What is it that you love most about camping?
The smell of campfire, the sound of the birds chirping in the forest, or that food just tastes better cooked outside?
There’s something about nature that calls to us, beckoning us to return to our favourite parks year after year.
But what if you don’t have a favourite park yet?
What if you’ve never visited a park at all, felt the fall leaves crush beneath your boots, or heard the enchanting 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 ever trip to Ontario Parks this season.
Healing at Ontario Parks
There is a wide body of research that recognizes the profound effect nature has on our health.
These benefits are not only physical, but include positive social outcomes, increased spiritual connections, and improved mental health.
Ontario Parks recognizes the part we play in connecting Ontarians with nature so they can benefit from these positive health outcomes. We promote this wellbeing through Healthy Parks Healthy People initiatives.
While each of us faces our own unique challenges, there is a group of Ukrainian people facing the shared challenge of leaving their country and relocating to Canada.
A community group got together and wanted to create an opportunity for these families to connect and experience the benefits of nature in their healing journey.
Realizing that our goals aligned, we began organizing trips for the newcomers.
We wanted to ensure that 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 Ontario Parks experience:
“The water was like medicine.”
“The time to talk with other members of our community was much needed. It’s been so busy since we arrived, having time to reflect and socialize has been missing.”
“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 first-time 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 accessible transit and programs to newcomers, Ontario Parks is working to ensure that everyone can access our Provincial Parks.
In addition, 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 buses full of people came to experience the healing benefits of nature at Bass Lake Provincial Park and Bronte Creek Provincial Park.
We’re grateful to our transportation partners at Parkbus and generous donors who helped make these trips possible.
So, what did they do once they arrived?
After being picked up by our partners at Parkbus, participants enjoyed a day of activities, food, and social interaction.
Yoga in the park
What better way to relax and reset that take in a restorative yoga session outdoors?
That’s exactly how we kick-started the day at Bass Lake!
Learn to paddle
There are few outdoor activities more quintessential to a Canadian summer than hopping in the canoe!
We provided this group of newcomers an essential water safety presentation and an introduction to canoeing.
For 75 years, Discovery leaders have been providing world-class interpretive programs like guided hikes, museum tours, and kids programs in our parks.
These groups got a taste of a few different exploration station topics like Incredible Insects, Art in the Park, and Bronte Creek’s Harvest Festival.
The next time you visit a park, check out a Discovery event for yourself!
There’s nothing quite like sharing food to create a social bond.
Most of the participants came to Ontario without knowing anyone when they arrived. A barbecue lunch was the perfect way to get to know other community members and bond over their experience.
While this was the first time these families had visited parks, we know it won’t be the last.
With over 630 provincial parks and conservation reserves, there is a natural space accessible within an hour of where most Ontarians live.
Here’s what we heard from some of the participants:
“Thank you so much for a lovely day. We will be back to this beautiful location to explore more on our own.”
“Our son made friends and built-up confidence to start school in a new place. He is actually looking forward to school now rather than dreading it.”
If you would like to donate to projects like this in the future, please visit our website.
To learn more about Healthy Parks Healthy People, click here.