A Sandbanks summer: the life of a maintenance student at Ontario Parks

Last summer while other people my age worked in customer service or were out on placement, I chose a job with the beautiful Sandbanks Provincial Park as a maintenance student.

Hi, my name is Hunter, I am a post-secondary student studying photojournalism and am into the second year of my program. This past summer was my second season working at Sandbanks. While I might seem like an odd fit compared to many of my co-workers whose backgrounds or area of study relate to natural sciences or the outdoors, working at Ontario Parks has been one of the greatest summer jobs, full of adventures and lots of learning.

What did you do all day?

There was no lack of work around the park that had to be done. The time that your shift started decided your work for the day. Early shifts typically began with cleaning comfort stations and collecting beach litter.

A small pile of garbage sitting in the mid-distance on a sandy beach

The weather and the capacity of the park were also factors in how tasks were lined up for the day. Jobs like cleaning up campsite and parking lot litter, and propane cylinder collection were done daily to keep up with the waves of campers, while other jobs like grass maintenance in and around the campsites, digging out and replacing firepits, and replacing picnic tables were done on an as-needed basis.

A person's legs with their orange hardhat and ear protection resting on their right knee. They are sitting in some type of small machine, like a riding lawnmower.
There were also exciting jobs that would come up from time to time, like being sent into town to pick up repair materials or taking beach water samples to Kingston (this job was one of my favourites).

Another one of my other favourite jobs was beach litter clean up in the morning. Most of the time, you would get out on the beach around 7:15. There would be a slight breeze off the lake and cheerful locals waving good morning as they walked the beach. It easily became my favourite part of the day.

Of course, there were other jobs that I did find tough at times, due to my height (or the lack thereof) or not quite having enough muscle to do it on my own. And there were a few jobs that I dreaded. My biggest challenge was work related to animals. As an animal lover, it was sad to pick up and disposing of dead animals and the germaphobe in me didn’t like picking up dead things in general. But fortunately, this wasn’t a huge part of my job and most of the work was much more enjoyable.

What are your favourite memories?

During my summers at Sandbanks, I have had experiences of all different kinds — from snakes in the outhouses to learning how to use equipment and fixing many backed-up toilets — so it’s tough to narrow down my list of favourites. There are two that stand out to me the most, though.

One day, I was cleaning outhouses with a partner. When I was about to open the door to one of the outhouses, I noticed a snake around the base. I have never run so fast in my life. I made it to the truck and jumped in the back. My partner and I made a joke of it for the rest of the day. After we moved on from that outhouse to clean the others, my partner would try and scare me by shoving a broom handle under the door or wiggling a hose around to look like a snake. I still remember it vividly and it still makes me laugh.

The second memory is from halfway through the summer, when I had finally grown confident in my abilities. I was able to do jobs without asking,  seeing a job that needed to be done and being able to complete it within a couple of hours on my own.

This will always be a proud memory to look back on and one I will carry with me in the future.

What are you proudest of?

As I mentioned, I really enjoyed my mornings cleaning up the beach. But I found that every morning there were a large number of beach toys being left behind by day users from the previous day. This was disheartening because many of the toys were still in perfect or useable condition, but because they had been left behind, they would be swept up with the garbage to be taken away.

A spark of inspiration came from seeing the many abandoned buckets and shovels dotting the beach. When I brought the issue to my coworkers and supervisors, they confirmed that they had seen the same problem.

Two red sand buckets, children's beach toys, sitting on a wooden picnic table on a beach

So, with the encouragement of my supervisors and co-workers, I created a program that would create a way to give left-behind toys another chance to make visitors happy during their time at the beach. The overview of the project is quite simple. The idea and creation of the bin were the easy parts. The paperwork to make this project a staple in Sandbanks every year… not so much.

But in the end, I created a drop-off where toys could be collected and placed them in highly visible spots for visitors. This allowed visitors to drop off unwanted toys, or to use the available toys during their beach time. It was amazing to be able to create something that will improve the beach for years to come.

All in all, my summer was filled with adventures, lots of learning, and a few sticky situations. If you are a student or a recent graduate looking for a summer position, I’d definitely recommend taking the chance to work at a provincial park. Working in parks gives you so many opportunities to try new things and gain experiences that will last a lifetime.

Sun setting over a lake, framed by trees in the mid distance

Applications for the 2023 season are currently open! Learn more about the available opportunities and how to apply on our website.