What a Difference a Mentor Makes!

We all know that mentors can make or break things for people at pivotal moments, and I’d like to pay homage to a most incredible teacher and mentor who literally changed my life.


Chuck Hopkins, photo via portal.unesco.org

It is late August 1973, and I’m suddenly informed that as a university co-op student, I’m not going to be allowed to re-enter the United States to work at Camp Storer Outdoor Ed Center in Jackson Michigan again in the fall. Suddenly I’m out of work, so I set to work!

Following the method of the day that is tried and true, I track down contacts by telephone, (even the idea of the internet is still 18 long years away!), and I begin typing out letters of inquiry to each and every outdoor education center in Ontario that I can find. And then, at 9:30 a.m. on that very first day of school, in the very first week of September, I receive a phone call at my parents’ home in Ottawa. It’s Chuck Hopkins, Principal of the Boyne River Natural Science School for the Toronto District School Board, located far across the province, in the wooded hills outside a small town called Shelburne Ontario.

He’s in dire need of assistants to fill in for 3 weeks until student teachers from U of T can begin their weekly placements, and he wants to know if I would be interested? Well yes, absolutely, yes I would!!!

And when he asks “When could I get there?”, can I really have said, “I can be there TODAY!”??  But yes, I really did.  Oh, to be that young again….. (-:

I pack a few clothes and catch a noon hour bus to Toronto, and another one on up to Shelburne, where Chuck’s wife Barb is going to drive into town and pick me up in the Boyne River van – and take me to “The Boyne”.

BoyneRiver.jpgAs I am riding that old Voyageur bus through the rolling hills of Caledon, enjoying those golden rays of late summer sun, I remember as clearly as if it were today, every fibre of my being is feeling like I am just zinging with static electricity. Not only do I know with absolute clarity that my life is about to change forever, I also totally know that I know! It is one of the most remarkable and self-aware moments of my life.

And it all turns out to be true.

As Chuck meets and welcomes me that evening, he and his Boyne River Staff warmly embrace me as a temporary group assistant, and I begin a 3 week adventure working with young Toronto students learning about their Canadian outdoors, and their place within it. And when those 3 weeks come to an end, Chuck agrees to allow me to stay on and complete my co-op term there at the Boyne, for free. For just room and board, I am able to continue working with some of the best teachers in the world, learning how to teach and help students learn both in and about the natural outdoors, and I begin to fulfil my deepest passion. There is nowhere on Earth that I would rather be. Because of Chuck’s faith in me, I am taken in and I become one of the Boyne River family.

There’s much more to the story, but for now, let this suffice.

Chuck, wherever you go in the universe, may you always know that whatever Cathy Beach is able to accomplish in this world, a significant element of that is because of you. Because you believed in me, and gave me a place to blossom, and to learn and grow.

You accepted me into your family, both personally and professionally, and you showed me a view of myself that I’d never even imagined. In so many ways, you changed the very trajectory of my life.

And the warmth of my affection and regard for you lives on in my soul, forever. 

Thank you.


~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Chuck has gone on to accomplish a lengthy list of amazing achievements in his lifetime. Besides starting both the Boyne River Natural Science School and the Toronto Urban Studies Centre, Chuck went on to become both a District and Curriculum Superintendent for the TDSB. And since retiring from the school board, he has worked tirelessly on a global scale for the United Nations and UNESCO for Environmentally Sustainable Development and education towards that end.  Chuck has been awarded many prestigious awards, and he currently holds the UNESCO CHAIR IN REORIENTING TEACHER EDUCATION TOWARDS SUSTAINABILITY at the Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.




About Cathy Beach

Recently retired elementary teacher and outdoor educator in rural Ontario, Canada. My Olympic Journeys may be over, but they lead me into some very exciting adventures with teachers and kids and the world of connected learning...
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2 Responses to What a Difference a Mentor Makes!

  1. Pingback: This Week in Ontario Edublogs | doug --- off the record

  2. lisamnoble says:

    this is gorgeous, Cath. Thanks to Doug Peterson for helping me find it. We have so many important people in our lives who point us in directions we woudn’t have gone by ourselves, and it’s such a great idea to thank them. For example, this woman named Cathy Beach told me my homework for a #TLLP project was to get myself on Twitter. Yup, it’s all your fault. 🙂 I can’t thank you enough.

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