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Women of Ontario Parks

Happy International Women’s Day!

At Ontario Parks, we simply couldn’t do without our women team members. They work as biologists, instructors, wardens, superintendents, planners, managers, and more.

Here’s the inside scoop on our staff:

Jill Lewylle, Maintenance Manual Worker, Pinery Provincial Park

Jill has been working in maintenance for the past six years at Pinery Provincial Park.

maintenance staff

She’s been involved with hazard tree removal, trail maintenance, and building boardwalks and beach access stairs, to name a few.

On any given day, visitors might see her driving by in a backhoe, tractor, or lawn mower to keep the campsites, facilities, and other infrastructure in tip-top shape for all of Pinery’s visitors.

In the winter you may even catch her snowplowing, snowmobiling, setting ski tracks, and flooding the ice rink.

“My favourite part of the job is the diversity of things that I get to do, and spending every day outdoors.”

Krystal Gray, Acting Operations Technician, Silent Lake Provincial Park

Krystal is entering her eighth season working for Ontario Parks!

Beginning her Ontario Parks career as a gate attendant for Lake St. Peter Provincial Park, Krystal transitioned to a park warden position at Silent Lake Provincial Park.

She is now acting in the senior operations technician role at Silent Lake.

Krystal loves helping protect and preserve some of Ontario’s most beautiful nature resources.

“My favourite part of the job is the countless hours I spend outdoors. Whether it’s clearing trails in the summer or shoveling out campsites in the winter, I always enjoy the opportunity to get outside.

I have had the honour of working for and with some of the most influential women during my time here at Ontario Parks. I cannot imagine this organization growing into what it is today without the strong, inspiring, and passionate women within it.”

Amy Yakelashek, Provincial Park Management Supervisor

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Amy started with Ontario Parks almost 26 years ago as a gate attendant at Darlington Provincial Park.

She is now responsible for providing organizational leadership, operational advice, and park management direction as the provincial park management supervisor for Ontario Parks.

“I believe that leadership is a privilege and an opportunity to create an environment of authenticity, compassion, and respect.

It has been said that ‘good leaders inspire others to have confidence in their leader, but great leaders inspire others to have confidence in themselves.’

Because great leaders believed in me, I now have the honor of instilling this confidence in others by creating a workplace where staff feel safe to grow and be true to themselves.”

Laura McClintock, Senior Park Naturalist, Sibbald Point Provincial Park

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This is Laura’s ninth year with Ontario Parks.

She spent the first seven years of her career as a park naturalist at Presqu’ile Provincial Park before moving to Sibbald Point Provincial Park in 2021.

In her role, Laura oversees the Discovery Program at Sibbald, which involves providing interpretive programming about the park’s rich history and ecology, managing Eildon Hall Museum and caring for the Sibbald family collection, as well as assisting with resource management projects at both Sibbald Point and Holland Landing Prairie Provincial Park.

“Throughout my time in parks, it’s been challenging but important to question the assumptions about women, and what we are capable of.

As I’ve progressed in my career, it’s been wonderful seeing more women have opportunities to use their incredible skills, and the influence they have as positive role models within Ontario Parks.

I hope that I too can inspire others, as the women of Ontario Parks have inspired me.”

Rachel Gibson, Acting Senior Park Clerk, Darlington Provincial Park

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Rachel has been with parks for six years, starting as an entry level summer student. Now Rachel is an acting senior park clerk!

Her colleagues applaud her for  applying her degree in Exercise Science by writing “How Exercise & Nature Affect our Mental Health,” a very popular article for the Darlington Provincial Park tabloid in 2021.

Outside of parks, Rachel loves hockey, once a Division 1 hockey player with two national championships.

“Being a woman working in Ontario Parks is special, I feel I am a part of a very special team who gets to manage Ontario’s most beautiful and important landscapes.

The most enjoyable part of my position as senior park clerk is that I get to be involved in so much more, like development of wellness activities, writing tabloid articles, and getting to know so many staff and visitors.

While working in the office, to have the ability to get up and walk a trail for exercise and get fresh air is one of the many great parts of my job.”

Staff of Presqu’ile and Ferris provincial parks

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Left to right: Senior Operations Tech Kirsty Bowie, Chief Park Naturalist Kristen Osborne, Assistant Park Superintendent Rachel Windsor, Revenue Clerk Colleen Downing, Enforcement Coordinator Aly Morris, Park Store Supervisor Lauren Draaistra, Senior Park Clerk Haley Gourley

In 2021 the senior leadership team at Presqu’ile Provincial Park and Ferris Provincial Park was predominantly female.

The team may be (relatively) young, but certainly do not lack for experience. Each team member has averaged nine seasons working for Ontario Parks, with a combined 63 years of service, mostly all within the Presqu’ile/Ferris cluster!

Rachel, Haley, Kristen, Colleen, Aly, Kirsty, and Lauren all started out in student positions — cutting grass or cleaning washrooms with the maintenance team, checking in camper reservations and selling day-use permits at the gatehouse, or leading interpretive programming for the Discovery program.

This talented team of women are now the backbone of the parks, and keep things running smoothly. They provide guidance, training, staff support, and excellent customer service across every department in the park.

Each is a wonder woman in her own right, and we’re so lucky to have them working for Ontario Parks!

Hear their first-hand experiences:

Rachel Windsor, Assistant Park Superintendent

“When I first started working for Ontario Parks over a decade ago, I would have loved to have a female mentor to look up to and work with. As my career has progressed, I’ve vowed to always be available to mentor and encourage any young women who come through the park, so that their journeys are a little bit easier than mine was.

I’m proud to be the first female assistant superintendent in Presqu’ile’s history and I am certain I will not be the last. It’s been amazing to work alongside this incredible team over the years and their passion and work ethic inspires me every day.”

Colleen Downing, Revenue Clerk

“I’ve had the privilege of working with some fantastic women over my nine years in Ontario Parks. There was a time when women working in non-student jobs were few and far between — now they’re everywhere.

Here at Presqu’ile, I’ve been surrounded by female clerks, wardens, store managers, manual workers, operations techs, and a female assistant superintendent. Working here, I’ve never felt gender impacted one’s ability to do any job, and there are a lot of people who came before me to thank for that.”

Haley Gourley, Senior Park Clerk

“When I started working in 2012 as a summer student, I never would have envisioned creating a career in Ontario Parks.

As my years continued, I moved positions from gate attendant, to warden, to assistant park clerk, to my now current role as senior park clerk. I feel extremely fortunate to work alongside many inspiring and motivated individuals at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. It feels like home!”

Jamie MacKay, Senior Operations Technician at Balsam Lake Provincial Park

If you can believe it, Jamie has worked in parks for 10 seasons!

Jamie began in parks as a cleaner at Balsam Lake Provincial Park.

Over her career, Jamie has worked cutting grass in parks, in Balsam Lake’s revenue office, as a senior operations technician, and a park warden!

Now, Jamie will begin at Emily Provincial Park as an assistant superintendent.

“My favourite part of my job is all the amazing people you meet, whether it be the interesting visitors/campers or all the amazing staff you meet along the way. I also love being able to work with all departments and lend a hand whenever and wherever I’m needed.”

Staff of Pinery Provincial Park

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Left to right: Discovery Group Leader Megan Loucks, Senior Park Interpreter Nicole Benn, Resource Management Group Leader Tanya Berkers, Resource Technician Amy Hall

Megan, Nicole, Tanya and Amy possess a wide array of skills, and contribute to  Pinery Provincial Park in too many ways to list.

Their abilities to handle diverse work demands in a fast-paced environment where exemplary work as public servants is always necessary speaks to their respective individual skill sets and ability to work together as a team.

Megan has the drive and organization to solve any problem, and her enthusiastic, friendly approach draws a wide array of personalities in to help meet team goals.

Nicole’s perspectives on challenges always cut to the chaff, and drill down to key elements, and her artistic skills complement the scientific and educational goals we aim to meet.

Tanya helps to coalesce diverse information to guide team accomplishments, and always keeps her eye on the task and goal lines.

Amy’s passion for the work that she does and her ability to navigate through challenges and meet goals is a testament to her hard work and dedication.

Complementing each other, as well as other colleagues, is why these four professionals have already accomplished so much in their young careers. Although some have moved on from working at Pinery, we want to recognize their years of hard work and passion keeping Pinery safe and healthy.

Laura Penner, Discovery Program Leader at Rondeau Provincial Park

staff near interpretive sign

Laura grew up spending time at Rondeau Provincial Park with her grandparents and family, sparking her love of nature and exploring.

She began working at Rondeau as a summer student, and fell in love with the job. She is now the Discovery Program Leader.

Laura’s her work ethic speaks for itself. She was recently awarded the Shan Walshe Award for her work with Indigenous partners on the ‘Gathering’ display located in the Rondeau Visitor Centre.

“It has been such a pleasure working for Ontario Parks. I love the diversity of my job and the fact that I can continue learning and improving upon my skills.

But the most rewarding part of my job is helping visitors discover the beauty of our protected spaces.”

Hannah Whitehouse, Digital Marketing Specialist

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Hannah began her parks career as a summer student working for the Learn to Camp program for four seasons, processing new reservations and answering questions for new campers.

Her experience as a student inspired her to return to parks after university as a social media assistant.

Hannah now works as a digital marketing specialist, aiding in creation of content for Ontario Parks’ social media platforms and Parks Blog, as well as providing customer service via social media.

“Ontario’s natural spaces, especially parks, have shaped my life and experiences since I was less than one year old. 

I feel privileged to share my love of Ontario Parks with our visitors, whether through our Parks Blog, social media platforms, or when I have the opportunity to connect with a customer to share my knowledge of parks and answer their inquiries.”

A huge thank you to the amazing women working hard to protect our provincial parks!