About / Our History

Our History

Outward Bound was founded in 1941 in Aberdyfi, Wales by Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt. Hahn was an educationalist who was instrumental in founding a number of institutions: Salem School (1920), Gordonstoun (1934), Outward Bound (1941), Duke of Edinburgh Award (1956), Atlantic College and United World Colleges (1962), Round Square Schools (1966), and the International Baccalaureate (1968). The value of expeditions was revealed to him by Salem co-founder Marina Ewald, and they both made them a central part of their ‘learning though experience’ philosophy. Hahn used his privileged background, and connections to support his organisations and tried to introduce his philosophy outside of the ‘economic elite’. He developed the ‘County Badge’; a 28-day course, with a goal of reaching 1 million students nationwide, funded by Counties.


As World War 2 broke out, Gordonstoun was evacuated to Wales and the County Badge was wound down. Keen to maintain momentum, Hahn attracted the funds of Lawrence Holt, part-owner of the Blue Funnel Shipping Company. Holt was looking for a training program for young sailors who seemed to have lost the ‘tenacity and fortitude’ needed to survive the rigours of war and shipwreck, unlike older sailors who, because of their formative experiences on sailing ships, were more likely to survive. Holt purchased a property in Aberdyfi, and provided technical staff, along with some conditions. One: that the first course should begin in just 5 weeks’ time, and the second: The organisation should bear the name ‘Outward Bound’. Hahn did not originally like the name, and it was not until much later that Hahn admitted that the name ‘Outward Bound’ is one of its greatest assets.

The nautical term Outward Bound and it’s flag – the ‘Blue Pater’, is raised when a ship is ‘Outward Bound’, leaving the safety of harbour to sail out to whatever challenges they will meet. That flag was raised on October 14th 1941, when the first students embarked on a 28-day course from the Outward Bound ‘sea school’ in Aberdyfi, and is still raised today as students embark on new experiences and adventures on Outward Bound courses.

The Outward Bound sea school at Aberdyfi was a great success and is still going strong, leading to the expansion to other schools throughout the UK and internationally. They each maintain the ethos of learning ‘through’, not ‘for’ the sea/mountains/lakes/forests/desert.

In Western Canada, the Outward Bound Mountain School was formed in 1969 under the vision and persistence of Art Rogers and Mike Perry (both ex-instructors at OB Eskdale) and it’s first Director John Hasell. On 30th June 1969, 26 students between the ages of 16 and 19 embarked on a 26 day course. In Eastern Canada, the Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School  (COBWebS) was formed at ‘Homeplace’, North of Thunder Bay Ontario in 1976 under the direction of Bob Pieh, who was a professor at Queens University. Thousands of students went through both OBMS (and COBWebS, leading to another base opening near Burks Falls – ‘Chetwynd’, close to Algonquin Park.

Increased competition both within the industry and the economic recession led to the selling of bases in BC and Ontario. True to Hahn’s aphorism that ‘your disability in your opportunity’, the organization amalgamated nationwide into one ‘Outward Bound Canada’, focusing on a more mobile, nimble expeditions that were not overnight centre-based, and also opened 2 urban centres in Vancouver and Toronto to be more accessible. These measures were a success, and OBCs 50th year was the most successful year of operations to date, running out of 6 centres in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada.

OBCs Head Office (known as the ‘National Expeditionary Support Team’ or ‘NEST”) is based on Anishinabek, Haudenosaunee, Wendat, and Mississauga of the Credit First Nations as well as on Toronto Purchase and Treaty 13 Land, Toronto, and we are grateful to the stewards of, and privileged to benefit from all of the ancestral lands our students journey through.

Internationally, Outward Bound schools now operate in 33 countries with over 250 wilderness and urban locations serving over 250,000 participants each year. As we see workplaces, education institutions and governments slowly realizing the importance of Social, Emotional, and Environmental learning in a successful future, the world is realizing the need for Outward Bound. Just as in 1941 and the recovery from World War 2, Outward Bound will be key in recovery from the Global pandemic, and the environmental crisis, whatever the next 50 years has in store for us, and beyond.

Testimonial Isabelle's Summer Canoeing Adventure
Testimonial The Impact on my son
Testimonial I'm part of nature
Testimonial Our School Group Experience
Testimonial Life Compass in the Rockies
Testimonial An Adventure close to home

Backpack-Icon-graphic 2,269 2019 Participants
Compass-Icon-graphic 13,175 2019 Course Days
Fire-Icon-graphic 44% Of Students Funded
Tent-Icon-graphic 179 2019 Programs

Your Generousity Changes Lives