Rite of Passage

Valley schools gear up for a successful—and safe—grad season

The Courtenay Rotary Club is in the third year of their current project, <a href=

doctor the Rotary Trail, healing a multi-use trail that, internist when completed, will extend from 5th Street in Downtown Courtenay all the way to 26th Street. Fundraising is underway for the third phase, with help from Rotary members Robert Buckley, Rod Hunter, Dave White, Ron Perrin and Art Meyers. The Courtenay Rotary Club’s annual Main Event Online Auction runs from April1-30.” src=”×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> The Courtenay Rotary Club is in the third year of their current project, the Rotary Trail, a multi-use trail that, when completed, will extend from 5th Street in Downtown Courtenay all the way to 26th Street. Fundraising is underway for the third phase, with help from Rotary members Robert Buckley, Rod Hunter, Dave White, Ron Perrin and Art Meyers. The Courtenay Rotary Club’s annual Main Event Online Auction runs from April 1-30.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

If you’ve ever walked or cycled on a dedicated multi-use trail before, then you know there is something special about pathways that are separated from the streets. It is so relaxing to cycle or walk along a pathway without the annoyance of cars whipping by at high speeds. Instead of traffic, you hear birds, voices, and the sound of your own footsteps. Often viewed as linear parks, multi-use trails are quiet and peaceful places where people can visit while they walk along or sit on a bench, kids can explore, and dogs can sniff to their heart’s content.

The Rotary Trail is the Courtenay Rotary Club’s current project. Now on its third and final year of development, the Rotary Trail is a hard-packed multi-use trail that is comfortable for wheelchairs, wide enough to be shared by cyclists, and enormously popular with walkers. The trail currently stretches from 5th Street to 17th Street, right through the heart of Courtenay, and travels alongside or near to the existing railway line. It is a key route for commuters and an important connection between neighborhoods, schools and businesses.

The Courtenay Rotary Club has a rich history here in the Comox Valley. Since 1936 the Courtenay Rotary has been working to improve the quality of life for those who choose to call our valley home. Besides the Rotary Trail, the most recent project of the Courtenay Rotary was the Comox Valley Hospice Project. Before that the club spearheaded and built the Simms Park Millennium Pavilion. Even Simms Park itself owes its existence to the Rotary Club, since the Courtenay Rotary Club, from 1983 to 1989, raised funds to purchase the Simms property to preserve it as a public park space.

These days Courtenay Rotary likes to focus on major projects that take three years to accomplish. After they completed their last three year project—raising $150,000 to fund the construction of a new residential hospice—the club knew that a new venture was needed, but they didn’t have anything specific in mind. So they enlisted the help of the citizens of the Valley by putting out a questionnaire asking what the respondents would like to see as the Rotary’s next project.

“The citizens of Courtenay made the decision as to what our next project would be,” says Neil Havers, public relations director for the Courtenay Rotary Club. “We canvassed the community through local media and a walking/hiking/biking trail was the most popular request.”

Coincidentally, right around this time the Courtenay Rotary Club received a call from a group called the Island Corridor Foundation, a non-profit organization working to preserve the E&N corridor. In addition to working to reinstate the actual train service, the Island Corridor Foundation also promotes and facilitates the “Rail with Trail” system—a continuous multi-use trail that may someday run alongside the entire length of railway bed from Victoria to Courtenay.

In 2011, with the support of the community, the City of Courtenay, and the help of the Island Corridor Foundation, the Courtenay Rotary Club began the three-year process of building a trail from 5th Street to 26th Street. The first year the trail was constructed from 5th to Cumberland Road. The second year the trail was extended as far as 17th. This year, the Rotary Trail will be extended to 26th.

Though most of the work of building the trail was done by workers employed by the City of Courtenay, the Rotarians rolled up their sleeves to help out where they could.

“We Rotarians like to do hands on work,” Havers says. “We couldn’t do the actual trail building—the City crews did that—but we did prepare the area beforehand. We cleared away the Scotch broom and other plants, and we cleaned out the ditch that ran alongside the rail line.”

The Rotary Trail is heavily used by walkers and runners, and it’s also very popular with cyclists. Ed Schum of the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition uses the trail on a regular basis. “I think I can speak for all the cyclists in the Valley when I say that the Rotary Trail is a definite step in the right direction,” says Schum. “We really appreciate that Rotary has taken on this project and we look forward to the trail being extended to 26th Street—and maybe someday the trail will follow alongside the rail bed all the way to Victoria.”

Though the trail runs alongside the railway, it will still be safe even after the trains recommence travel between Victoria and Courtenay. That’s because there is a gap between the actual railway and the walkway, and fencing will eventually be constructed to provide additional safety.

The Courtenay Rotary Club is now on its third and final year of the Rotary Trail Project. However, they can only complete the trail if they are able to raise the necessary funds. Every year for the past five years the Rotary Club has conducted an online auction as its main fundraising event.

“Each year we depend on money raised from our annual fundraising event to fund our civic projects,” says Havers. “The online auction is the Courtenay Rotary Club’s major fundraising event of the year. We had been hosting a gala auction for over 20 years. Its success led to many other organizations putting on similar events. We watched participation wane over the years and decided we needed to go in another direction to continue successfully raising funds for our community projects.”
The online auction has caught on and is now a popular and user-friendly way to raise money. Unlike a gala, you don’t have to get dressed up to help the Courtenay Rotary. Instead you can help from the comfort of your home—wearing your pyjamas instead of a ball gown or a tux.

This year the Courtenay Rotary’s Main Event Online Auction, which takes place from April 1-30, is more exciting than ever. That’s because there is something very big being offered up for bid this year—literally.

In partnership with Art Winter of AH Winter and Son Construction and John Verrier of Avril Homes, as well as numerous tradespeople and suppliers, this year the Courtenay Rotary Club will be auctioning off a brand new townhouse located at Ridge View Development on Muir Road in Courtenay. “The Courtenay Rotary Club is very excited about auctioning off a brand new Muir Ridge town home,” says Havers. “We’ve never had anything so unique up for bid. We expect it will have a dramatic effect in helping our online auction raise funds required for our project, as well as give a young family the opportunity to own their own spacious three bedroom home.”

Though the townhouse is valued at $259,900, the bidding will start at $229,900. The difference between the reserved bid and the winning bid will determine the amount of money raised for the Courtenay Rotary Club. The money will be used to fund the trail as well as other community services provided by the Club.

In addition to the townhouse, there will be many other goods and services offered up for bid. Through the generous gifts from local businesses and sponsors, this year’s item list includes something for everyone. There are restaurant gift certificates, spa services, advertising specials, automotive services and dental services. There are also electronics up for bid, such as a 23-inch monitor and a mini camcorder. There’s even a trip to Las Vegas up for bid, as well as Canucks tickets and a Mount Washington 6IXPAK.

All of the items can be viewed online, so it’s easy for people to take a look and decide if they’re interested in something. Bidding is easy too, and after you place a bid, you can go online at any time to view your current bidding status.

“The people of the Comox Valley have put their trust in the Rotary for many years,” Havers notes. And with your support, the Courtenay Rotary Club hopes to continue serving the citizens of the Comox Valley for years to come.
To visit the Courtenay Rotary Club online auction go to:

Auction items can also be viewed on Facebook at:

For more about the Island Corridor Foundation:


Choosing their destiny: local grads, <a href=

from left, Amy Morro, Marianna Sipione, Kaelan Johnson, Charlotte Ross and Destanee Harrison are ready for the next chapter in their lives. ” src=”×401.jpg” width=”602″ height=”401″ /> Choosing their destiny: local grads, from left, Amy Morro, Marianna Sipione, Kaelan Johnson, Charlotte Ross and Destanee Harrison are ready for the next chapter in their lives.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

How many of you remember the spring of your Grade 12 year, when the sunshiny days of April and May gave you a good idea of what would be coming in June? There’s a good chance those three months were both the longest and fastest of your life, because you were counting down the days to your first major accomplishment in life—your high school graduation.

Well, it’s spring again, and plans are already in place to make this year’s graduation events something to remember in the lives of Valley students.

For Charlotte Ross, a Grade 12 student at G.P. Vanier who chaired the student grad committee in the Fall semester, her upcoming graduation “means that it’s done and I’ve accomplished something after 13 years. That’s a weird thought. The thing for me is it will be the day of grad that I’ll get really nervous. Right now it is a few months away.”

Nervousness is not the first character quality that comes to mind when speaking to this young woman, who describes herself as take-charge kind of person. Heck, Ross will tell you it was her own dissatisfaction with the lack of planning and a free period that convinced her to step up and volunteer her time to help organize her school’s grad ceremonies.

“No one was doing anything and I figured out that I could help out,” says Ross. “It was about getting our grad class together.”

First on Ross’ agenda was choosing a grad song and slogan. She organized a vote on potential songs and slogans for the Grade 12s, and then picked a theme. “Mardi Gras,” says Ross excitedly. “Bright colors of green, gold and purple with a whole bunch of beads and feathers. It’s going to be so much fun.”

Vanier grads ended up choosing four songs for their celebrations—Springsteen by Eric Church and We Are Young by Fun. Their slogan is, “Tonight we are young.”
There is now a committee of 20 students helping out with the event, and Ross recently handed chairing duties over to fellow grad Rae Munro. Munro has the big responsibility of implementing all of the plans Ross helped make, along with managing her own heavy school load. It’s not a job that even Ross envies.

The entire celebration will be on Mount Washington, where students will have use of Raven Lodge until the wee hours of the morning. There will be a DJ and dancing, a photo booth, Bounce-a-Rama, dance revolution machine and six casino tables. Each student will get play money when they arrive, and then will be able to use any earnings to bid on more than 100 auction items. Oh, and let’s not forget the tarot card and palm reading, or the fireworks.

Each of the Valley high schools have similar events planned for their graduates. Mark Isfeld will start their celebration with a classic car parade before also heading up Mount Washington, while Highland Secondary will be holding their banquet and dance with entertainment in the Native Sons Hall.

“It’s one big party and we’re focused on having fun,” says Ross, summing up what many grads think of their graduation ceremonies. But then Ross hits on more of the meaning of the event.

“It’s our last year and the last party we’ll have together,” says Ross. “It’s getting people ready for life outside of high school.”

For Valley teachers and administrators, part of getting students ready for life outside of high school means making the grad ceremonies the culmination of a year of celebration and transition. It’s also an opportunity to help their young adults make their first good adult decisions.

“They really look forward to it,” says Lyneita Swanson, principal at Highland Secondary, of her grad students. “The traditions and rituals and that kind of thing. I think they look forward to dressing up, spending their last few hours together. It is their last school function together.

“It’s a celebration of their years of public school and a rite of passage and recognition of their hard work,” Swanson adds. “It’s a defining moment in many ways, like birth or marriage. The moment going from a young person to an adult.”

For that reason, each activity and event for the Grade 12 tries to emphasize the significance of the upcoming graduation. Take Highland for example—its grads choose a legacy project at the beginning of each year that provides a year of community service.

“It began quite small about a dozen years ago and each year one had been a little different from the other,” explains Swanson. “They give back to the community as their legacy.”

This year’s legacy project has been titled “13 Projects to Inspire” and students have organized a clothing drive for YANA, a croquet fundraiser tournament, and volunteered with the local soup kitchen.

“They start recognizing the needs of their community and giving back before they move on,” says Sawnson.

The students and staff at Mark Isfeld mark the Grade 12 year much the same way. Events and activities from September to June emphasize good decision-making and responsibility in choices.

“That’s true for everything we do throughout the year,” says Jeff Taylor, principal at Mark Isfeld. “Grad is an extension and continuation of what they experience here.”

Fundraising is a big part of the year for all Valley grads. On the practical side of things, fundraising helps cover the significant costs of the graduation ceremonies. It’s not unusual to see fees of more than $100 to participate in the ceremony, and that is a substantial sum of money to a young person and their families. However, fundraising also helps students get involved in the community, reaching out to potential sponsors, making connections with businesses and community groups and generally doing the sort of things that make for a strong and healthy community that they will be called on to lead. Moreoever, it gives community businesses and organizations a chance to give back.

Another of the messages that comes across loud and clear at each of the Valley high schools is that students don’t need alcohol in order to celebrate their achievements. Graduation ceremonies in the Comox Valley are dry, and liquor is prohibited.

“It drives home the message that important events in your life don’t have to be celebrated by getting drunk,” says Taylor.

But isn’t that what high school students are supposed to do on grad night? Isn’t that what they want to do? They are teenagers after all, and will get away with anything they can. “There’s been a lot of criticism—you’re just delaying the party by one day,” says Taylor. “The vast majority of our grads celebrate in a way that they will remember what they did and we don’t worry about them as much. It’s generally a trouble-free night. If there’s trouble it’s because kids bonk heads in events like inflatable sumo wrestling.”

Of course it hasn’t always been that way.

“The grads that stick out the most for us are the ones where students didn’t make it,” says Taylor. “For a while it was hard for us to get excited.”

It was those losses that started the push for dry grads in the late 1980s, and the ICBC Road Sense campaigns that many of adults remember from our own graduation days.

Today you’d be hard pressed to find a BC school that doesn’t offer an-alcohol free celebration.

Taylor has however, been in a school district that did not offer a dry grad option. Instead, students went to the rodeo grounds following the formal ceremonies and proceeded to drink. The event often involved more than just that year’s graduates, and the only gesture toward security was to have adults posted at the entrances taking keys away from young drivers. There was no school presence, and the event almost always saw young people carted away in an ambulance due to over-drinking or even injury. It was not something Taylor or any of the teaching staff felt good about. The problem was a community attitude that said if you’re graduating or celebrating a big event you must get drunk.

Taylor contrasts this with parents and students in the Comox Valley who are just fine with dry grad.

“Our students are completely on board,” says Taylor. “We don’t hear push back that we’re depriving our young people of an important life event. Mostly the feedback is, ‘Thank you for doing this!’ It’s like going to a wedding where someone is over the top drunk. It impacts everyone. The upside is we try to make it fun. There is money raised and great prizes to be won.”

Swanson agrees. “In the minds of the kids and the minds of their parents, dry grad is certainly the baseline,” she says. “It’s a safe way to celebrate graduation. It truly is a joyous time.”

“Not every kid wants to go out and party,” adds Vanier principal Jason Colby. “They want the safe alternative.”

“We’ve come so far because our student population is so much more mature than we give them credit for,” adds Taylor. “They’re on board and they’re helping us.”
And that means high school graduation in the Comox Valley is free to be what it’s intended to be—a celebration of student accomplishment, and the first major event in their adult lives.

“Traditionally we’ve held our graduation on the grounds of the Filberg Lodge,” explains Swanson. “That’s a very public display of this rite of passage to the community.”

In fact, a Highland tradition is the minuet, a social dance that originated in 17th century France, and involves controlled, ceremonious and graceful movement. It’s a challenge for students to learn the steps, and a huge accomplishment when they pull the whole thing off.

“It doesn’t always work, but when it does…” says Swanson, her voice trailing-off. “It’s a nostalgic thing in a community where so many of our students move on. It’s a way to say goodbye.”

Ross will eventually be one of those students moving on. She has plans to start part-time study for an Associate of Science degree at North Island College in September. She’ll also be working in order to travel next year. Eventually she wants to complete an Education degree at the University of Victoria and teach in foreign countries.

“I’ve got plans, big plans!” she says with a laugh and a bit of embarrassment at the seeming audacity of her dreams. But there is little doubt that she—and her fellow 2013 graduates—can, and will, make it happen.