Behind the scenes: life as a Discovery Leader at Emily Provincial Park

In our “Behind the Scenes” series, Discovery Program staff across the province share a “backstage” glimpse of their favourite programs and projects. Today’s post comes from Alexander Renaud, the Discovery Program Lead at Emily Provincial Park.

Seven years ago I applied to every job under the sun (as all university students do) and I finally got the call.

The only hiccup…I had never been to a provincial park before.

I spent my childhood at the cottage avoiding bugs in a screened in porch. Boy, was I in for an awakening!

My first year

To say that I struggled in my first year would be an understatement.

As a history / political science student, biology wasn’t my strongest subject.

Oh, and the outdoors. I wasn’t too fond of that either. Why you ask? Bugs. And what was my first program about? It was about bugs, ladybugs to be specific.

So I started researching and familiarizing myself with the program outline. Here are just a few things I learned about them…

A collection of ladybugs created by campers during the program.
A beautiful collection of ladybugs made by visitors.
  1. They’re actually not a “bug,” but an insect, a beetle to be specific (who knew, right?)
  2. There are over 450 different species of ladybugs across North America. Some have different colours, some have spots, some have stripes, and some have no markings at all!
  3. A ladybug flaps its wings over 85 times per second. Sidenote, if you challenge a child to try flapping their arms that fast, they will have the time of their life!
Staff and participants show off ladybug craft they made
My first program!

A couple of weeks in, I was hooked!

I loved meeting new people during programs. Guided hikes easily became one of my favourite activities to run! I even developed a passion for the canoeing, just so that I could explore Emily by water.

Staff member leading a guided hike talking about raccoons at a stop.
“Who’s who in the dark,” guide hiked about nocturnal animals

When park management asked if I would like to return next season, I said, “YES!”

The following years

As park staff, we are always asked, “What other campgrounds would you recommend? Do you know what is offered at this park? How many parks have you visited?”

Map showing locations of Ontario Parks with stars on the once visited by Alexander Renaud
48 parks and counting!

In that first year, my answers were very vague because I had yet to explore past the boundaries of my own park.

That all shifted when I purchased my very own Summer Park Pass! I hit the road with camera in hand. I camped, hiked, paddled — you name it! I gathered anecdotes, wildlife encounters and innovative ideas to bring back to Emily and our campers.

In my third year, I applied all of these experiences as the Discovery Program Lead. The team and I worked hard to develop creative programs and unique experience for visitors!

Spike, the park Snapping Turtle, measures his wingspan to those of local birds in front of a display.
Spike, the park Snapping Turtle, has the wingspan of a Blue Jay.


A collection of photos from the different projects mentioned including turtles, programs, and research.

Why I keep coming back

Six years, dozens of programs, four bioblitzes, and thousands of happy campers later, I look back at my time at Emily Provincial Park with fondness.

Four staff members dressed in costumes for an evening program titled "Why can't we be friends."
Saying “CHEESE” after an evening program

The experiences and opportunities I had in this role has shaped me into the individual I am today: an avid user of iNaturalist, perpetual trash picker-upper, stopper for turtles, and — of course — a storyteller!

I am grounded in nature.

Staff member using DSLR camera to take photos of species in park.
Collecting photos of different species at Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park

This lifelong connection has been fueled by every moment of my time in our provincial parks, and by the dedicated staff, energetic campers, breathtaking vistas, and incredible critters that call them home.

Emily Provincial Park staff photo 2019
Emily Provincial Park staff photo, 2019

Who would want to work anywhere else?