What do you like most about camping?
The smell of the campfire, the singing of birds in the forest or that food tastes better cooked outdoors?
There is something in nature that calls to us and invites us to return to our favorite parks year after year.
But what if you don’t have a favorite park yet?
What if you’ve never visited a park, felt the autumn leaves crunch under your boots, or heard the lovely call of the loon?
Before this summer, that was the case for just over 150 Ukrainian refugee children and their families.
Thanks to our partners and generous donors, these families experienced their first trip to Ontario parks this season.
Healing in Ontario Parks
There is a large amount of research that recognizes the profound effect that nature has on our health.
These benefits are not just physical, but include positive social outcomes, greater spiritual connections, and better mental health.
Ontario Parks recognizes the role we play in connecting Ontarians to nature so they can benefit from these positive health outcomes. We promote this well-being through the Healthy Parks Healthy People initiatives.
While each of us faces our own unique challenges, there is a group of Ukrainians facing the shared challenge of leaving their country and moving to Canada.
A community group came together and wanted to create an opportunity for these families to connect and experience the benefits of nature on their healing journey.
Realizing that our goals were aligned, we began organizing trips for newcomers.
We wanted to make sure they had time to meet new people and take care of their mental health during this stressful time.
Here are some of the things we heard from participants about their experience in Ontario parks:
“The water was like medicine.”
“The time to talk with other members of our community was much needed. He has been so busy since we arrived that we have lacked time to reflect and socialize.”
“Today we had time for meditation, time for reflection. “It was healing.”
Ontario Parks welcomes newcomers
Through our Healthy Parks Healthy People program, we have a variety of initiatives that help welcome new users to our parks.
From permit lending programs through public libraries and free day use for new Canadian citizens offered through Canoo, to creating transportation partnerships to provide transit and accessible programs to newcomers, Ontario Parks is working to ensure that everyone can access our Provincial Parks.
Additionally, our Park Ambassadors have welcomed thousands of new park users over the years, building skills and confidence in campers.
This summer, Ontario Parks hosted three trips for Ukrainian refugee children and their families.
Three busloads of people came to experience the healing benefits of nature at Bass Lake Provincial Park and Bronte Creek Provincial Park.
We are grateful to our transportation partners at Parkbus and the generous donors who helped make these trips possible.
So what did they do once they arrived?
After being picked up by our Parkbus partners, participants enjoyed a day of activities, food, and social interaction.
yoga in the park
What better way to relax and restore that feeling with an outdoor restorative yoga session?
This is exactly how we started the day at Bass Lake!
learn to row
There are few outdoor activities more essential to a Canadian summer than hopping in a canoe!
We gave this group of newcomers an essential presentation on water safety and an introduction to canoeing.
For 75 years, Discovery leaders have provided world-class interpretive programming, including guided hikes, museum tours and children’s programs in our parks.
These groups tried out a few different exploration station themes, such as Amazing Bugs, Art in the Park, and the Bronte Creek Harvest Festival.
Next time you visit a park, check out a Discovery event yourself!
There’s nothing like sharing food to create a social bond.
Most participants arrived in Ontario knowing no one when they arrived. A barbecue lunch was the perfect way to meet other members of the community and bond over your experience.
While this was the first time these families visited parks, we know it won’t be the last.
With more than 630 provincial parks and conservation reserves, there is accessible natural space within an hour of where most Ontarians live.
This is what we heard from some of the participants:
“Thank you very much for a beautiful day. We will return to this beautiful place to explore more on our own.”
“Our son made friends and gained confidence to start school in a new place. In fact, he now looks forward to going to school instead of dreading it.”
If you would like to donate to projects like this in the future, please visit our website.
For more information about Healthy Parks Healthy People, click here.