Collage of groups enjoying parks

Connecting new Canadians to the outdoors with NatureLink

At Ontario Parks, we believe that nature is for everybody.

In honour of Healthy Parks Healthy People, we wanted to create opportunities for new audiences to experience the amazing natural spaces in Ontario.

That’s why we partnered with Parkbus to offer two NatureLink programs on this year’s free day (July 20, 2018). Here is the story of how two groups of new Canadians got to experience Ontario Parks for the very first time.

Making a NatureLink

Group photo in front of Parkbus

NatureLink is a program from Parkbus which aims to connect newcomers to Canada with the outdoors.

They do this by offering subsidized transportation to outdoor spaces and outdoor programming. The program partners with settlement agencies to bring groups out to parks for a day in nature.

NatureLink recognizes the many systemic barriers that can make it challenging for newcomers to access the outdoors. The program provides a space for newcomers to explore new or familiar spaces, learn and build skills to build confidence in the outdoors, and connect with others in a fun environment.

On the shores of Darlington

Group sits on bench overlooking water

Our first NatureLink group headed to Darlington Provincial Park, on the shores of Lake Ontario. Darlington is located just 45 minutes from Toronto, and has great hiking, swimming, and programming for those new to parks.

The park offers great programs like Learn to Camp and Learn to Fish.

group gets lesson from park interpreter

Darlington’s new visitors started their day with an exploration of the park’s nature centre called the Log Cabin. They were introduced to Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles, and felt the pelts of different species.

They also learned about the natural and cultural history of the area around Darlington from a park naturalist.

People stand on beach in front of Lake Ontario

The group then moved to the water to enjoy Darlington’s beautiful sandy beach. The beach offers stunning views of Lake Ontario, and the group couldn’t believe how much it looked like they were on the ocean!

Some dipped their toes into the waters, and others dove right in. Program participants were happy to spend the day relaxing by the beach, hiking the trails, and simply soaking in the great outdoors.

Program participants stand with park employees

It was inspiring for staff to witness new Canadians experiencing the beauty of Ontario’s provincial park system for the first time.

Thank you for visiting Darlington, we hope to see you soon!

Family time at Bronte Creek

The second group of new Canadians headed to Bronte Creek Provincial Park in Oakville.

picnic shelter and families

Bronte Creek had many activities planned for Healthy Parks Healthy People Day, and many came out to enjoy the programs that included a guided meditation, cricket, Discovery Programs, and canoe lessons in the pool.

Meditation pillows set out on the grass

After settling into the wide open expanse of field and forest at Bronte Creek, some Parkbus visitors picnicked under a pavilion, while others played soccer on a field close by. This group included lot of kids, who took advantage of the bubbles and other games being hosted by Bronte Creek park rangers.

Catch teh crayfish stand under a pavillion with a park ranger

Those familiar with the pool at Bronte Creek will know that it is very large (1.8 acres) and refreshes many park visitors in the hot summer months. Our new Canadian visitors (especially the kids) were excited to explore the pool, and it wasn’t long before some decided to give the canoe lessons a try.

Panorama of the a large pool surrounded by brown grass

It’s safe to say, this was the first time in a canoe for most of our Parkbus guests; and what an adventure it was!

Canoe guide surrounded by people listening

When our first group of enthusiastic paddlers got started, they beelined toward the buoyed barrier (that was meant to keep swimmers out of the canoe area). Without the paddling skill to turn, they flew right into the swimming area of the pool!

Canoe with kids in it, backing out into the poolWith the help of lifeguards and swimmers alike, the new paddlers returned with the canoe to the sectioned off area — all laughing.

For the rest of the day, an extra lifeguard was stationed at the buoyed barrier to keep canoes and swimmers separate.

Once back on the Parkbus, all of our visitors looked happy and tired after spending most of the day at the pool.

We were so pleased to have met everyone who came, and help make their first foray into the Canadian outdoors a good experience, with lots of laughs.