Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Blue Lake History from George Murphy

Blue Lake Centre is situated in Switzer Provincial Park North of Hinton in the Alberta foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

In 1976 I attended the national "O" clinic in Hamilton and got hooked.

Sometime in summer 1978 Juri Peepre came to Edmonton and gave a clinic on "O".

After the clinic he and I chatted about pulling together a weekend clinic for Western Canada. I had been to Blue Lake on Winter survival and X-C courses and knew Jack Lee had been there teaching Orienteering so it was an easy thing to relate that centre to our thoughts of a clinic.

Our first year was July long weekend in 1979 and we carried on with the clinics until 1989.   The first year saw us playing host to Eric and Anne Westerlund as coaches. I think that was the first year we ran the Blue Lake Follies but I do know we had a Follies for every year after.

While we did do a lot of serious coaching, teaching, and running through that magnificent terrain, the Follies was a great lot of fun and a serious stress reliever. I remember more than a few frustrated, and sometimes teary, souls trying to get heads around the skills of mapping and the difficulties of finding those blankety-blank controls!

The Follies brought out some great creativity on the part of the participants and the organizers. All those running in the Follies were encouraged to dress in costume. People would appear wrapped up as the "Michelin Man" (how she moved I don't know), or one with a hat with ear flaps proclaiming them as "Bullshit Protectors".  One follies saw participants running through the forest with balloons tied to various parts of the body. Each popped balloon took points off your score or added time to your run.

Another time we had one "Bingo" control. The marker was placed in an almost featureless area and, if you found it, it was Bingo! That same year saw a sliding control (tied to a rope flung over a tree branch...as one approached to punch in, the control would fly upward, out of reach) and a movable control (attached to a Volkswagen in the parking lot...complete with driver). ["Punching in"...younger Orienteers, speak to your older friends!].

The terrain at Blue Lake was, and is, such an excellent area for "O". Lots of water features, great forest for running and awesome depressions of 15m or more.

There is also lots of wildlife in the area. Black bears, moose, deer and birds. There was the odd encounter with bears but no serious incidents. A young bear and I came face to face once but he beat me to an escape route.

One year Juri Peepre was hit in the forehead and eye by an owl and was bowled over a fallen tree. That same year runners were attacked by a Red-Tailed Hawk. As protection from this raptor, we took to carrying branches behind our back sticking up to cover the backs of our heads as we ran through its territory. We were still harassed but no one else was blooded as I recall.

At the time of our clinics, the Blue Lake Centre was owned and operated by the Alberta Government and had a live-in manager. During our time there, Juri was the technical guy and I was the one in charge of  management details. Each year I would be called in to the manager's office to be dressed down for some infraction or another (who knew Orienteers were such a rowdy lot?). One year it was an  "ice" storm. Participants had been freezing water in Styrofoam cups and peeling them down as the ice melted while applying ice to sore and injured knees, feet and other body areas.

Of course, the use of this ice was interpreted as being used in drinks of a banned substance (read alcohol!). My explanation was finally accepted but with the admonition that he, the manager, was ever alert and watching us.

In the early days the Centre was blessed with a large lodge used mainly for meals and featured a large kitchen, a Chef and staff and a large fireplace as a gathering lounge area. The accommodation was rudimentary, with crowded bunkhouses and unheated outdoor biffies.

Over the years the biffies got electric heat (especially great in Winter!) As time went on the bunkhouses were replaced with more roomy accommodation (still had bunks) and a proper washroom with flush toilets was built. That building also featured a real Sauna. Luxury abounded.

On my first visit to Blue Lake (Winter of 1972 with my University class) the cost for food, board and instruction was $8.00 per day. The Centre was home to an abundance of courses...Rock Climbing, Canoeing, X-C Skiing, Wilderness Survival and even Scuba Diving. Expert instructors were brought in and people came from various parts of Canada, and the world to participate. Over the subsequent years the cost increased to $16 per day and then went up in later years (memory slips here a bit). All this was subsidized by the Alberta Government and turned out a great number of people experienced in all aspects of outdoor recreation. Many of these have gone on to promote Outdoor Rec. throughout the world.

Blue Lake has great memories for many of us. It's where some got their first taste of the sport of Orienteering and went on to travel the world with much success. It's also where many leaders were developed and went on to administrative, mapping and competitive positions in our sport. Many friends were made and many long lasting relationships were formed.

I am so glad to have been a part of it.

George Murphy

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