For 40 years, Dave Chitty brought the outdoors into his classroom as a teacher. A native of New Zealand with a propensity for pranks, Chitty has always been involved in outdoor education.
“I love the outdoors and I love to get kids involved in all sorts of things outside the classroom,” he said.
When he first heard about a program called Salmonids in the Classroom, he thought it would be a natural fit: teach his students about the life cycle of a salmon by growing fry in large garbage cans in the classroom, then send them off to be released back into their natural habitat.
That started a decades long love affair with salmon stewardship for Chitty. “I learned with the kids,” he recalled this week.
“I had a heck of a lot of fun doing it. And it’s all grown from that. My love of the outdoors and to try and have as many people as possible understand fish and forests are all connected, somehow.”
Last weekend his relationship with nature was validated when his friends and colleagues unveiled the Dave Chitty Resource Centre at the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association’s Salmon Hatchery.
Chitty, whose health has been failing the past year, grinned as more than two dozen people gathered in the sunshine around the newly-minted sign at the hatchery, located alongside Kitsuksis Creek at McLean Mill. He was one of the people responsible for having the hatchery and resource centre built.
“I’m overwhelmed and humbled,” Chitty said.
Only the study centre will bear Chitty’s name, hatchery volunteer Jake Leyenaar said. The rest of the facility will still be known as the Alberni Valley Enhancement Association Salmon Hatchery.
The stories were flowing as fast as the creek after the formal part of the morning, as Chitty regaled the crowd with the tale of how he managed to finagle government funding for the hatchery when it was built in 1992.
Chitty’s experience with salmon in the classroom led to the formation 20 years ago of Gently Down the Creek, a program that all Alberni Valley students sooner or later experience at the hatchery. They see first hand how the fish are raised from fertilized eggs in the hatchery, and eventually released into nearby Kitsuksis Creek or any number of other creeks in the region.
In addition to his role as educational co-ordinator, Chitty became involved with efforts to revive salmon stocks in Cherry Creek and its tributaries, the Kitsuksis and around Sproat Lake.
He and a legion of others who share his dedication have done this, he says, in spite of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Chitty looked around at the resource centre that now bears his name, and said, “this is what it’s all about. It’s hands on. When the kids come out here, we guarantee they’re going to get wet.”
He said Gently Down the Creek is a program “this community needs to guard jealously.”
Biologist Dave Clough, who has run the program with Chitty since the beginning, put together a slide show of the last 10 years of Chitty’s involvement with the AVEA and the hatchery. Clough choked up when thanking Chitty for his mentorship.
“You have been my inspiration for so long. I am who I am because of you,” he said.
Clough and Chitty have been working together since 1991.
Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser also honoured Chitty with a certificate and a speech in the legislature—a copy of which was printed in the official Hansard record. Fraser managed to make his two-minute speech on budget day, something he said was difficult to do.
Fraser lauded Chitty’s dedication to salmon enhancement in the Alberni Valley. “Dave Chitty has helped educate a generation that spans the globe,” Fraser said.
Fraser said Chitty helped him immensely when he was first elected as an MLA. “One of my first meetings he started educating me about stream health in the Valley,” Fraser said.
Leyenaar said the idea to name the study or resource centre after Chitty was first brought up at a Pacific Salmon Foundation dinner. Two foundation members asked the AVEA if they would be willing to change the name of the centre.
“We had no problem with that at all, seeing as it was Dave that got the idea of this (hatchery) together,” Leyenaar said.
“It’s a great reward to have one of your friends titled as part of the building. It goes into the annals of history as being Dave Chitty.”