The Algonquin Adventure: A Photo Gallery

Olivia Richardson is a participant in Group 6 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I am very privileged to be part of the CCC program.

The first month has been a whirlwind of adventure and emotions. From meeting the gang in the airport in Toronto to impromptu team bonding in the grocery store (our first group task) to spending five days at camp Kandalore doing leadership training, first aid and team bonding.

It was all fun and exciting. Before we knew it all 10 of us were loaded into the 15- passenger van trading our modern conveniences for our winter gear headed to the bush for 10 days.

Now were back into reality, showered and clean. Back to camp Kandalore for some more training before the pack parts ways and heads home to prepare for stage two.

We’ve become very attached to each other, grown as individuals and as leaders.

I am thrilled and excited to be venturing to the Calgary Zoo for the next stage of my #CCCAdventure.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

Adventure Where You Least Expect It

Alexandra Falla is a participant in Group 2 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I arrived back home after an intense and knowledge-filled summer with McGill at the Gault Nature Reserve.

I don’t think I will ever be able to fully explain every little thing I did and learned during my Stage 2 placement, but I have taken all those memories and experiences home with me. I do find myself missing the mountain, especially during the first week transitioning back to school and the city life. T’inquiétés pas cher Mont-Saint-Hiliare, I’ll be back for you one day!

In the meantime, I’ve been doing my best to take my Stage 2 experience and translate it into a Stage 3 project. I have been keeping myself very busy with school. I just started my fourth year of school at the University of Guelph, but only my second semester of my new program – Zoology. Switching has been one of the smartest decisions I made in the past year, and even though I will be taking a little longer to graduate than most of my classmates, I know I would prefer to take my time doing something I enjoy, rather than rushing to graduate with a degree that I was no longer passionate about. A lot of my coursework now focuses on wildlife, natural history, and the science behind some very big conservation issues. For example, my invertebrate biology lab is currently looking at the effects of pharmaceutical run-off in freshwater invertebrates. It’s exciting to see how relevant issues are being used to teach some difficult concepts in class – using these real-life situations and applying them to course work helps me get a better understanding of some serious science.

bee research @alexandra falla
A snapshot of the bumblebee samples (genus Bombus) that live in my lab. © Alexandra Falla

Aside from some really cool classes I am taking, I am also working as a research assistant in a pollinator lab at the School of Environmental Science. My job is to assist with the lab’s long-term bio-monitoring project. Each summer, people volunteer to set up a monitoring site on their property. They collect insect samples in traps. These samples are then mailed to us, and it’s our job to sort out the bees from the rest of the bugs, and then pin, identify, and database the samples. The bees we focus on are native, solitary bees – those that do not live in hives or colonies. They are much harder to find. The goal of the project is to maintain a database of bee species found across the province, and to monitor the species that are declining. This is all new territory for me but I’m enjoying the work very much. It’s given me a little more insight into how much work goes into bio-monitoring, and how critical these kinds of projects are for understanding the changes in native species prevalence. #SaveTheBees.

On top of all this, I still found time in my schedule for volunteer service with Credit Valley Conservation at home in Mississauga. I helped the community outreach department, so most of my service involved assisting with community tree planting events, as well as monitoring older planting sites. I spent a day at Fletcher’s Creek Senior Public School in Brampton, where I helped about 100 grade seven students get outside and plant some trees at the park next to school.  I also taught them the importance of habitat restoration in urban environments. Together we planted about 100 trees. The kids enjoyed getting outside and experiencing a different kind of learning environment. I believe the best way to teach the importance of conservation and citizen science is by taking part in outdoor events like these, where one can experience that world first hand, and see a difference at the end of the day. Even if it’s as simple as taking part in a community park clean-up, or going outside to observe local wildlife at a city park, by making those connections with the outdoor world, you can be more appreciative of the efforts of people like all of us at the CCC. Our goal is to make our environment a better place for native wildlife, and to conserve it for the future generations to enjoy.

Stage 3 has been an adventure of its own. I’ll admit I did not expect to have a full schedule this semester, but thanks to the CCC, I have that new-found passion for conservation and am doing every little thing I can do be a part of it. I’m excited to see what other opportunities present themselves in the next few months, and how my CCC experience will continue to shape my future in conservation.

Learn more about The Canadian Conservation Corps.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

My Hope This Year

Michael Chen is a participant in Group 5 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

In October and December, Parks Canada staff came to the Calgary Zoo to share updates about the wild bison reintroduction in Banff National Park.

In the middle of the 19th century, around 30 million bison roamed free in North America but they almost became extinct due to overhunting. By the 1850s, the bison disappeared from Banff. In 2017, Parks Canada reintroduced a herd of 16 plains bison from Elk Island National Park to Banff National Park in a “soft release” pasture. The bison were translocated to an 18-hectare fenced pasture – instead of releasing them straight into the wild.

The purpose was to give them time to adjust, allow them to calve twice, and introduce them to the weather conditions, slopes, rivers and mountain forage. Because they were coming from a prairie landscape, they never saw a mountainside or river before. The Parks staff could also monitor the population.

bison hww

A key factor for a successful reintroduction for wild bison is that they will calve and create new memories in their new habitat. If they have the necessary food, shelter, and learn how to survive in this new environment, then they will thrive.

This resonates with my work in settlement with newcomers back in Toronto. Immigrants and refugees also need a successful environment where they can create memories and anchor to their new homes. Some will move between Canada and their home country or even from province to province. Some will take a longer time to adjust. Some may lack resources like food, access to services, school support. They may face barriers like speaking a new language, meeting people from new cultures or adopting new foods. Like the bison’s reintroduction journey, they are in a new environment and are also literally trying to find the “lay of the land.”

Usually, the old and wise bison will teach the later generations how to live in the areas. Unfortunately for the wild bison, there were none that existed in the Banff area. Instead, the bison were taught by Parks Canada stewards. Similarly, for those new immigrants to Canada, there might not be existing family or friends that can help them integrate in this new country. That’s where a non-profit agency comes in and helps them. In some small way, that is where I came in as a guide to journey with them.

michael presentation

In November, I was able to meet some immigrant students in Calgary. I shared my own experience of participating in the Canadian Conservation Corps. Of course, playing the CWF Wild Education games and interacting with them was a definite plus. After the presentation, a grade 11 student shared with me that he wanted to join the CCC in a few years.  He told me he wanted to travel to new places in the country and protect our natural resources for the future generations.

The reason why I chose to reach out to the immigrant youth population is because they, like all youth, face barriers to finding volunteer opportunities and getting involved. I wanted them to learn more about a future volunteer opportunity and also take away some actions that they could use to help protect Earth’s natural resources. Some sample actions included: picking up trash, purchasing fewer plastic products and using the iNaturalist app to collect nature data for scientists.

I think that most Calgarians and Canadians today can understand the story of packing up, moving to a new land and starting a new life.

My hope this year is that more youth will get involved in CCC stage 3 volunteer projects across the country. This is especially true for those who have not had the opportunity to experience the outdoors and learn about environmental protection and conservation due to barriers in their life.

For wildlife, my hope is that the wild bison population will learn how to live comfortably in their original home — the Banff area. In the future, it will be exciting for all Canadians, Indigenous peoples and visitors to experience and share the wonder in bison country.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

West Coast Glory

Angela Rehhorn is a participant in Group 5 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I feel like I am living in a movie scene as I sit on my surfboard, staring out towards Japan, watching the sky turn various shades of orange as the sun begins to set.

Sunset, Surfer, and CCC on Long beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve @Angela Rehhorn
Sunset, Surfer, and CCC on Long beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photo: Angela Rehhorn

Although this is something I’ve always dreamed of, it never really felt like it would be reality. I’m in awe of this place and it’s beauty.

Aside from surfing, hiking, and watching sunsets I have been learning a lot from my Canadian Conservation Corps field placement at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

Here are some of the highlights from the first two months.

Endangered Plant Surveys

Measuring the fecundity of a Pink Sand Verbena plant. @Silvana Botros
Measuring the fecundity of a Pink Sand Verbena plant. Photo: SB

We continued the survey of Pink Sand Verbena and finished counting all 1,690 plants on Schooner beach. The fecundity survey took us longer than anticipated because there were more plants than expected. There were many spots where the plants were clumped together in close quarters. A handheld GPS could not differentiate the locations so we used a Real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS system to more accurately map the location of each plant.

Using the RTK to map Pink Sand Verbena plants. @Silvana Botros
Using the RTK to map Pink Sand Verbena plants. Photos: SB

Here are some of the details:

  • First, we levelled the base instrument on a known location of rebar.
  • Next, we took the rover — essentially a very large stick topped with an instrument that communicates with the base — to another known waypoint to see how accurately it was recording location. Our threshold was two centimetres.
  • Then we took the rover to each plant that we had previously flagged, entered the plant ID and recorded the location once the rover was levelled.
  • Finally, this information was uploaded onto the computers so we could use it to map the plants on ArcGIS software.

This is not an area of my expertise so it was a really helpful learning opportunity for me. I uploaded the base maps, added data sets, fixed outlier data points, joined data tables and manipulated the data and maps to show useful depictions. By mapping the plants from Schooner we were able to compare the location of plants in relation to plant count and reproduction which potentially allows us to determine habitat preference and features.

For example, even though there may have been more plants on the dune itself, the plants on the beach may have been more reproductive. This allows us to look into potential possibilities and learn more about the plant in order to conserve it better.

Heading towards Schooner Cove Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. @Angela Rehhorn
Heading towards Schooner Cove Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photo: Angela Rehhorn

With the Schooner survey under our belts, we moved on in search of Pink Sand Verbena on Wickaninnish beach where the dunes are much larger. The landscape is so vast that I felt completely insignificant. Although the whether was colder our days still consisted of walking the beach watching the surfers, enjoying the waves and following wolf tracks.

Eelgrass Analysis

Our other main project with the park was analyzing underwater towed video of Eelgrass. This was a combined project between the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (PRNPR) and the Hakai Institute.

There are videos from the park, the gulf islands and Gwaii Haanas. We were predominately looking for the presence and density of eelgrass on a scale of one to four.  We were also recording the substrate, if it was vegetated, the type of algae, the density of algae (sparse or dense), and if there was scarring present on the eelgrass as an indicator of wasting disease. This information was given to the Hakai institute to be analyzed and used to make accurate maps of the location and density of the eelgrass beds.

Eelgrass is an important ecosystem to monitor and maintain for various reasons. It is an area of primary nutrients and habitat (or nursery ground) for many larval species and early life stages. This project gave us the opportunity to learn and to practice identifying algal species as well as other marine life such as fish, starfish, crabs, and sea pens. It has also provided a nice escape from the field when the infamous West Coast rain made an appearance.

Keeping Visitors Safe

Another interesting thing I was exposed to is diversion area feeding. There are many cases where a dead animal will wash up on the beach or be found around a popular area or trail. This is a natural component of the ecosystem but in the case of a national park visitor safety is always a concern.

These carcasses will attract predators such as wolves, bears, and cougars. It is important that these species have access to this natural food source. However, to keep the visitors safe and to prevent interaction with the wildlife, these carcasses will sometimes be moved to areas that are more discrete and out of the way.

Seal and Shark Diversion

There were reports of a dead harbour seal on Wickaninnish so we headed out to check the situation with the probability of moving the carcass off the beach. As we approached the seal carcass it was clear the wolves had already made their appearance. Among many tracks, they had already dragged the seal from the mid to upper beach (making our job easier). Measurements of the seal were taken before using a rope to drag it past the sand dunes and into the bush in efforts to keep the wolf activity out of human range. It is important for the park to limit the interaction between people and the wildlife to “keep the wild in wildlife.” If the animals become accustomed to the presence of people it could lead to habituation – the loss of their natural fear – putting both humans and the wildlife in danger.

There was also another interesting case of diversion area feeding after a wolf was seen dragging a shark (still alive) out of the water near Schooner beach. Due to the high traffic of visitors in the area the shark was removed and had to be placed somewhere else where the wolves would still be able to find it and feed if they wished. The shark had to be removed quite far from the original location. In this situation it is important to leave a scent trail to lead the animals to the new area.

Joining the wolf CORE

Arlene's drawing of a symmetrical wolf track along with real wolf tracks. Photo: Angela Rehhorn
Arlene’s drawing of a symmetrical wolf track along with real wolf tracks. Photo: Angela Rehhorn

We also had the opportunity to join the wolf CORE team in deploying some trail cameras to track wolf activity. We headed out to our first location on Wick beach. It wasn’t long before we started to notice and follow wolf tracks. It turns out we were able to follow these tracks right through to the location where the camera was to be placed.  Some of the tracks were very fresh – I was told within the hour. I was cautioned that although following the tracks is fun, you sometimes find the wolves.

This was also the perfect opportunity for me to learn some tricks and tips to identify wolf tracks vs dog prints. Due to the high use of the beaches in the park it can be difficult to tell if a track is a large dog or a wolf. Arlene and Sarah from the park explained that wolf prints are more symmetrical and wolves usually walk in straighter defined paths. The two middle toes of a wolf print are usually flush with each other and the two outside toes are symmetrical on either side, whereas a dog print will be more spread out with a curve similar to looking at our own hands – like a binomial distribution.

Dogs also tend to have a more erratic path because they don’t have the same goal-oriented missions as the wolves. After completing camera maintenance (switches, SD cards, implementing proper capture settings, recording location and angle) we continued to follow wolf tracks in the other direction almost all the way to the parking lot.

It was interesting to see how straight of a path the pack took throughout the sand dunes. There were defined tracks going both to and from the area – on their way out and on their way back. This was a good location to have a trail camera. Dune ecosystems are worth protecting as they are frequently used by animals such as wolves, bears, deer and other animals.

Dynamic Ecosystems

Sand dune on Wickaninnish Beach Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photo: Angela Rehhorn
Sand dune on Wickaninnish Beach Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Photo: Angela Rehhorn

An interesting side observation was a newly exposed lumber platform that was probably used by the military in World War II. There are signs all over Wickaninnish warning visitors of the beach’s past use as military training ground and the possibility of finding explosives. The area has been fully scanned with metal detectors and anything found was removed and detonated. This was also a good example of how Sand Dunes are dynamic ecosystems that are constantly moving. With wind and waves the sand is pushed around to new areas and new locations thus exposing a platform that wasn’t visible before.

Basking in the West Coast glory

Finishing the day with a sunset beach fire. Photo: Angela Rehhorn
Finishing the day with a sunset beach fire. Photo: Angela Rehhorn

My second month in Ucluelet has proven to be just as action packed as the first. We found some time to visit two other CCC members at their placement at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site in Victoria and I was able to catch up with an aunt I hadn’t seen in years as well as a good friend from Dalhousie. It really is a small world. The other CCC members also had the chance to visit us in Ucluelet so we took them for a beach fire, surfing, and showed them around. The life I am living feels unreal and I am basking in the West Coast glory. I cannot wait to see what the last month will have in store for me but for now I’m heading back to the beach. Surfs up!

Learn more about the Canadian Wildlife Federation‘s Canadian Conservation Corps.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

From Such Great Heights: Learning to Let Go

Silvana Botros is a participant in Group 5 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I stood at the base of Mount Galatea on the last day of my Canadian Conservation Corps Rocky Mountain expedition and felt profoundly changed — but was all the better person as a result.

Spending 14 days in the backcountry was the adventure I always knew I wanted to take, but it wasn’t until the end that I realized the huge impact it would have on me.

The journey as a whole was full of difficult challenges, laughter, tears and personal growth.  I wouldn’t have it any other way. Coming from Eastern Ontario, my Septembers are usually characterized by an abundance of changing leaves, sunshine and sweater weather.  I assumed the same of Alberta. Rather, we arrived at our first camping site to 20 centimetres of snow, -9 C weather, and a bit of fear in our hearts. I felt confident going into the Outward Bound expedition, given my experience in the outdoors, but nothing could have prepared me for the curveballs the Rockies threw my way.

On route to Mount Romulus, our 18-kilometre day.
On route to Mount Romulus, our 18-kilometre day.

On our fifth day, after a long, snowy, 18-kilometre trek from Elbow Lake to Mount Romulus, I went to bed in my sleeping bag feeling accomplished, happy, and ready for the next day. Little did I know it would be one of the most challenging days of not only my expedition but of my life. Our plan was to travel from Mount Romulus to an abandoned horse camp about seven kilometres away. In my mind,  this was an easy trail. The next day, we got to the trail and I found out something new about myself:  I’m really afraid of cliffs, and the trail we were on was full of them.

The day started out easily enough, meandering through established trails with lots of switchbacks up the mountains. Then the trail began to thin out.  The trail was not easily distinguishable from the shrubs and stunted growth trees (called krummholz) hugging the steep slopes of the mountain. The soft dirt path soon turned into unsteady scree slopes with no identifiable path. I began to feel nervous, questioning my footing and cursing the 27-kilogram pack on my back. The atmosphere changed as person after person passed me. My confidence as an outdoors person was being challenged, and I was ashamed that I was having difficulty navigating. My expectations of myself were high, and I was not reaching them (figuratively and literally). Then, the cliffs came.

Galatea Lakes
Galatea Lakes

The path (or lack thereof) we were on soon became a risky scramble over loose boulders at the top of a 50-metre drop into the ether. Looking down, there was no question: one ill-placed step would not end well. Below me was a 70-degree slope with no discernable end, and above me, the same. Overwhelmed by the sudden fear of falling and my lack of confidence in my abilities, I broke down into a full-blown anxiety attack, hyperventilation and all. Sobbing at the junction between me and the steadier footholds about 30 metres ahead, I felt powerless. This was the first time I had ever reacted like this to heights. I never knew this would be the thing to make me crumble.

Throughout the first few weeks of the program, I had maintained my almost always laughing optimism and rose-coloured glasses way of looking at things, but this new phobia was something I couldn’t have anticipated.  It was here that my Mountain Goat family took hold and helped me through this difficulty. Outward Bound guides Clark and Madeleine literally guided each step I took and stayed close enough to make me feel safe.  With help from my amazing crew I got across the pass and breathed a bit easier.

A big shout out to Lin and Jesse for their reassurance, patience, and willingness to carry my heavy pack across especially sketchy parts. This scene repeated itself a few times over the course of the day as we traversed to the campground — it never got easier, mentally. But I forced myself through tears to put one foot in front of another or to scoot across the face of the mountain on my bum (whatever worked) and made it to the campground.

Mount Potts: view from the horse camp.
Mount Potts: view from the horse camp.

Days went on and we kept moving through the Rockies.  Snow came and went, laughter was abundant, and I kept going over cliffs that I hated. Towards the end of the expedition, we took a day hike to Galatea Lakes. It was a snowy day, but we were in good spirits. Scanning the landscape ahead of me, I saw where the trail hugged the edge of the mountain, about 50 meters straight up. My breath caught at the prospect of crossing yet another cliff, but I kept walking. The view from the trail was amazing — crystal clear lakes and the majesty of rocky mountain faces.  I carefully and slowly traversed the edge of the cliff and stopped midway.

For the first time, I forced myself to look down. The loose boulders were shifting under my feet. Rather than let the fear overtake me, I stood and allowed it to turn into something else. From such great heights, I let go of my fear, and there I replaced it with resilience and beauty.

Learn more about The Canadian Wildlife Federation‘s Canadian Conservation Corp program.

Twenty-five and Camping for the First Time

I went wilderness camping for the first time in my life this September in Alberta. And I was astounded by what I learned.

This was not staying at a cottage with a beautiful lake view in Owen Sound, Ontario. It was not doing day hikes in Presqu’île Provincial Park while spending the nights in a warm bed in a rented house nearby. And it was definitely not sleeping in cabins with running water, showers and toilets at a Scouts campsite.

While all of these experiences exposed me to the outdoors growing up as a teenager, the 14 days from September 13 to 26, 2018, would be a complete baptism by fire — or snow, rather — into winter camping in the Canadian backcountry. I was an amateur but I remained open to the entire experience.

From being a part of this trip, I learned five things that I would like to share with you.

Be Bold and Ask Questions

camping site
When preparing for an expedition, it’s good to know to pack and how to properly prepare. Look at all this camping gear. Prior to this trip, I did not know what gaiters were. Can you spot them in this image? @Michael Chen

Before the expedition started, I realized that I needed to ask questions to make sure my basic needs for reassurance and security were met.

We met our guides a few days before the trip, and I had to ask if we were getting an introduction into properly packing our 75-litre backpacks. This was addressed on day one.

During our expedition, it became clear that asking for more information was a good thing. When we were deciding on a choice of two routes to take, I asked about the weather conditions for the next few days. This was important so that we could make an informed decision for our second half of the trip and mentally prepare ourselves for the snowy conditions ahead.

Journeying With Others is Not Always Easy

Sheep Wildlife mountains
A spectacular view caught in the morning at Elbow – Sheep Wildland mountains. @Michael Chen

I am, without a doubt, thankful to the 11 participants and two hiking guides who braved the cold and arduous conditions of this expedition together. Subsequently, I made good friends by the end of the trip.

I am especially thankful to the individuals who taught me these important lessons in hiking and backpacking:

  • How can we support each other’s needs such as emotional well-being, belonging and independence?
  • As a group, how do we build resilience after facing difficult physical and emotional challenges?
  • How do we muster up our courage to speak our inner thoughts and feelings when there are difficult conversations to be had?
  • How do you balance varying needs when there are 11 individuals and you are tasked with leading them to the next campsite?

Also, there were the elementary but very important skills to inquire about:

  • How do we securely fasten shoulder and waist straps on a hiking backpack?
  • How do we maintain a campfire?
  • What are the best ways to cook dehydrated food like powdered eggs?
  • How do we tie the knots that we learned?
  • How do we dry our wet clothing when the weather conditions are unpredictable in the mountains?

I’m very grateful for my teammates — now friends — who answered these questions through our shared experiences in the Canadian wilderness.

Our Wildlife is Worth Conserving

All Canadians should take some time to appreciate the nature around them. CCC participant Amanda holds a rock that naturally split in half. @Michael Chen

With my friends, family and the newcomer youth that I assist at work, I’ve always said that we need to protect the natural resources we have been entrusted with, as Canadians, and as humans.

After spending 14 days in the mountains, I’ve come to recognize that we need to be stewards to the wild animals, plants, soil, air and water in a first-hand way. The memories of seeing animal tracks, mountains, tall trees and rock formations inspire me to share this appreciation with other Canadians who have not had the opportunity to take ownership and get outdoors to see our lands up close. Hearing what other passionate young people in the CCC are doing in their communities also compels me to take further action to protect the environment in my hometown.

Our plants and animals are part of Canada’s rich cultural assets. If we do not take care of them today, our future generations of Canadian citizens and visitors will not have a chance to appreciate nature. We need to be stewards and protect these resources wisely.

Practice Your Innate Sense of Play

natural beauty
This led me to use my kin-aesthetic abilities and touch the leaves, rocks, water and bark during our trip.

When I had time to be alone in the wilderness, I learned that I had not practiced anything creative since university. I used to volunteer and work at the local art gallery in my hometown where I was exposed to an environment of sharing ideas, creativity and growth. Luckily, I had an opportunity to explore this in the backcountry of Kananaskis Country.

In the mountains, there is not much that you can do but be inspired by the nature and beauty. My cellphone, used as a camera, ran out of battery by the fifth day. This led me to use my kin-aesthetic abilities and touch the leaves, rocks, water and bark during our trip.

rock art along river
This was the first of the rock structures that I would make along the rivers and lakes. @Michael Chen

The lack of creativity in my life was filled when I started to stack rocks by nearby rivers and lakes. I would start to see different forms take shape in my rock structures. For me, this process reminded me of a carefree environment to make mistakes, experiment and imagine.

It was not limited by the constructs of creating for the sake of a good mark or following a prescribed guideline — It was doing something that allowed me to express my thoughts and to make something for the sake of making something. This process was a refreshing experience.

It’s important to note that after you’ve had fun in nature, you should try to leave areas as you found them. This is one of the principles of Leave No Trace camping.

Campfires Are a Magical Place to Sit Beside

Learning how to start, maintain and extinguish a campfire are essential skills that I learned on this expedition. Aside from that, the campfire creates an environment of community, warmth and giggles.

At the end of a long day of hiking, we would sit by a campfire. We would share stories about our families, friends and past experiences back home. We would sing and laugh during songs. One time, we were serenaded by our guide who had a guitar. For those who couldn’t sing, like myself, we would listen and enjoy each other’s company.

As a person who lived in suburbia, camping in the great and wild outdoors was a rare opportunity. If you told me last year that I would hike with 11 other people in the backcountry with no cellphone connection and that I would make some new friends, I would have thought that you were crazy. Nonetheless, I’m glad to say that I’m a better and changed person because of this group bonding internet and social media not required.

Learn more about The Canadian Wildlife Federation‘s Canadian Conservation Corp program.

Fourteen People on a Fourteen Day Trip

Going on a 14-day canoeing and portaging expedition as my first back-country trip was nerve wrecking to begin with.

From canoeing and portaging for the first time to learning all the wilderness-related skills, this trip soon became an amazing trip full of firsts for me.

We started our trip with tandem-rescue lessons and coincidentally, I, along with my paddle-partner Lena, were chosen to do the demos. Excitement overtook nervousness and there we were in the water. After learning how to rescue others, we were on our way into Canada’s oldest provincial park: Algonquin Provincial Park.

From the Start

Our trip began with a paddle through a beautiful, meandering creek. As we made our way through the creek, we encountered a muskrat, a few female mallards, and a Great Blue Heron. The creek ended with our first two small portages. Back then, they were tough. Back then, we weren’t as tough.

Eating peanut butter and jelly bagels while rafted-up in Algonquin Provincial Park
Eating peanut butter and jelly bagels while rafted-up in Algonquin Provincial Park

Our portages were filled with colourful and vibrant mushrooms – red, yellow and green. Along with the colours were the encouraging words from the passersby. If it wasn’t for those motivational moments, I don’t know if I could have finished that seemingly never-ending, three-kilometre portage on the third day of our trip. We truly were a great team of strangers working together, seamlessly.

Our starry nights were filled with endless conversations and giggles around the campfires; our mornings with beautiful sunrises, the sounds of loon and the howl of wolves. It was serene.

Having lived on the coasts for the last six years, I found myself subconsciously looking for marine species even though consciously I knew I was surrounded by beautiful lakes. To my surprise, on a day that was particularly challenging for me, I looked at the water and saw something gelatinous. Ctenophores? No that cannot be it, I thought to myself. I started looking more thoroughly and found tens more of the dime-sized gelatinous organisms. They were freshwater jellyfish, Craspadecusta sowerbii. I was in disbelief! They are an invasive species of freshwater jellyfish, as I later found out.

The Fourtagers

As the days passed, we got faster and more efficient. Four portages in one day? Easy. Naturally we called ourselves The Fourtagers. We managed to finish the day two hours earlier than our expected time, which felt so empowering as a team. From that day onwards, I almost looked forward to our portages.

Boiling water over fire at one of our camps
Boiling water over fire at one of our camps

On the last day of our trip, with the help from my Fourtagers and the two honorary Fourtagers (our excellent trip leaders, Bri and Holly), I attempted to solo-portage the heaviest of the canoes: a red white-water canoe. It felt as if I had been mentally preparing myself for that very moment. I did it! That was it!

On the other side of the portage was a Black Bear cub playing around in the grassy shoreline. As we paddled back to the finish line through the same meandering creek as our first day, we reflected on how far we had come as a team and as individuals. It felt surreal that the awe-inspiring trip had come to an end but it left me ever-so motivated to accept the most difficult of challenges and overcome them.

Learn more about The Canadian Conservation Corps.

Gravitating Toward Gault: Letting Go of Expectations

Michelle Parry is a participant in Group 5 of the Canadian Conservation Corps.

I adore the ocean yet here I’ve found myself, time and time again, on a mountain.  The wilderness portion of my training weeks was spent in the Canadian Rockies just outside of Cochrane, Alta.  Now I am to call the mountain that is Gault Nature Reserve my home for the next three months. When did I fall in love with the mountains? Over our time here my roommates and I will come to have many feelings regarding this place.

The Nature Reserve

The entirety of Mont-Saint-Hilaire was gifted by Brigadier Gault to McGill University in 1958 and is divided into two halves, one public and one private. The line runs straight through the small lake nestled in the large dip between the hills. Yes, the “mountain” is actually comprised of an elevated lake surrounded by rocky hills. My first impression of our accommodation was that the cabin was dark, sparse and located in the middle of nowhere. Luckily this middle of nowhere is a beautiful one. We can see the lake from our front door and have full access to the public network of trails that runs right past our cabin as well as the private overgrown side of the mountain. At all hours we can hear the honking of migrating Canadian geese resting on the lake. In addition to the unruly reserve side of the mountain, the private side has developed spaces: Gault house, two science labs, chalets and one of the largest outdoor experiment sites in the area. Needless to say, I was excited to discover what kind of experiments were going on and how we could jump in and learn about the technical side of conservation and fieldwork.

The Grind

Over a week later we had not touched any science equipment save for shovels and pickaxes. Yes, pick axes are totally cool when you use them to break two-inch lake ice to install mesocosm bags to monitor rising global temperatures. One feels like a modern Viking while doing this but, dear reader, you will have to skip to my next blog to read about the awesome winter science stuff. The first week, nay almost two weeks, was spent moving rocks and shoveling earth. I learned two new French words that are seared into my brain from over use:

  • La Chaudière (a large farm bucket or pail)
  • Des fougères (some ferns)

I found the actual work on the trails quite rewarding – many people even stopped and thanked us. However, it was not mentally stimulating. While happy to help landscape the new hiking trail I was concerned that that was all we were going to be doing. I was so focused on how slow the progress was with manual labour that I forgot to look around and appreciate the beauty of the fall. It was not until later that I discovered the hidden opportunities that are liberally scattered throughout this placement.

The People: cookies and coffee

From day one, the people here at Gault have been absolutely amazing. Sonya, who looks after the Gault House, stocks the staff kitchen with cookies every day. Charles, who works with us on the trails, bought us refreshments to welcome and thank us for our work. Everyone stopped and talk to us even though it was a busy time. They also had great patience with those of us who weren’t very fluent in French. The people made the placement a success. Their warmth and positive attitudes towards work made me realize how magical this place is. The pace and treatment of time is so different when you have to work with the seasons. There is a time to rush and there is a time to wait. When it rains, we find indoor things to do, but if it looks dry outside, we ditch any well-planned indoor activities and do what we can outside.

We worked hard on the trails at the start of our placement because they needed to be done before the snows. Once we were able to meet with the assistant director, we were immediately presented with other possible things we could help with: species list, inventory, bat monitoring research, collecting data from temperature loggers in the field, building a weather station.  We were also offered continued support and freedom to come up with our own projects.  I have really started to enjoy myself here.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

The Canadian Conservation Corps — A True Family Affair

My journey with the Canadian Conservation Corps (CCC) has had no shortage of opportunities and unexpected experiences.

I am so grateful!

This September, I had the opportunity to assist with the co-facilitation of phase one training of group five, better known as The Mountain GOATs.

Bonding During Service

The team had the chance to give back by painting the facility where we were staying, including the outhouse and the deck surrounding the main building. This was a great opportunity for some true teamwork and bonding while helping out the Girl Guides camp.

ccc service work
Service Project for the Girl Guides Camp

It was really cool to learn new perspectives and skills surrounding the team building and leadership activities through a facilitation role. I gained a whole new appreciation for how diverse groups and individuals approach different scenarios, challenges and decisions. The most interesting part of my experience was seeing first-hand how the Mountain GOATs were developing their team dynamics and individual presence in the group.

Team building activity with the Mountain GOATs
Team building activity with the Mountain GOATs

It’s truly remarkable how young Canadians from across the country with all sorts of backgrounds, experiences, and representation can fuse such a strong bond in such a small time. I guess it goes to show you that a common passion for the outdoors and conservation can bind any group no matter where you come from or who you are.

Big Brother Jeremy

It was such a privilege to meet and get to know everyone from the Mountain GOATs. I was unofficially named Big Brother Jeremy as I came to get to know the Mountain GOATs more as the weeks went on. A moment that stood out for me was when we picked up the Mountain GOATs from their expedition.

The Outward Bound leaders greeted me with “You must be Jeremy!” Not having met them previously, they came to learn who I was as the Mountain GOATs shared stories from week one.  This was a heart-warming moment as I learned that my presence and insight had already left a huge, positive impact on this group. I really feel like an honorary Mountain GOAT family member. I left this experience with 12 new friends from across the country and I truly hope our paths cross in the future.

Human knot activity
Human knot activity

I am sending all kinds of good vibes to each of the Mountain GOATs as they embark on their phase two placements across Canada.  I look forward to following their journeys and wish them the best along the way.

The Canadian Conservation Corps Believes in Young Canadians

It’s crazy to see this program expand.  I am so thankful to be part of the CCC program because it invests and believes in young Canadians to build a better Canada. It is such an honour to have met and gained new friends from different groups.

Mountain GOAT mascots ready for adventure
Mountain GOAT mascots ready for adventure.

I’m looking forward to seeing this program grow and embarking on new experiences with my new role in phase 3 and as a CCC alumni. CCC is a true family affair.

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

It’s not Just my French That has Improved These Past Few Weeks…

Les dernières semaines à la Réserve.

It is only when I sit down to write these blogs that I realize how much I have been able to experience through this program.  From working on research concerning the overpopulation of White-tailed Deer on the mountain, to visiting weather stations in remote locations, to getting the opportunity to lead a camp group on a guided hike of the Gault Nature Reserve — I have had the chance to try a variety of things in the field that are definitely going to come in handy in my future.

Improved Skills

Fred speaking to a camp group at the top of the Dieppe summit @ Alexandra Falla
Fred speaking to a camp group at the top of the Dieppe summit @ Alexandra Falla

It is not obvious to me that I’ve changed much since I first arrived in Mont-Saint-Hilaire. The only thing I have noticed is that my legs are definitely more toned – thanks hiking! Another thing I have greatly improved upon is my French. I completed the French Immersion program from grades five to 12, so my French is above average, however it did take me a while to get used to Québecois – ben ouais, maintenant mon français c’est pas mal !

We installed cameras on the mountain and in the first round of shots,  we collected well over 1,000 pictures for data. These photos will be used to determine population density and which parts of mountain have the highest density of deer. With this information, researchers are hoping to better understand the effects that overgrazing is having on the undergrowth of the forest, and how this imbalance is negatively affecting the delicate mountain ecosystem.

I’m grateful for the opportunity of being a participant in the Canadian Conservation Corps every day – the lead intern is someone who knows the ropes and always makes sure the rest of the team is up to date with what is planned for the day. She’s given me a lot of advice about grad school and potential masters projects – how to find an advisor, how to get funding, etc. Of course, I can’t forget to mention that she has become a really good friend, and someone who I will definitely be visiting after Stage Two.

Conservation at the Gault

 A deer inspecting on of our camera traps
A deer inspecting on of our camera traps

As well as getting some insight into the life of a grad student, I’ve also learned more about the conservation efforts that the Gault Nature Reserve is partaking in. By collaborating with researchers from other universities such as UQÀM, the University of Ottawa, and the University of Guelph (woohoo!), McGill and the Gault Nature Reserve team are able to accomplish much more in the fields of biodiversity and conservation.

I have been brainstorming ideas of what kind of outreach I want to do when I get home, hopefully something involving the schools in my local community. Much of my field training has taught me many things I could apply during my school work and future job opportunities, so I’m trying to integrate what I’ve learned here into something I can present or lead with possible school groups. I got some ideas and everything is still in the early stages of planning, but I’m super excited to see where this will go!

As for now, it’s almost time to go back on the field. I’m trying to take in as much as possible during these last weeks, so I can bring as much of my experience home with me.

To follow along with my #CCCAdventure, find me on Instagram at @alexaoutside, and don’t forget to check out the Gault Nature Reserve as well at @reservenaturellegault

Learn more about the Canadian Conservation Corps.

The opinions expressed are those of the participant and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.