Program Officer Nature Interpretation
Of all Canada’s seasons, winter is the most difficult — in terms of both getting through it and learning to love it! For new Canadians, who often don’t know what to expect, winter can be a big challenge. However, winter is a lot more than bitter cold, blizzards and freezing rain. It also presents a unique opportunity to play outside and enjoy the wonders of nature. But, it’s important to know how to enjoy it!
For several years, I have had the pleasure of introducing new Canadians to the joys of winter in Gatineau Park. In the spirit of fun and friendship, they embrace Canadian traditions and connect with the natural environment that is typical of their new country.
Guided snowshoe hike
Gatineau Park organizes guided snowshoe hikes for people who are spending their first winter in Canada. Thousands of new Canadians have taken part since the program first began.
“Even though our mandate as teachers for introductory classes can be described basically as teaching the language, it also involves helping teens in our classes to connect with various Quebec realities. Helping them to appreciate winter is obviously an important goal, because the snowy months are often a real challenge for so many. Discovering Gatineau Park and the forests of Quebec helps them to understand and appreciate their host land and, ultimately, increases their sense of belonging.”
— Julie Demers, teacher, commenting on guided snowshoe hikes
During the snowshoe hike, my colleagues and I explain to participants that, in the past, snowshoes were essential forms of winter transportation in the region. With smiling faces and eyes twinkling with curiosity, they learn more about the Algonquin Anishinabe, and become more familiar with Canada’s history and customs.
This activity also presents opportunities to:
- to introduce newcomers to Canada to the Park and its conservation mandate;
- to explore many activities that can be enjoyed in every season;
- to talk about the animals that live in the area, their vulnerability and their ways of survival, as well as ways of living safely and in harmony with them;
- to visit the permanent exhibit at the Visitor Centre;
- drink hot chocolate with marshmallows — without which the experience would not be complete.
By spending time with reassuring nature guides, these new Park users discover a world of possibilities in spite of the climate which, at first, may seem inhospitable.
“They are fantastic at piquing people’s curiosity.”
— Julie Demers, teacher, regarding the Park’s nature guides
“I’m starting to learn that snow is not bad. It’s beautiful. I had a really good time with the cold, the guide, my friends and Julie.”
— Alicia, student
“I liked the snowshoeing, because I learned a lot. I also liked the hot chocolate. It was really good!”
— Le Anh, student
By making the Park accessible to this clientele, and providing a simple and easy way for them to enjoy a positive experience, everybody wins. New Canadians have a chance to connect with their new community and gain a better understanding of the close relationship that exists between the presence of people taking part in nature activities and the need to protect and preserve the richness of our natural environment.