults, most of whom so far have been in their 20s, to the vast array of jobs in the outdoor field.

It also focuses on soft skills that Young said are necessary in order to increase diversity in the outdoors. For instance, the training could include knowledge of dealing with mental health issues on a trip, or background information on how systemic racism could impact group dynamics, as well as learning about the history of Canada’s First Nations people and how that informs use of natural areas.

Guides who can effectively create a safe place for everyone, said Young, are more likely to help increase representation of minority groups in the outdoor sector.

“It becomes a normal part of development, the training academy is part of our capacity building to make that happen,” he said.

The training academy will kick off an eight-week program in September. For more information visit outwardbound. ca/adult-courses/obc-training-academy.