Kiddie fun awaits at Sidney’s Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre

December 21, 2009

shawocean

Sidney is one of our favourite destinations on Vancouver Island. You can read more about it in our best-selling guide “Best Weekend Getaways from Vancouver”

ACCESS: Sidney lies five kilometres/3 miles south of B.C. Ferries’ Swartz Bay terminal at the north tip of the Saanich Peninsula, 27 kilometres/17 miles north of Victoria.

For information on the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, phone 250-665-7511.

For tourist info on Sidney, including a map of the Saanich Peninsula, contact the Saanich Peninsula Chamber of Commerce, 250-656-3616, or visit www.hellobc.com.

If there’s an award for B.C.’s best new tourist attraction, Sidney’s Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre is a shoo-in—except for one thing. Although displaying the patina of an art gallery, the Vancouver Island town’s new focal point isn’t technically a tourist attraction at all.

As the centre’s development and special-events director, Joan Eaglesham, explained during a recent visit, “Our mission is to be an environmental-education centre to treasure and protect the ocean.”

From her desk in the Ocean’s Heartbeat classroom-laboratory, educational director Linda Funk offered further clarification: “You won’t love it unless you understand it.”

The “it” in question is a portion of the Salish Sea (the Strait of Georgia) bordering the Saanich Peninsula and the southern tip of Vancouver Island, between Sooke and Salt Spring Island, an easily accessible, scenic coastline seemingly designed with day trips in mind.

Couple the magic of shoreline exploration with a growing curiosity about what goes on beneath the surface of B.C.’s marine environment and you’ve got a hit.

Since opening in late June, the centre has had a tsunami of almost 80,000 visitors pour through the glass-panel doors, designed to mimic a kelp bed. That’s twice as many visitors as the New Marine Centre Society’s board forecast to break even in the first year.

Sidney and its environs have long been hubs of interest in the life below the waters of the Georgia Basin, an inland sea stretching from the south end of Puget Sound to Desolation Sound at the north end of the Malaspina Peninsula on the Sunshine Coast.

Bert Webber, a retired Bellingham, Washington, biologist, first dubbed this body the Salish Sea in 1989. The $8-million facility—owned and funded by the nonprofit New Marine Centre Society—is the gifted offspring of two humble-but-proud facilities that once anchored the waterfront: the Sidney Marine Mammal Museum, which opened in the 1980s, and the Marine Ecology Centre, which relocated there from its original home in Cowichan Bay in 2001.

Talk about a kid magnet.

This high-tech space is not a place where parents have to ask their children twice if they’re interested in exploring for an hour or two.

There are 17 habitat tanks full of marine life on display, and the centre’s theme shows change every two weeks, in part to cater to a growing list of 6,000 annual pass holders and also because staff want to demystify the underwater world just metres away in the coves that indent Sidney’s coast.

Early on weekend mornings, children line up in front of the centre’s massive curved elevator door, seemingly designed to mimic the airlock to Captain Nemo’s submarine in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. As the elevator slowly descends, video projections on the walls and ceiling give the impression of being transported beneath the waves.

On arrival, the sensation is like stepping onto the ocean floor. In addition to saltwater tanks filled with marine life, real-time scenes broadcast from a Web cam positioned beneath Bevan Pier adjacent the centre play across a wall-sized Smart Board.

Although modest when compared to large-scale seaside research centres such the Monterey Bay Aquarium, don’t let size fool you. Aquarist Paula Romagosa said the Ocean Discovery Centre roughly equates with the Vancouver Aquarium’s Gallery of the Pacific, specifically the massive B.C. Waters tank.

“Our deep-sea tank in the Gallery of the Salish Sea is about that big. What sets us apart are cutting-edge features like the GestureTek, which is so innovative that even kids who play with the latest technology are intrigued.”

Imagine the floor beneath you as a computer screen with a glassy veneer of the ocean projected on it.

Step on its gesture-controlled, interactive surface.

As you move, waves are stirred into motion and ripple across the screen.

The more you move about, the more animated the marine world becomes below.

Trippy, very trippy.

Equally popular is a Plexiglas bubble that allows kids—and adults willing to get down on their knees—to wiggle inside a kelp forest and make eye contact with schools of juvenile rockfish and grunt sculpins.

Even though Romagosa pointed out that the centre’s collection doesn’t feature anything “exotic”—think beluga whales—there’s far more on display than most land dwellers can appreciate on quick inspection.

Knowledgeable, easily engaged interpreters are the centre’s strength.Visitors’ questions are fielded by both full-time staff and an all-ages roster of volunteers who embody the dictum “science explained; mysteries revealed.”

Before stepping outside to admire the distant, though no less impressive, view of Mount Baker on the Washington state mainland, pause at the Take Action Station, where visitors are encouraged to post a comment on a wall covered with resolutions, such as “Only eat Ocean Wise–approved seafood”, “Don’t take starfish home from the seashore”, “Never litter the ocean”, and “Don’t buy seashells in gift shops unless they’ve been sustainably harvested”.

Judging from the handwriting, a new generation of planet-loving kids has just been given further pointers on how to make a difference. Right now, the world can’t ask for more empowerment than that.

Original Article
Text CR Jack Christie
Photo CR Louise Christie

Persistence Personified: Snowboarder Alexa Loo

December 11, 2009


Alexa Loo

Snowboard racers are reputedly the hardest-working athletes in a world dominated by badder-assed half-pipe freestyle riders and snowboard cross racers. They’re more persistent souls too. After seasons of training and rehab, coupled with more good and bad fortune than most pain thresholds could tolerate, come February 26th, Richmond-based snowboarder Alexa Loo makes her sophomore appearance at the Olympic Winter Games, this time plummeting down old-growth-lined slopes on Black Mountain in West Vancouver’s Cypress Provincial Park, venue for Olympic freestyle ski and snowboard events.
Over the past month, the Georgia Straight spoke with Loo during early-season glacier training in Solden, Austria, and again while dealing with a leaky roof at her grandmother’s house in Richmond. Talk about typifying the challenges many athletes face balancing home and work. After a decade on the World Cup circuit, Loo sounded more than up for the challenge of dealing simultaneously with tradespersons and a journalist.
By her own estimation, since she began competing in 1997, Loo has entered about 100 World Cups, 7 world championships, plus numerous Nor Am Cup contests where she won three gold medals last season. Still, whatever plays out this year, the first Canadian woman to earn a World Cup medal in alpine snowboarding won’t ultimately be satisfied until she adds winning the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom to her roster of accomplishments.
Canadian women, including Squamish’s Mäelle Ricker, who won the past three LBSs, have a lock on the classic race first staged in 1985. Owing to a scheduling conflict—the Washington State event runs each year during February’s Superbowl weekend—that’s not likely to happen in 2010 as both snowboard cross racer Ricker and her Canadian Snowboard Federation teammate Loo will be in the final stages of focusing on their Olympic events. “Still, I’m hopeful that, come 2011, I’ll get an invitation,” Loo said somewhat wistfully.
Meanwhile, the chartered accountant-turned-Olympian’s got enough work cut out for her in the next six months as it is, including capitalizing on her bronze medal at the Sunday River World Cup in Maine last February, a hard-won accomplishment she acknowledged as a defining moment in her recent career. Understandably, the 38-year-old found the lofty view from the podium most satisfying. “After a long wait [since her previous World Cup top-three finish in January, 2006] the podium was a gratifying place to be. You feel this is where you belong. It validates everything I believe about myself and what I’m capable of achieving.”
An oft-repeated judgment in the Book of Changes advises “Perseverance furthers”. Two key individuals Loo most wanted to credit for inspiring her recent successes are teammate and current World Champion Jasey-Jay Anderson and Olympic racer-turned-coach, Mark Fawcett, the one Ross Rebagliati once credited in a Georgia Straight interview as pivotal to his gold medal giant slalom win at the Nagano 1998 Winter Games. “Since Mark became my coach two years ago, I’ve evolved from being an athlete who could, at best, qualify for a spot in the top 16 finalists in my sport, to one who could be a legitimate podium contender in every race,” she said. “His technical skills, plus an ability to explain the finer points of letting it all hang out at speeds of 100 kilometres-per-hour, are what made the difference. Plus, training with [multi-World Cup winner] Jasey-Jay and understanding how he squeezes every hundredth-second out of his board has helped me make vast improvements as well.”
Thanks to her accomplished “ski-crazy” parents, Toni and Charlie, Loo carved her first turns at Mt. Baker Ski Area south of Abbotsford in the North Cascades Mountains, the home of snowboarding in the Pacific Northwest. “We had a small cabin in the woods at the base of the mountain where we spent lots of family time. When we weren’t skiing, my dad and I played Scrabble. When I finally beat him, we never played again” she recalled, laughing at the memory. After graduating from UBC with a commerce degree, she worked at the KPMG accounting firm’s Vancouver office. At the same time, she became drawn deeper into the vortex of racing after joining the Blackcomb Snowboard Club. Drawing on her background as a varsity swimmer and rower, coping with the pressure of blending work and fitness training was second nature. Even more, she readily welcomed the opportunity competitive snowboarding offered to tour the world. “At first, I worked at KPMG in summer. They gave me the winter off so I could train in winter. Along the way, I managed to write my Chartered Accounting exam but I got so stressed before the 2006 Olympics that I left before being able to put in my practical time.”
Years after embarking on her journey, Loo spoke with pride of the portfolio of life lessons now tucked under her Lycra. “Hard work isn’t always the answer to achieving a dream,” she said. “After working with sports psychologists [like former Vancouverite Dana Sinclair of Human Performance International], I’ve learned to reevaluate and develop the personal side of my nature. To succeed, I need to bring the strongest part of my being to this year’s Winter Games. Dana’s style worked for me because I was ready for the message: inner happiness and self-belief are the keys to staring down defeat.” Life on the World Cup circuit where she spends lengthy periods of time has taught the veteran not to let little things get under her skin. “You have to develop more coping techniques than working in an office. There’s no going home. You have to work everything out in front of your friends.”
No matter what follows this season, it doesn’t sound as Loo plans to head back into the world of finance any time soon, although she does credit the analytical skills she learned from accounting as talents she can take forward as a board member with Athletes CAN, an advocacy group for Canadian athletes, and as a volunteer with the International Paralympic Committee. “As I’ve matured in my sport,” which she compares to driving a Ferrari, “I’ve acquired leadership and soft skills. I enjoy motivational public speaking, helping people be the best they can be.”
There’s one thing Loo can count on: if she makes a name for herself at the Olympics, she a shoo-in for a spot in the next Legendary Banked Slalom. Inspired by the likes of fellow B.C-bred racers, such as Karleen Jeffery, Victoria Jealouse, Don Schwartz, and her old-school racing alumnus Rebagliati, Loo might still achieve immortality—a name plaque affixed to the unpretentious wooden snowboard which occupies a shrine of honour in Mt. Baker’s day lodge. In the inner sanctum of her once-outlawed sport, glory doesn’t shine with more golden radiance than from that trophy.

Snowboard racers are reputedly the hardest-working athletes in a world dominated by badder-assed half-pipe freestyle riders and snowboard cross racers.

They’re more persistent souls too.

After seasons of training and rehab, coupled with more good and bad fortune than most pain thresholds could tolerate, come February 26th, 2010, Richmond-based snowboarder Alexa Loo makes her sophomore appearance at the Olympic Winter Games, this time plummeting down old-growth-lined slopes on Black Mountain in West Vancouver’s Cypress Provincial Park, venue for Olympic freestyle ski and snowboard events.

Over the past month, I spoke with Loo during early-season glacier training in Solden, Austria, and again while dealing with a leaky roof at her grandmother’s house in Richmond.

Talk about typifying the challenges many athletes face balancing home and work.

After a decade on the World Cup circuit, Loo sounded more than up for the challenge of dealing simultaneously with tradespersons and a journalist.

By her own estimation, since she began competing in 1997, Loo has entered about 100 World Cups, 7 world championships, plus numerous Nor Am Cup contests where she won three gold medals last season.

Still, whatever plays out this year, the first Canadian woman to earn a World Cup medal in alpine snowboarding won’t ultimately be satisfied until she adds winning the Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom to her roster of accomplishments.

Canadian women, including Squamish’s Mäelle Ricker, who won the past three LBSs, have a lock on the classic race first staged in 1985.

Owing to a scheduling conflict—the Washington State event runs each year during February’s Superbowl weekend—that’s not likely to happen in 2010 as both snowboard cross racer Ricker and her Canadian Snowboard Federation teammate Loo will be in the final stages of focusing on their Olympic events.

“Still, I’m hopeful that, come 2011, I’ll get an invitation,” Loo said somewhat wistfully.

Meanwhile, the chartered accountant-turned-Olympian’s got enough work cut out for her in the next six months as it is, including capitalizing on her bronze medal at the Sunday River World Cup in Maine last February, a hard-won accomplishment she acknowledged as a defining moment in her recent career.

Understandably, the 38-year-old found the lofty view from the podium most satisfying. “After a long wait [since her previous World Cup top-three finish in January, 2006] the podium was a gratifying place to be. You feel this is where you belong. It validates everything I believe about myself and what I’m capable of achieving.”

An oft-repeated judgment in the Book of Changes advises “Perseverance furthers”.

Two key individuals Loo most wanted to credit for inspiring her recent successes are teammate and current World Champion Jasey-Jay Anderson and Olympic racer-turned-coach, Mark Fawcett, the one Ross Rebagliati once told me was pivotal to his gold medal giant slalom win at the Nagano 1998 Winter Games.

“Since Mark became my coach two years ago, I’ve evolved from being an athlete who could, at best, qualify for a spot in the top 16 finalists in my sport, to one who could be a legitimate podium contender in every race,” she said.

“His technical skills, plus an ability to explain the finer points of letting it all hang out at speeds of 100 kilometres-per-hour, are what made the difference. Plus, training with [multi-World Cup winner] Jasey-Jay and understanding how he squeezes every hundredth-second out of his board has helped me make vast improvements as well.”

Thanks to her accomplished “ski-crazy” parents, Toni and Charlie, Loo carved her first turns at Mt. Baker Ski Area south of Abbotsford in the North Cascades Mountains, the home of snowboarding in the Pacific Northwest.

“We had a small cabin in the woods at the base of the mountain where we spent lots of family time. When we weren’t skiing, my dad and I played Scrabble. When I finally beat him, we never played again” she recalled, laughing at the memory.

After graduating from UBC with a commerce degree, she worked at the KPMG accounting firm’s Vancouver office.

At the same time, she became drawn deeper into the vortex of racing after joining the Blackcomb Snowboard Club.

Drawing on her background as a varsity swimmer and rower, coping with the pressure of blending work and fitness training was second nature.

Even more, she readily welcomed the opportunity competitive snowboarding offered to tour the world.

“At first, I worked at KPMG in summer. They gave me the winter off so I could train in winter. Along the way, I managed to write my Chartered Accounting exam but I got so stressed before the 2006 Olympics that I left before being able to put in my practical time.”

Years after embarking on her journey, Loo spoke with pride of the portfolio of life lessons now tucked under her Lycra.

“Hard work isn’t always the answer to achieving a dream,” she said.

“After working with sports psychologists [like former Vancouverite Dana Sinclair of Human Performance International], I’ve learned to reevaluate and develop the personal side of my nature. To succeed, I need to bring the strongest part of my being to this year’s Winter Games. Dana’s style worked for me because I was ready for the message: inner happiness and self-belief are the keys to staring down defeat.”

Life on the World Cup circuit where she spends lengthy periods of time has taught the veteran not to let little things get under her skin.

“You have to develop more coping techniques than working in an office. There’s no going home. You have to work everything out in front of your friends.”

No matter what follows this season, it doesn’t sound as Loo plans to head back into the world of finance any time soon, although she does credit the analytical skills she learned from accounting as talents she can take forward as a board member with Athletes CAN, an advocacy group for Canadian athletes, and as a volunteer with the International Paralympic Committee.

“As I’ve matured in my sport,” which she compares to driving a Ferrari, “I’ve acquired leadership and soft skills. I enjoy motivational public speaking, helping people be the best they can be.”

There’s one thing Loo can count on: if she makes a name for herself at the Olympics, she a shoo-in for a spot in the next Legendary Banked Slalom.

Inspired by the likes of fellow B.C-bred racers, such as Karleen Jeffery, Victoria Jealouse, Don Schwartz, and her old-school racing alumnus Rebagliati, Loo might still achieve immortality—a name plaque affixed to the unpretentious wooden snowboard which occupies a shrine of honour in Mt. Baker’s day lodge.

In the inner sanctum of her once-outlawed sport, glory doesn’t shine with more golden radiance than from that trophy.