Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2020 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Pete McLeod, Director of Outdoor Education.
When Pete moved to Victoria and joined SMUS as the Director of Outdoor Education in 1996, he thought, “I’d died and gone to heaven. … We can ski and surf on the same day.” His connection to nature has always run deep. As a youth, he was a camp counsellor, and the former camp director later hired him to teach at Rosseau Lake College in Muskoka, Ontario. His subjects were outdoor education, geography and biology. Pete didn’t have a teaching degree yet but went on to study four years later. Next, he spent nine years at Upper Canada College in Toronto, where he taught geography and coached rugby and hockey, but he missed running an outdoor program. A colleague and friend had moved to SMUS and told him about the position. Pete jumped at the opportunity.
Initially informed he would strictly be teaching outdoor education, Pete was adamant about having a class, so he also taught geography. The relationships and trust that you can build with a student in the classroom can be pivotal to those who are not versed or naturally inclined to be outdoors. He shared that this is especially true for international students coming from urban settings. “Are you coming skiing this Saturday?,” Pete could ask students, and create rich opportunities for growth, leadership and, of course, fun.
The outdoor leadership program is his most prized achievement over his 24-year career with SMUS. With his longtime camp history, Pete has a profound commitment to mentorship, traditions and giving young people a chance to lead. Initially, he offered a training program to interested Grade 11 students. Those who completed would assist as guides the following year. “It completes the circle and it promotes early leadership opportunities.”
Pete’s legacy at SMUS also includes the Grade 10 Experiential Program, which began as a trial for “super keen outdoor kids”. It initially offered select Grade 10 students a unique schedule from November to June with academic learning in the mornings, and outdoor and service-related activities in the afternoon, that culminated an outdoor trip in June. It’s now offered to all Grade 10 students in a year-long format.
Winter and spring camp trips have been a huge success over the years as well. He’s still awed by the calibre of the guides who stayed on, many some of the best in their fields. But Pete maintains it was really “down to the quality of the kids; it’s a testament to them.” In the early days, most of the trips were hiking and sea kayaking. Over time, there was a shift in interest to more adrenaline sports, including surfing, white water kayaking and backcountry skiing.
Looking back, Pete reflects that the school’s become a kinder, gentler place and has a deeper sense of being committed to students with different learning styles and abilities. He also appreciated the opportunity to work with so many talented colleagues; many of whom have become valued friends.
As for retirement, Pete looks forward to a lot of paddling, backcountry skiing and fishing. He feels very confident about the future of the outdoor education program, especially in the hugely capable hands of Craig Farish, Zyoji Jackson and Jamie Pope. Pete feels lucky to still be in contact with lots of the students and faculty. They’re “wonderful people. It’s easy to stay in touch.”