History of the CFUW Nanaimo Seashore Program

One of the Club’s goals is to promote education, which we do by offering a Seashore Program to elementary students in School District 68 for about 5 weeks each spring.

The program is geared for a grade 4 curriculum to teach children to understand and appreciate seashore life, learn ways in which animals interact with their environment and form attitudes which will lead to conservation of the seashore and its inhabitants

We collect live marine invertebrates by permission of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans; these animals are housed at the Pacific Biological Station. Each day club volunteers collect a representative selection of animals from the Station and transport the animals and jerry cans filled with salt water to a school. Two to three CFUW volunteers give a presentation, including hands-on time with the animals. Aquariums, a collection of dried and preserved material, visual displays and a small collection of books are also a part of the presentation. Each year, more than 900 students from about 22 schools participate; over 300 volunteer hours are delivered for the program.

The Seashore Program began in 1969, designed by Pat Gray, a teacher at Cilaire School. She contacted University Women’s Club member Myrtle Siebert who asked a group of members – mostly young mothers – to help.

The original ten were Myrtle Siebert, Berniece Harding, Joanne Blackman, Dorea Holmes, Barbara Narver, Jean Bourne, Priscilla Vipond, Jean McRae, Sue Douglas and Wendy Smiley.

The group began by walking the beach with a couple of members’ husbands who had retired from the Biological Station. When the classroom sessions were organized, they used baby bathtubs for aquariums and the specimens were collected and returned daily. Canning jars were used to preserve animals in formaldehyde. When the dried animals were observed to be losing colour, an experiment to cook a sunflower seastar was undertaken! Unfortunately, there was no visible improvement!

Our Seashore Program attracted national attention in Chatelaine magazine in 1971! In 2000, the Club received the City of Nanaimo Environmental Achievement Award for promoting a better understanding of Nanaimo’s rich marine life among elementary school students and in 2004, was awarded a National CFUW Special Project award.

We’d like to share with you a letter of thanks received from one of the teachers:

“Kindly convey to the members of the CFUW my sincere appreciation for the preparation and presentation of the seashore project. The many live and preserved specimens……displayed to my class showed the children the great treasures to be found along our seashore. I am sending the letters the children have written. They tell you how much they enjoyed and learned from this lecture. I sincerely hope you will continue with this wonderful endeavour. Yours sincerely, Gladys Swan”

This letter was written in May 1971. Of course, the Seashore Program did continue, thanks to the on-going commitment of many Club members over the past forty-seven years. If you would like to learn more and make a contribution to the program, please don’t hesitate to discuss the program with other members.