Classroom research launches community action

June 6, 2012
MA in Tourism Management alumna Cathy Thicke is working to launch a higher learning centre in Tofino and a community trail that tells the history of the Tonquin, an American fur trading vessel that was destroyed in a tragic battle off the coastal community.

Cathy Thicke carries her thesis in her backpack.

She pulls it out at home to reference research or at meetings as a council member for the District of Tofino, B.C. as she champions the idea of a higher learning centre in the remote tourist town.

“The fact that I carry it in my backpack and I use it – I didn’t think it would ever come to that,” Thicke says with a laugh. “Those courses and these papers have real-life implications.”

One month after she graduated from Royal Roads’ MA in Tourism Management program in 2011, Thicke was elected to the municipal council, allowing her to launch ideas she envisioned in the classroom into the real world. Her thesis explored the feasibility of a higher learning centre in Tofino where the community would partner with an existing post-secondary institution to bring educational opportunities closer to home. It’s not a new idea for the community as it was originally raised in the early 1990s, but the notion has gained new energy and Thicke is keen to see it happen.

Tofino council recently allocated $10,000 for Phase 2 as outlined in Thicke’s thesis, which will investigate university partnerships and continue consultation with the local First Nations communities. The committee behind the project has also secured a meeting with the provincial Minister of Advanced Education to talk about the idea June 11.

That the project has gained this much support to date doesn’t surprise Brian White, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management director and Thicke’s thesis adviser.

“Cathy is a person with considerable passion and interest in tourism. She is someone who really cares about her community,” he says. “She consults, she discusses, she thinks things through and she gets a sense of perspective. She is quite a visionary.”

Thicke’s vision for a learning centre would see it make use of existing infrastructure such as hotels and schools during the tourism offseason to make the most of what is already there and support the local economy further. Roughly 75 to 80 per cent of what happens in Tofino revolves around tourism and the town is flooded with people for roughly 100 days between May and September. The rest of the year it is quite quiet, Thicke says.

While the physical space is open to options, interest has been expressed in programming focused on First Nations language and culture, culinary arts and outdoor recreation and tourism. It’s about identifying and showcasing the things that make the area special, she says. Clayoquot Sound and the surrounding area offer the perfect balance of indoor and outdoor activities, which is sure to appeal to many students, she adds.

A higher learning centre has the potential to draw new people to the community, but it could also inspire local youth to graduate from high school and focus their studies on something they are passionate about.

“It’s about encouraging leadership and increasing pride in the community,” she says.

The higher learning centre isn’t the only idea that Thicke has taken from the classroom to her community. She also worked on a report with several classmates about how to incorporate signage into an existing walking trail in Tofino, with a dual hope of educating people about local history and gaining support and funding to complete the coastal trail. The trail passes by Tonquin Beach, which is named after an American fur-trading ship which was the site of a deadly battle between local First Nations and the ship's crew in 1811.

The idea has gained support from local First Nations and MP James Lunney, and Thicke is currently writing a proposal for the project to forward to Lunney in the hopes of securing funding.

“All of that stemmed out of papers written for Royal Roads. (It’s) led to concrete action and connected dots in a different way,” Thicke says. “It’s been really valuable for me personally and very helpful for the town to have people with higher knowledge that give back in a practical way.”