Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024
Girl with brown hair and vest addressing a group with a smile on her face

This post was written by Warren Verina, Deputy Superintendent of Algonquin Provincial Park.

Stop and go back 125 years (give or take a few months).

Imagine being asked to pick up rations and supplies, leave the bustling city of Toronto, and head north into the wilderness now known as Algonquin Provincial Park.

He has been tasked with building a park headquarters and a network of trails and transports with shelters to act as patrol huts for park rangers.

Park visitor (left) meets rangers Tim O’Leary and Stephen Waters while on patrol, 1897.

A changing landscape

The land is vast and untamed and the wildlife is abundant. Imagine, for a moment, Algonquin Provincial Park’s first superintendent, Peter Thomson, looking out over Canoe Lake and the task before him. Did he have any idea what he was starting and the legacy he would leave?

These early park superintendents sought to tame nature for visitors, while today’s superintendents are finding ways to re-create wild areas in their parks and navigate an even wilder digital landscape. It’s fair to say the role of park superintendent has changed a lot since Thomson took the helm of Algonquin Provincial Park nearly 125 years ago.

Same position; two different perspectives

As part of this year’s OP125 celebration, and as a nod to the many park superintendents who have served over the past 125 years, we recently asked some modern-day superintendents a few questions about their own experiences, inviting them to reflect on the past of Ontario’s parks. , present and future.

An older man records something on a clipboard while a younger man samples water at a water station while a child watches in the background.The park superintendent records drinking water samples in Restoule Provincial Park. July 1967

We reached out to recently retired Superintendent Rick Hornsby and one of our organization’s newest superintendents, Seaaira LeBlanc. Both were kind enough to answer the call, reflect on their careers with Ontario Parks, share some advice with aspiring park rangers, and provide their perspective on the future of Ontario Parks.

just starting

Rick and Seaaira began their careers in unique roles, both involved in visitor services. Rick began his career auditing cross-country ski and snowmobile trails in the North Bay area.

“At that time, the ministry provided financial grants to clubs across the province to build and groom trails in an effort to promote growing winter sports activities. [Ontario] Parks was tasked with visiting and auditing the various clubs to ensure the grant money was being used in accordance with established provincial guidelines.”

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The Depot and Park Staff, 1993.The reservoir and park staff at Bonnechere Provincial Park, 1993

Rick remembers working with local stakeholders and interest groups, and fondly remembers the appreciation that was given to the ministry at the time: “Everyone really appreciated and valued the work that Ontario Parks/MNRF did. “I knew then that this was my career!”

Seaaira started her career early. In fact, her first position was at Algonquin Provincial Park as a museum technician while she was still attending high school.

Little girl with brown hair behind a desk in a park visitor centerSeaaira LeBlanc (née Priddle) working at the Algonquin Provincial Park Visitor Center, summer 2007

“We had to manage the museum and the bookstore, and provide information to park visitors. Being new to the park and the area was a challenge. I made many friends during my years there, and some still work for Ontario Parks. It was during this job that I realized I wanted a career as a park ranger, and that’s what I worked for from then on.”

Some especially memorable moments

After listening to Rick and Seaaira, it was clear that they both enjoy working for Ontario Parks because of the people. Being on a restoration team that was awarded an Amethyst Award or pinning Ontario Parks’ first “50 Years of Park Service” pin to Ed Ramsay are fond memories for Rick during his 38-year career with the Ministry .

Group of five gentlemen posing for photo on a sunny dayKillbear Provincial Park 50th Anniversary, 2010. Left to right: Ed Ramsay, Tom Wilson (former superintendent), Pat Walsh (former superintendent), Gord Badger and Rick Hornsby (current superintendent at time of photo)

“In the Southwest, we had to conduct our prescribed burns in late March or early April, before most fire personnel returned from their seasonal hiatus,” Rick explains, speaking of another fond memory. “The Southwest Zone took on the challenge and had parks personnel trained in burning. After a successful day of prescribed burning, I had my photo taken by the fire crew in a blackened and burned portion of a tall grass prairie (it wasn’t as tall after the fire). All members of the fire crew that day, including myself, were Ontario Parks personnel. He had a smile from ear to ear!”

Group of people posing on burnt gray grassPrescribed burning equipment, Rondeau Provincial Park

Ontario Parks Are Like Family

Seaaira agrees with many of the sentiments conveyed through Rick’s experiences: “Being able to interact with people and learn new things from them is exciting and refreshing. The staff who work for Ontario Parks are like family. “We all have at least one thing in common: we all have the best interest for the future of Ontario Parks.”

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Girl with brown hair and vest addressing a group with a smile on her face.Seaaira, Sibbald Point Provincial Park

Being able to watch staff grow their careers at Ontario Parks, being able to teach them new things and provide them with lifelong skills and training has been the most rewarding aspect of Seaaira’s career to date.

Your action items:

Seaaira has some great advice for aspiring leaders and anyone looking to work and advance at Ontario Parks: “Remember to learn as much as you can and take advantage of as many opportunities as you can in every position you hold, no matter what happens. the position is “.

Seaaira attributes her success to her willingness to learn and grow. “The more he learns about each position, the more it will help him be able to oversee and manage that program in the future.”

Gate Student at Driftwood Provincial Park

Rick emphasizes the importance of being yourself. “Be the team leader, not the boss! He really knows and supports his team members…he believes in and aspires to the goals and objectives of Ontario Parks. Enjoy every day! Before you know it you will be retired!

Get Philosophical

Part of this year’s celebration is looking at all of our past accomplishments, but also looking at the future of our growing organization and the role of our leaders.

Dipping stick and netsOntario Parks staff conducting stream sampling

Seaaira has quite a few years left before he retires and firmly believes that “the future of Ontario parks is something we all need to be aware of.”

She continues: “Especially for our high-use parks, we must educate our users to be respectful of our incredible but fragile landscapes and promote ecological integrity. As park superintendent at Sibbald Point, I am hopeful that we can initiate this change in our visitors through education, promotional programming, social media, and law enforcement if necessary.”

river between forest cliffs with canoeMattawa River Provincial Park

Rick, who recently retired, has a different perspective, but one we can all relate to: “My role during my retirement years will be to continue visiting many parks, supporting and encouraging everyone to get out and enjoy our Ontario parks! “Not only are there wonderful things to see and do, but they will also greatly benefit their lives.”

Rick is confident that, over time, all Ontarians will realize the health and social benefits of Ontario parks.