“Working up north was the most empowering experience of my life.”
19-year-old Katie Baillie-David left the comforts of home last June to drive 10 hours north to the wilds of Nagagamisis Provincial Park, northwest of Timmins. Visitors come from all over the US and Canada to enjoy the remoteness of the park – the fishing, swimming, northern lights and the quiet, unspoiled landscape – and so did Katie.
What she came away with was a life-changing experience.
“As a city girl working in park maintenance I learned so many new things that I would have never learned in the city like driving a one tonne truck, operating power tools and helping with small construction jobs. It was extremely empowering and a lot of fun.”
What? No cell phone coverage?
After graduating from high school, Katie (an aspiring marine biologist currently studying biology at university) worked for eight weeks as the only female in park maintenance at Nagagamasis. No cell phone coverage. No Internet. Just a whole bunch of black flies and mosquitoes, not to mention toilets and fish stations to clean. All while wearing thick maintenance coveralls and work boots in the sweltering heat.
“I actually volunteered to work in park maintenance because I wanted to get the true park experience,” says Katie, which she undoubtedly did. Within days of her arrival, she was scooping up fish heads inside the fish cleaning station, cleaning toilets, taking water samples and even making trips to the dump using her new-found truck driving skills. She loved every minute of it and found it built confidence, self-esteem and teamwork skills.
Why employ students anyway?
“Students perform most of our operations throughout the park in the summer for us” says Tamara Flannigan, Superintendent of Chutes. “They’re basically on a nine week contract and during that time, they’re the face of the park to our visitors. They run our gate operations, our natural heritage education program, our backcountry and park maintenance, pretty much everything. They’re a huge value to us.”
Some of the summer jobs at Ontario Parks include:
- Gate staff – greeting visitors, taking reservations, running the gift shop, answering the phone, communicating with staff throughout the park
- Maintenance – working outdoors cutting grass, grooming trails, cleaning washrooms, painting, driving, garbage disposal
- Canoe and bicycle rental – helping visitors enjoy their park experience by canoeing or cycling
- Natural Heritage Education Assistant – assisting with the development and delivery of guided hikes, children’s programs, and other scheduled activities and events
- Discovery Guide – encouraging children and their families to explore the park, observe plants and animals, and discover the wonders of nature
- Assistant Fisheries Technician – performing research, conduct analyses and evaluating environmental information and data to produce reports
- Fish and Wildlife Assistant – managing data, analyzing fish and wildlife program information
- Assistant Water Resources Technician – collecting data, performing data entry and analyzing data. Working outdoors in extreme weather on occasion
- Marketing Assistant – assisting with purchasing procedures and reconciliation of expenditures, shipping materials as well as dealing with customers
Choosing Ontario Parks as a career
Many summer students go on to work for Ontario Parks as a full-time career because of the experience they gain as teenagers.
Rob Cunningham, Superintendent of Presqu’ile, credits his summer job as a stepping stone to the job he now loves:
“Working at Killarney when I was 16 as a junior park ranger was just one of the greatest jobs in my life and one of the greatest experiences a young person can have as a job,” says Cunningham. “It’s a great job. You work hard, you meet lots of fantastic people who work with you and then you have the whole park to recreate in on your time off that people are paying to come and visit.
“When you’re a young person, working at a provincial park is a really formative experience that you remember for the rest of your life.”
Jobs this summer
As for Katie, she hopes to get a job at Ontario Parks this summer as an Assistant Fisheries Technician or Fish and Wildlife Assistant: “Ontario Parks does a lot for the environment and I would love to work in the field to get involved in their research and conservation efforts.”
Job postings for high school and university students at Ontario Parks are available online here.