April 1, 2020
It would be an understatement to say that a lot has been going on at the Westminster Ponds Centre these last few months! After a long planning process and the installation of geothermal heating, building renovations began swiftly last year and have not slowed down since. We are pleased to be able to share some updates with the public.
A New Welcome to the Site
The first major renovations to take place were on the Gate House – a small shed-like structure at the entrance of the site. This is the first building people come upon as they enter the site, and its renovation is an exciting symbol of what’s to come. After completely gutting it, replacing the walls and adding fresh coats of paint, it now serves as the welcome spot, providing visitors with information about the site, its donors and wayfinding materials. Some of the information includes the site’s past as a veterans’ rehabilitation village, its present as the home base of local environmental organizations, and its future as a community hub of environmental education and programming.
While the Gate House’s exterior is complete, there is more to come for the interior. In 2019, the Westminster Working Group put forward an idea to be voted on in the City of London’s Neighbourhood Decision Making granting program which would fund electrical upgrades to the Gate House and to store snowshoes that can be used by the public. The idea was successful, so by winter 2021, there will be snowshoes available to rent, helping people enjoy the 200 hectares of wilderness in the Westminster Ponds.
Thames Valley District School Board Moves In
The Thames Valley District School Board is running the fantastic new Environmental Leaders’ Project, for Grade 10 students from area high schools who are interested in the outdoors, the environment and leadership. Now in its second year, the program allows students and teachers to spend the semester based out of the Huron Pavilion at WPC, away from regular high school life and closer to nature. Also known as the HELP program, it uses a “head, heart, hands approach to transformative learning.” The students work on projects that focus on improving the community, that build their transferrable skills and encourage them to become active citizens.
The site will also house the TVDSB’s environmental / outdoor education field trips for students of all ages. We look forward to seeing thousands of eager learners each year as they explore the outdoors and the natural world right here at Westminster Ponds.
The Huron Pavilion was formerly the home of the Secrets of Radar Museum, and more recently was used for Childreach’s Wild Child Outdoor Playgroup and Day Camp programs. Last year, the building was renovated to suit the TVDSB’s needs in time for the winter semester. The building is now equipped with classrooms, a multi-use open space, a laboratory, a renovated kitchen and accessible washrooms. Upon entry, the first thing one sees is a large supply of snowshoes for the students, and the bulletin boards that are covered in inspiring messages and goals that the students have put up. Westminster Ponds Centre tenants were invited to visit at an Open House hosted by the students, during which it was clear that the students seemed very happy and grateful to have the opportunity to get out of their regular routines and learn in this truly unique environment.
Volunteer Training Centre
The most recent restoration project has been the creation of a conference and training space within the Bruce Pavilion, which will be used as a Volunteer Training Centre. This space will be used for a wide array of environmental education opportunities, particularly public workshops and volunteer training sessions. It will greatly enhance WPC by opening it up to the broader community, offering numerous opportunities for the public to get involved in local sustainability efforts.
With funding through the Signal Boost Initiative, made possible by the Ontario Trillium Foundation, London Environmental Network member groups are able to host workshops in the Volunteer Training Space for free and gain access to funding to organize an event.
The room will also be available to anyone for renting to host meetings, small workshops and other events. We are sure that you will love our unique setting right next to London’s largest environmentally significant area. Imagine participating in a team workshop with your colleagues, and having the chance to take your coffee break outside among the forest! Be sure to check back soon to learn more about our space rental opportunities.
The renovations will be completed this spring, and we are currently scheduling a calendar full of events and workshops. Those interested in attending or hosting an event can reach out to Kelsey Nicholls, Signal Boost Coordinator at [email protected], and check out our online Events Calendar, coming soon.
Still to Come
There are still two more buildings that have yet to be restored. These include the Perth Pavilion, which is the same size and similar in layout to the Bruce and Huron Pavilions. The creation of plans for this building is underway, and we look forward to announcing its use in the not-so-distant future!
The fourth building is the largest and grandest: The Wellington Pavilion. A former community center, this building will be the jewel and central feature of the site. Expect to see events large and small held here in the coming years. Later in 2020, keep an eye out for opportunities to participate in our community consultation activities, as we plan for the Wellington Pavilion’s ultimate uses, as well as the site’s master plan.