Will Canadian educational beacon go dark?
A unique adventure tourism site in New Brunswick is run entirely by students. But its founder is retiring.
CAPE ENRAGE, New Brunswick
This time of year, the winds blow colder and harder at Cape Enrage, whistling around the white-and-red lighthouse.Skip to next paragraph
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For 138 years, it warned mariners off the fog-wrapped cliffs of southeastern New Brunswick. It still fulfills that purpose. But today the site is a Canadian beacon of another sort.
Each summer, thousands of tourists are drawn to this remote site – 45 miles from the nearest highway – where an adventure travel program is run entirely by high school and college students.
Helmeted visitors whiz over a daunting chasm on a zip-line, while others climb the 150-foot rock faces, or take in the 45-foot Bay of Fundy tides from kayaks. There are hiking trails and campgrounds, a gift shop, and a restaurant.
"We work until the job is done, and we do it right and we're proud of what we've done," says Kate MacFarlane, a university student who has worked here six years in a row. "It's a down home, apple-pie atmosphere – no drinking, drugs, or sex – and quite a social experiment."
The unique program – which has won accolades from Attractions Canada (Best Developed Outdoor Site) and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada – is the vision of Dennison Tate, an award-winning educator from Moncton, New Brunswick. He's retiring this fall, and the program's myriad admirers fear the 12-year-old program may not survive his departure.
Mr. Tate grew up on tiny White Head Island, two ferry rides from the New Brunswick mainland, and watched as the federal government automated each lighthouse and, ultimately, tore down the historic buildings that once housed lightkeepers and their equipment. "These were cultural icons," he says. "It was watching part of our history be destroyed."
He attended the one-room island school and, later became a physics teacher at a Moncton high school. He began churning out a staggering number of finalists at Canada-wide physics competitions.
"You usually get from people exactly what you expect from them, so it's important to expect a lot and to give them the tools and opportunities to do it," Tate says of his teaching philosophy, which earned him a 1993 Canadian Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence. "I always give students a lot of responsibilities and a lot of authority."
Teaching and historic preservation suddenly came together during a 1992 visit to Cape Enrage. Tate and his wife, Ann, had long enjoyed hiking in the area, and they were shocked to see how quickly the complex had decayed in the three years since automation. Vandals had sacked the buildings, and the Coast Guard planned to raze the 60-year old lightkeeper's house.
The Tates and their teenage daughters drew up a plan: hire motivated students, rescue the buildings from the elements, then try to secure permission from provincial and federal authorities to create a seasonal youth-operated adventure center on the site. Admission fees would be voluntary – so nobody would be denied access for lack of money.