What’s in a name?


As I think of the name Helen Schuler I am reminded of how much the City of Lethbridge owes to the foresight of this extraordinary woman.  As an active naturalist, Helen worked hard to involve school children, friends, City Council, and others in an appreciation of the special nature of the prairie.

It was in the early 1970’s, that Helen Schuler and Liz Hall started talking about school environmental programmes and working with schoolteachers and curriculum organizers to put together such a programme.

Volunteers were approached to help in this area, and I was fortunate to be in this early group.  Working with schoolteachers in elementary grades to reinforce what was being taught in science in the classroom, the children took part in hands-on experiences.

The children in small groups of four or five, would move from station to station manned by a volunteer instructor who would help the children learn from experience about interrelationships.  A rock would be moved and under it would be a beetle or bug, so the rock would be replaced giving a home back to the creature.  A piece of plastic would be picked up and the children discovered that the grass was yellow because the sun was shut out.  Along the fence line the grass grew taller and signs of something eating the grass was seen.  Bit by bit, little discoveries were made, questions asked, and lessons learned.

Later the classes would be taken to a vacant lot near the school, then to undeveloped land near the LCC or U of L, to study mice and gopher communities.

Helen encouraged our sons to build bluebird boxes following the Saskatchewan Bluebird Society model.  She wrote very personal weekly nature articles for the Herald.  She spearheaded a group whose presentations to City Council resulted in keeping a part of the river bottom as a natural area. She and Francis Schultz formed the Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society in 1969, and Helen was its first president. She helped establish the Federation of Alberta Naturalists in 1970 and was a director and treasurer. Briefs and letter writing on environmental issues were part of her work.

Following Helen’s untimely death in 1977 at the age of 46, the School programmes were carried out with an expanded group of volunteers trained by coordinator Mary Bailey. The natural area provided a focus for the study of the various ecosystems (top of coulee, side slopes, on the flat bottom land, and along the river).

When a name for the proposed interpretive Centre was requested, the Lethbridge Naturalists’ Society submitted the name “Helen Schuler Coulee Centre” to remember Helen who contributed in so many ways to environmental appreciation.

I would invite everyone to visit the Helen Schuler Coulee Centre, to learn from the displays, to enjoy the chickadees and nuthatches at the bird feeder, to look for the Great Horned Owl’s nest, and to pick up the brochure on the Helen Schuler Nature Centre and the Lethbridge Nature Reserve and especially one entitled “Helen Schuler, A True Naturalist”.