In the fall of 2021 a selection of CMA parents had a dream. This dream was geometric, and sort of resembled a pumpkin. They imagined swaths of children in this dream, paintbrushes in hand, lips stretched into gleeful grins, with creative messes all around. They dreamed of a yurt, dedicated to art, resting on the CMA campus. An art yurt, or Yart, for short. 

A few months later CMAP – CMA’s wonderful parent association – launched a fundraising campaign to acquire the funds necessary to build such a structure. Almost immediately, they were successful in meeting their target due to a very generous family donation. Things were happening fast! 

Luckily, covid-19 is a master of derailing plans and slowing down ordinary processes, and the winter of 21/22 wasn’t exempt from the pandemic’s grasp. The production of the yurt’s materials was delayed due to, you guessed it, “supply chain issues,” and as the unusually deep snowpack of that winter turned to grass and the flowers began to bloom, we waited. Finally, in early July, the yurt was ready for pick-up at its Langley warehouse. 

Master builder Chris Miller had dutifully taken-on the responsibility of designing the deck that the yurt would sit on and overseeing the construction of the grand circle itself, and from day one he was fully committed and ready to go. On July 11th, 2022, Chris rolled-up to my house in his F-350 towing a 14’ trailer and off to the Fraser Valley we went. One gigantic game of Tetris later, and we were fully loaded and en route back to Squamish under the hot summer sun. With many helping hands at CMA’s middle school that afternoon, we unloaded the yurt materials into classrooms and promptly left for summer vacation. Actual construction would be an August problem. 

6 weeks and a few adventures later, the build crew was ready to break ground. Our first task was to level the site that the deck would sit on. Naturally, we picked the hottest day of the century to shovel, rake, swing pick-axes, haul gravel, and man-handle 70 lb pier blocks into place. 3 months later my back is still sore from this traumatizing experience. But we got the job done, and in a few days we had a perfectly circular deck that the yurt could sit on. 

This was the first photo taken of Yurt Construction. Preparing the site in the blazing heat…

Always heavily invested in helping CMA grow, here’s Mr. Sharp hard at work in the blazing sun

The Day 1 Construction Crew (from left to right): Chris Miller, Brett Logan, Ben Bakk, Evan Sharp, Gord Ahrens

By the end of Day 1 we had something that resembled a foundation…

Fiona Miller clearing the new path to Quest

“I turned up with Chloe and Penny and was put straight to work clearing a new trail to Quest that would avoid the yurt area. Weed whacking and pruning back the branches for the new trail, it felt like we were going to melt in the heat. Thanks to the construction crew for their hard work. I don’t know how they coped working as long and hard as they did in the hot sunshine day after day!!”

Fiona Miller

A family affair: Chloe (L) and Penny (R) Miller clearing the new path to Quest

Swinging the weather pendulum to the other side of the spectrum, we opted to begin framing the yurt a week later in cold monsoon weather. Tanktops were traded for Goretex as we readied ourselves for another epic building session. In retrospect, the initial step of framing a yurt is by far the most interesting: that is, you must get the circular ring that frames the central skylight into its final position: 20 feet up in the air, at the center of an imaginary circle – before anything else is done. We did this using a combination of scaffolding, extra 2X6s, and Mr. Ashbaugh’s height. Once the central ring was suspended in place, it was ready to accept the rafters, and after quickly unrolling the latticed walls and stringing the cable into place, the skeleton of the roof went up remarkably fast. During my travels in Mongolia, I once heard a rumour that a seasoned Mongolian family is able to assemble a full-size yurt in 45 minutes. Our Squamish crew wasn’t nearly that fast, but we made exciting progress none-the-less and had the framing of the yurt done in a day. 

Day 2: Squamish-style deck framing…

By the end of Day 2 we had most of the deck framed

By the end of Day 2 we had most of the deck framed

“I recall that there came a point during the build where it made more sense to paint the floor than continue with construction.  It was a hot afternoon and most of us had been at it since dawn. We were experiencing the kind of crew energy where the right comment can accidentally trigger a laughing fit that halts productivity. A pair of such comments were landed perfectly one after the other about a quarter the way into rolling paint across the plywood deck:”

Math teacher (with roller in hand): “Ak!  Mr. B – I think we’ve started painting these sheets in the wrong direction.  We’re going to have to switch our orientation to go with the grain!”

Shop teacher (with roller in hand): “No problem as long as we don’t paint ourselves into a corner…”

Humanities teacher (wisely leaning on a shovel in the shade): “Given that this thing is a circle, I don’t think you two have any other choice!”

Court Ashbaugh

Day 3: With the first layer of plywood on, it was time to insulate the floor

Working in 40 degree heat, my face says it all. In the background, Mr. A + B sweep the deck before painting

The last day of construction was dedicated to the coverings. 200 pound sacks of heavy-duty vinyl that somehow need to be lifted through the central skylight opening before being rolled into place. I should mention that, by this point, our “volunteer labour pandemic” had spread throughout the community and there were now more hands on deck than ever. Students who live across the street had wandered over, curious to see what all the commotion was about; parents who were dropping by the school to find new uniform pieces for their children had turned their attentions westward and shown interest in what we were doing; even generic dog-walkers simply passing by had raised an eyebrow. All were put to work. With ratchet straps, rope, zip ties, and hooks, hands of all shapes and sizes wrestled the vinyl covering and insulation into place. Suddenly, we had a building, and while there was still the matter of servicing, furnishing, and supplying the space with art teaching materials to contend with, five days of sweat, splinters, and the highest levels of teamwork had raised a roof.

Having braved the heat, we opted for the polar opposite weather conditions to frame the actual yurt: pouring rain!

Mr. B stoked on the cedar rafters

Mr. A and Mr. Sharp in their happy place: Up 20 feet of scaffolding in the pouring rain!

“Building the yurt was like meeting up with your friends to engage in an adult version of Lego. I hope those lucky enough to play inside have as much fun!”

Gord Ahrens

We were all fairly lost reading the finer points of the instruction manual until Lori Grant came along…

There’s something special about having a central focal point, isn’t there?

Once we figured out our system, framing went quick

Senior student Will testing out the integrity of the window frame and making himself generally useful!

The view from the top

By the end of the 4th day we had something resembling a yurt

“I really enjoyed working with everyone on this project. Following Chris’ very strong and well-organized leadership, being able to show up and just work, this set-up was a great way to get to know the CMA teachers better. Evan, on the air gun, was a blocking master. On my second shift, Court and I worked together to complete some joisting.”

“I really appreciate the CMA community. Although I played a very small role in the building of this yurt, it was a great way to feel involved and get to know everyone a bit better.”

Ben Bakk

Mr. Logan and Will – “Sun Tanning”

Neige helping to get the insulation in place

Materials everywhere, sunny skies and moderate temperatures at last, we got the roof and walls secured in place on Day 5

By the end of day 5, we had a yurt!

“It was a pleasure to be involved throughout the yurt building project and seeing it come to fruition. From clearing the site and picking up the yurt package, to building the deck structure and fighting with the roof canvas to get it into position! Seeing it now completed and available for the CMA students to use is very satisfying. The joint input from both staff and parents who helped with the various stages of this project is part of what makes the CMA community special. Thanks to everyone for helping make this new space a reality for the benefit of all of our kids’ education”

Chris Miller

Building things yourself is inherently fun. Where before there was nothing, afterwards there is something beautiful that is more than the sum of its parts, because besides the finished product, when you build things yourself you gain experience, friendships, community, and stories – the verbal fabric that weaves us all together. Our 32’ Yart did all of these things for CMA, and I hope that this spirit of working towards a common, beautiful goal is felt by the students who create their own projects within its walls for years to come. 

Submitted by Mr. Logan, Head of School

Thank You!

For giving up precious summer days to make this dream a reality, I’d like to thank the primary build crew: Chris Miller, Gord Ahrens, Ben Bakk, Evan Sharp, Court Ashbaugh, and Travis Busschaert. You guys are talented, resilient, dedicated, and creative. You rock at moving rocks. 

For recognizing that the primary build crew would never be patient enough to read and understand the instructions ourselves, thank you Lori Grant. You took hold of the rudder at some critical times and as always, beautified the finished grounds in a perfect manner. 

For tackling the thick Squamish bush and putting in a new public trail to access the university, thank you to Fiona Miller, as well as Christian Begin. 

And finally, to our students who volunteered some of their last remaining days of summer to better the school that they’re the most important part of, thank you to Chloe Miller, Neige Begin, Archie Clarke, and Will Smart. You are all on your way to becoming inspired and conscientious citizens. Stay curious. 

The Grade 7’s using the Yurt to create Drum’s