Want to be an “oceaneer?” Then head out to Sidney and talk with Angus Matthews, executive director of the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. You could join the other 180 oceaneers, as their volunteers are called, and immerse yourself in a watery world.
The not-for-profit centre is a unique, public-private partnership that involves the town of Sidney, Shaw Ltd., Marker Developments, senior governments, and major donors. Saanich Peninsula residents Linda and Murray Farmer co-chaired the fundraising, turning a $2-million government infrastructure grant into a $5-million community-based capital campaign. The big gift was $1.5 million from Shaw with a further $1.5 million in private donations.
“The real stars of the centre are the marine life,” says Mathews. “Everything in the centre comes from within 15 kilometres of Sidney and people are amazed when they find out what is at their doorstep.”
Matthews says their vision incorporates tourism and education. “We are not a research organization but an interpretive centre. Our catchphrase is science explained and mysteries revealed.”
About 20 per cent of visitors are under five years old, which is the best part, according to Matthews. The young spirit of the place extends to the oceaneers (“the lifeblood of the organization”) as one-third are under the age of 16. “Hearing the kids’ excitement as they learn and discover is what it makes it all worthwhile,” Matthews says.
It’s no surprise the kids are excited. From life forms you can only see through a microscope to plankton, wolf eels, and rock fish — if it’s in the Salish Sea, you can see it at the centre. There’s even live video streaming from Race Rocks and under Bevan Pier in Sidney.
Located by the Sidney Pier Hotel at the foot of Beacon Avenue, the centre has become a community focal point that is also starting to lure new tourists.
“The only thing we got wrong was our business plan projections for visitors. We really underestimated the number of people that visit us.”
Matthews says that since opening day in June 2009, more than 95,000 people have gone through the centre. When you visit, be sure to say hello to the octopus.
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