Rachel Paquette

Program Officer Nature Interpretation

Wednesday, March 27, 2019 8:00 am

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 too much about 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 are embracing Canadian traditions and connecting with a natural environment that is typical of their new country.

Guided snowshoe hike

Every year, Gatineau Park organizes about 30 guided snowshoe hikes for people who are spending their first winter in Canada. Over 7,000 new Canadians have taken part since the program first began.

“Even though our mandate as instructors 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, instructor, regarding guided snowshoe hikes

During the snowshoe hike, my colleagues and I explain to participants that, in the past, snowshoes were an essential part of transportation in the region. With smiling faces and eyes twinkling with curiosity, they learn more about the Algonquin Nation, and become more familiar with Canada’s roots and customs.

This activity also presents an opportunity for the following:

  • to introduce them 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 here, their vulnerability and their ways of survival, as well as ways of living safely and in harmony with them;
  • to visit the permanent exhibition at the Visitor Centre;
  • to try 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, instructor, 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 from Malaysia
“I liked the snowshoeing, because I learned a lot. I also liked the hot chocolate. It was really good!”
— Le Anh, student from Vietnam

Winter carnival

The third winter carnival organized in Gatineau Park for new Canadians took place on February 23 and 24. A true initiation to Canadian winter, this winter festival takes place over two afternoons, during which participants take part in a range of activities:

  • tobogganing on a snowy hill
  • ball hockey game
  • snowshoeing in the forest, with or without a guide
  • tasting traditional treats (maple taffy, s’mores, hot chocolate)
  • discovering Anishinabe traditions and rituals
  • visiting the Visitor Centre

Although it is usually very cold during the carnival, the participants enjoy themselves and are very appreciative of this day of immersion. They leave the Park with the intention of coming back.

“My kids especially liked playing the First Nations musical instruments, touching the furs and guessing which animals they came from, and, of course, pigging out on toasted marshmallows! Even though it was chilly, it was a memorable day, in which I have always really enjoyed taking part each year, and which makes me proud to be a new Canadian!”
— 2018 carnival participant

This day would not have been possible without the support of the interpretive guides and volunteers from the Friends of Gatineau Park.

Learning to camp — in the summer!

For a true wilderness experience, there is nothing like extending the adventure and spending the night in the Park. To help make the introduction to camping a little easier, the program is offered in the summer — not the winter!

Every summer since 2017, we have welcomed a group of new Canadians at Philippe Lake to introduce them to camping. This activity is organized in partnership with Parks Canada. Sleeping in a tent, cooking meals on the campfire, canoeing, hiking, playing in nature — these are some of the joys of summer that are part of the experience.

“My mother joined us in Canada two years ago. She had never camped in her life. I found that the NCC’s introduction to camping program provided a unique opportunity for her to discover this typically Canadian activity in a safe and supportive way. I was really proud to see her putting up her tent by herself. She told me that it was a lot easier than she expected. These are precious moments that we shared as a family and that we will remember for a long time to come!”
— Sophie Wauquier, 2018 program participant

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.