Sharing Canada’s wilderness with new Canadians

Vanessa Bilan
Environmental Programmer,
CPAWS Southern Alberta

Canada is a country blessed with wild, wonderful, wilderness areas. As a lifelong Canadian, I have always identified nature as an essential part of Canada and exploring these spaces as being an inherent Canadian thing to do. Which is why I was so excited to start guiding the New Immigrant hikes CPAWS Southern Alberta began in the summer of 2017. I was excited to share my passion for the outdoors and my knowledge about how we can protect it with new Canadians. However, I also was worried. Would they be interested? Would they care? How much English would they know and understand?

Through leading this event I was able to quell these worries. The participants spoke English quite well, and they were very eager to practice and learn new words. Many women would ask questions about the local medicinal and edible plants we saw on the hike. During our closing circles, where we shared impactful moments of the day, I was elated to hear not only how much the participants had learned from the day, but also to hear how they wanted to visit these protected spaces in Banff, Kananaskis, and the Castle. Whether it was learning about keeping wildlife wild, or learning that Calgary has some of the cleanest water in the world (you can drink it straight from the tap), each person learned a new appreciation for Canadian nature. One of my favorite things that participants shared in the closing circle was how they transformed from fearing bears to being curious about bears and confident about safe ways to deploy bear spray.

I gained so much during these events. I gained the stories of these people. I gained the struggles they face coming to Canada—the sorrow of leaving their families behind. I gained a deep and meaningful appreciation for how brave these new Canadians are, and how receptive they are to new ideas and ways of being. I went in thinking of how to help transform them into stewards of nature–never expecting I would be transformed with them.