As many Cowichan Lake residents know, the Cowichan Lake Education Centre (CLEC) has been around since the late 1980s. Situated on 40 acres of prime lake front property, Dalton Smith, along with other staff members and volunteers, has worked over the years to transform what was a run down campground into a vital education and conference centre, used by groups from around the world.
This past week, Smith reported to council that the centre is already booked solid through to September despite a drop in bookings from universities and other educational institutions in B.C. and a correlating drop in revenue.
At the meeting, Violet Davidson read a letter from Jean Cozens who is concerned that the centre is underutilized and too expensive for many potential visitors. She suggests making the centre more flexible by opening it up to cater to hostel clientele and lowering its rates.
“During the summer months, when it’s very busy in Lake Cowichan and other places, we are very, very full. Most years we’re busy about seven months of the year. This year is an anomaly,” responded Smith.
Davidson also expressed concern that the centre is underutilized, and suggested that it could be opened up to forestry students as a place to take courses, or shutting the centre down for part of the year.
“Quietly we bring people to the education centre,” responded Dalton. “The spin off effects over the years have been quite terrific actually.”
He stated that if CLEC did not exist the town would not benefit from almost $400,000 in additional revenue through job creation programs and visitors. The centre brings in $200,000 per year in federal grants, and Smith says that since the centre opened it has brought in $2 million in grants and aid.
At the moment, the centre is in the beginning stages of setting up job creation projects to build washrooms and a dock in Saywell Park, and fixing up the box car at the Kaatza Station Museum.
This past week the centre had a group of approximately 40 individuals from the Inner Quest Foundation, a centre for spiritual and psychic studies.
Brian Robertson, one of the instructors with the institute, says that many of the individuals in the group wait for a retreat that will take them to Lake Cowichan, and many try to return every few years.
He says that people are attracted to the beauty of the facility and the area. It costs between $7,000 and $10,000 for individuals to travel with the group to Lake Cowichan as many of them come from the UK or other overseas countries. But Robertson says the cost of staying at CLEC is comparable, and the service they receive is top notch. “The food here is better than anywhere in the world.”
Inner Quest organizes a minimum of three courses a year at the centre. “You don’t get centres like this elsewhere,” he says. “We can create a retreat that is cost effective and people come because of what they’ve heard, and they are not disappointed.”
Smith says CLEC is looking to diversify and is in the midst of talks with School District 79 to try and attract school groups to the area, but says that for the most part, the centre pays for itself, and that it is a valuable asset to the community.