In today’s post, Anna Winge-Breen shares her journey from childhood visitor to Algonquin Provincial Park Discovery Ranger.
We all have at least one childhood experience, so crisp and profound that it has become nearly inseparable from our identity.
A memory that is so deep in your heart, thinking of it brings you right back to a feeling of excitement so exuberant it could be felt only by a child.
For me, this memory is my summers spent in Algonquin.
An annual expedition
I’ll never forget the butterflies in my stomach when my mother would announce she had booked our annual Algonquin camping trip. I can only imagine her frustration, as it became nearly impossible for me to sleep as the days until our trip counted down.
I remember the thrill and anticipation I felt as the flat, sprawling fields surrounding my southern Ontario hometown were gradually replaced by the impressive, jagged rock and rolling hills of the Canadian Shield.
I fondly recall the joy I felt as we passed the West Gate, tuning into 102.7 FM, and listening to park updates through bursts of radio static…this meant we had arrived!
I spent my first summer in Algonquin at the age of two, and I’ve returned every year since. My mother spent many of her teenage summers portaging here too!
Discovering the Discovery Program
After setting up our campsite, my mother and I would immediately search for the This Week in Algonquin Park flyer to carefully select which Discovery programs (then called NHE programs) we would attend during our visit — my favorite part of our trips!
Our adventure often began with an Algonquin for Kids program, followed by a guided walk, complete with a pond exploration and dip nets.
In the evening, we would make our yearly pilgrimage to the outdoor theatre for an evening program, where I would sit in awe of the park naturalist on stage, telling tales of park ecology and history while desperately swatting mosquitoes away.
As a nature-loving kid growing up in an urban area, the odd toad wandering through my yard felt like the discovery of the century. When visiting Algonquin, I found myself completely immersed in nature and surrounded by people who loved it too.
It was heavenly.
I don’t remember every detail of what I learned at the programs (other than the fact that Painted Turtles breathe out of their butts during the winter, a process called cloacal respiration, which I was sure to tell my family about hundreds of times). Still, I do remember how they made me feel.
Nurtured by nature
I always felt important. I looked up to the park naturalists with a kind of reverence.
These summer students, who towered over me in their beige button-ups and Ontario Parks hats, seemingly knew the answer to my every nature question (and trust me, I had a lot of them. These naturalists were patient too). I thought they were so cool.
Every time I attended a kids program, I felt special. Despite being asked questions I’m sure they heard hundreds of times, the naturalists listened intently and answered my questions as though it were the first time they had been asked.
When I showed them what I had found in my dip net, they encouraged me and made me feel like I had discovered something fascinating. I always felt like I had something to contribute.
From a very young age, the Discovery rangers helped instill in me, a city kid, a passion for nature and a desire to learn more. I left Discovery programs feeling capable of exploring the lush forests and vast lakes which awaited me in Algonquin.
Becoming a role model
I remember the thrill I felt when my mother told me, “Hey, that could be you up there one day.”
Being a kid in Algonquin is an experience so invaluable, I struggle to capture it in words. My time here taught me many things that I still carry with me today: independence, a thirst for adventure, and a deep appreciation for the land I find myself a guest on.
I truly wish every child could have this experience.
This summer, I turned twenty. I’ve worked in the park for two summers, and now, I begin my first year on the Discovery team.
The next generation of nature-lovers
I cannot wait to meet visitors, hear their question, and help them find out more about this amazing park.
No one has all the answers about nature, which is what makes it so exciting! It fosters a lifelong curiosity and sense of wonder about the places we go.
I’m looking forward to helping park visitors feel the same way I did as a child visiting the park.
Above all, I’m excited to meet the future generation of naturalists spending their summers exploring Algonquin Provincial Park.