A collage of women working in various roles with Ontario Parks, in parks, with animals, in offices.

Women of Ontario Parks 2023

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:

Michella Lavigne, Senior Park Clerk, Voyageur Provincial Park

Michella wears many hats in her position as a Senior Park Clerk at Voyageur Provincial Park. She works closely with staff monitoring the main gate.

One of her favourite aspects of this responsibility is seeing the smiling faces of campers strolling in!

Michella is also in charge of the park’s payroll, accounts payable, budgeting, employee onboarding, and finances. While Michella juggles multiple responsibilities, her favourite thing is working alongside her fellow staff members.

“It’s been so nice to feel accepted in Ontario Parks. Even though I’ve been through many different positions throughout my years, I’ve always felt valued, appreciated, and a part of the team.”

Jenny Schnabel, Senior Park Clerk, Bronte Provincial Park

Jenny is often the first staff member every new Ontario Parks’ employee interacts with after their interview. She administers the onboarding of over 80+ summer contracts and seasonal staff.

While Jenny has been the Senior Park Clerk at Bronte Creek Provincial Park for the past 11 years, she started her parks career at McRae Point Provincial Park working as a member of the maintenance team through our Summer Employment Program in 2003.

“It’s funny where life takes you. When I was a student at Fleming College, I always pictured myself working outside. I wouldn’t change a thing though. I live in Burlington with Josh (husband) and Henry (dog), and I get to work in a Provincial Park where every now and then I see deer, coyotes, or eagles!”

Ashley Quade, Parks Group Leader, Algonquin Provincial Park

Twenty-four years ago, Ashley started her career at Ontario Parks as a summer student. She was a maintenance worker at Bon Echo Provincial Park.

Now, Ashley is a Parks Group Leader in Algonquin Provincial Park where she oversees the operation and maintenance of six campgrounds along the Highway 60 Corridor.

Ashley also directly supervises three senior operations technicians, nine maintenance workers, and 30 maintenance support staff, while supporting the enforcement and utilities program along the corridor.

This year, you can find Ashley enthusiastically running the Winter Program at Mew Lake campground!

“You really can’t beat working in such a beautiful place and being able to be outside most of the time. I look forward to meeting young women each year and helping mentor them in their careers with Ontario Parks. I have had so many people come up to me in past years and say you have the best job ever, and you know what — they’re right.”

Micheline Mamone, Wildlife Biologist, Ontario Parks Branch Office – Operations and Development Section

With over 20 years of experience in managing human-wildlife conflict in Ontario, Micheline is no stranger when it comes to providing subject matter expertise on the many aspects of wildlife management in Ontario Parks.

Micheline helps develop wildlife policy, provides specialized training to staff, and educates the public on human-wildlife interactions.

“Ontario Parks is a fantastic place to be a woman because there are so many incredible, supportive people in the organization.

My work is important because Ontario Parks welcome over 12 million visitors per year into wildlife habitats. Increasing public knowledge on how to safely recreate in wildlife habitats means there will be less potential for negative human-wildlife interactions.  Specialized staff training means we have the capabilities when issues with wildlife arise and require response. The better educated and prepared our staff and visitors are, the less negative interactions people will have with wildlife.

By far, the best part of my job is providing training, because I get to connect with hundreds of people per year and talk bears!”

Carlin Thompson, Chief Park Naturalist, Sandbanks Provincial Park

Carlin oversees the Discovery Program at Sandbanks Provincial Park, which provides interpretive programming about the park’s rich history and ecology to visitors.

She also oversees the extensive resource management efforts underway at Sandbanks to safeguard the ecological integrity of the world’s largest freshwater baymouth barrier dune system, and the lands adjacent to it.

Carlin’s favourite part of the job is connecting with people at parks, sharing her passion for the park, and advocating for its protection!

“I have worked in Ontario Parks for almost 20 years. While I have been fortunate to work under strong female leadership within my specific departments, it has been challenging advancing within the organization.

Now that I am in a position of leadership, I hope that I can provide the same support, guidance, and encouragement that I was provided, as well as work with management to provide the appropriate training and advancement opportunities to promising employees, regardless of their gender.”

Hope Freeman, Senior Park Naturalist, Grundy Lake

Hope is the strong leader of a talented team of park naturalists at Grundy Lake Provincial Park.

Hope develops and delivers engaging educational programs for park visitors of all ages.

She also spends her time on resource management projects. Projects include invasive species control and protecting at-risk species, such as the threatened Blanding’s Turtle through our Turtle Monitoring Project.

“I feel so incredibly lucky to work at a park with a leadership team made of strong and empowering women. My position gives me the opportunity to spark curiosity and joy in the natural world. The best part? Inspiring current and future generations of fearless female park naturalists, ecologists, manual workers, park wardens, or whatever they chose to be!”  

Erica Kendrick, Senior Park Clerk, Frontenac Provincial Park

Erica is in her ninth year in Ontario Parks! She started her career as an Interior Ranger at Frontenac Provincial Park. After completing her degree in ecology, Erica returned to Frontenac as the Senior Park Clerk.

Erica is responsible for park office operations which involve overseeing visitor registration, the park store, managing the park’s social media accounts, and assisting with the management of park finances.

When the opportunity arises. Erica also loves to help out with resource management projects. From invasive species removal to writing interpretive signage — Erica jumps at any chance to support the maintenance and education of ecological integrity in our parks systems.

“I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a lot of amazing people during my time in parks. Everyone I have met has such a love and passion for the park’s system and the outdoors; I knew this was where I wanted to build my career.”

Jill Sorenson, Information Specialist, Quetico/Gwetaming Provincial Park

Jill is the gatekeeper to Quetico Provincial Parks’ rich library, archive, and herbarium.

Want to know about forest fires, the first female member of portage crew, or traditional Anishinaabe lake names? She’ll find the map, photo, or oral history tape to satisfy your curiosity!

“The best part of being Quetico/Gwetaming’s librarian is gathering and sharing stories of the land. Telling stories that deepen a person’s sense of place, or entwine their relationship with the living world, is about more than just finding the right resource. It’s fulfilling and creative work.”

Rosie Heffernan, Park Interpreter, Pinery Provincial Park

Rosie works in the Discovery Program at Pinery Provincial Park. She leads educational programs for park visitors and protects park wildlife by improving their habitat and monitoring their success.

It’s not unusual to see Rosie working long days and nights — rain or shine — to help species-at-risk, like turtles!

Rosie’s commitment to conservation and protecting species at risk is inspiring for her colleagues and park visitors.

“My favourite things are animals, nature, and strong women in science. Working in parks is a great fit for me because I get to foster all three of these passions. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by incredible women every single day that I come into work. When we bring our strengths together, I believe we can overcome the barriers that have traditionally constrained us in this field and inspire other women to do the same.”

Emma Fuller, Layna Lubimiv, Helen McConnell, Karen Kuiack, and Morgan Hawkins, Discovery Team, Algonquin Provincial Park

These five women, Emma, Layna, Helen, Karen, and Morgan, strive to create memorable and impactful experiences for park visitors at Algonquin Provincial Park season after season!

They share their knowledge of the natural world with those who pass through the park while gathering data to support ongoing research and management decisions. They hold a diverse set of skills, making them a great team when it comes to tackling even the trickiest of camper’s questions!

“Discovery programs are like a river; you never step in the same one twice. We recognize the influence women have had in Discovery programs within Ontario Parks and celebrate the ripple that has grown into great waves of change. We thank the women leading environmental conservation through Ontario Parks Discovery Programs.”

Laurel Finney, Discovery Program Project Coordinator, Branch

Laurel’s work behind the scenes makes big waves in Ontario Parks! Her guidance and coordination of the Discovery school program, especially with virtual programming, has allowed Ontario Parks to reach over 43,000 students in 2022 alone. These programs are exceptional because of Laurel’s contributions to training Discovery staff, making them the best role models of natural and cultural protection for students. Her contributions to special projects, like the Discovery Activity books, continue to provide self-guided fun to young visitors across the province.

Laurel is a woman in parks that you might not see front and centre, but her work you’ve come across. Whether you’re a student enjoying a school program or a park visitor exploring nature on your own, Laurel’s contributions have made your Ontario Parks experience better.

Laurel is this year’s recipient of the National Association for Interpretation, Great Lakes Region, 2023 Master Interpretive Manager Award. This is a remarkable achievement in the world of parks, museums, zoos, and education!

Rowyn Braden-Taylor, Discovery School Outreach Coordinator, Branch / Petroglyphs Provincial Park

Rowyn brings her perspective and voice into classrooms across Ontario as a school outreach coordinator. Her development and delivery of virtual school programs give students a better understanding of Indigenous cultural and spiritual values.

Rowyn worked in partnership with members of Curve Lake First Nation to develop three virtual school programs that share stories like the Kinoomaagewapkong, also known as the Teaching Rocks, the “Dodem” or Clan system represented by specific animals, and Mno-Bimaadiziwin or the good path or good way, as translated from Anishinaabemowin to English.

The newest program Rowyn has added to the Ontario Park’s virtual school program line-up is Ziizbaakwadokaaning (at the sugar camp). Students joining Rowyn for this program get to explore the traditional Anishinaabe sugar bush as a place of gathering and celebrating the new year after a long winter.

“The number one thing with working for Ontario Parks, specifically Petroglyphs Provincial Park, as a Michi-saagiig Anishinaabekwe, would be getting to teach about and protect a precious and sacred part of my Indigenous culture/history — all the while getting to learn from park visitors, whether they are Indigenous elders or members of the public. I love getting to share what makes the land upon which we work and live so special, and making links between the living world and our connection to it is as human beings. I think that ancient connection we have as human beings to the earth is one thing we all have in common no matter where we are from, and it’s so special!”

Heather Stern, Discovery Leader, Samuel De Champlain Provincial Park

Heather is a force of nature! Her personality and passion bring stories alive and give visitors to Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park an experience of a lifetime.

As the Discovery Leader, Heather ensures the park’s educational programs are of the highest quality and tell complete stories of the area’s rich history. She has been diligently working on updating the park’s specialty Voyageur Tour program to include a well-rounded story of the history of voyageurs along the Mattawa River.

Integrating stories and perspectives of all the people affected by the fur trade in the area is not an easy feat, but it is something Heather hasn’t shied away from. She approaches the delivery of topics in a manner that makes visitors feel comfortable in thinking, talking, and sharing during programs.

If you want an experience like no other, you need to go on a Voyageur Tour with Heather and the Samuel de Champlain Discovery team.

“I have always felt uncomfortable in office settings because it feels like I take up too much space. It’s wonderful getting to work outdoors for much of my job where I can take up as much space as I need.”

Mandy Jasper, Park Clerk, Bonnechere Provincial Park

Mandy is the park clerk at Bonnechere Provincial Park. She assists the senior park clerk and manages the park’s social media accounts, helps to oversee store/gate operations, and completes duties related to revenue and training.

“I began working in parks in my first year of university as a gate attendant and have since gained invaluable experiences and knowledge within my seven seasons. I never imagined when I first began, that I would be able to progress to a more senior position. However, I have been inspired and encouraged by key women in Ontario Parks to not only push myself to succeed in the roles I was in, but also pursue passions outside of work. I have gained confidence and found a continued passion for nature and preserving our natural world that I will take with me throughout my life.”

Karen Hartley, Senior Ecologist, Protected Areas Section

Karen has worked as a Senior Ecologist with Ontario Parks for the past 15 years. In this role, she provides ecological expertise and leadership to help guide how provincial parks and conservation reserves are planned and managed to maintain biodiversity and protect significant species and ecosystems.

Her favourite part of the job is getting the chance to visit parks and getting involved in some of the incredible work being done by Ontario Parks colleagues! This includes prescribed burning to maintain grassland habitats and protecting endangered Piping Plovers nesting on busy beaches.

“I feel fortunate to work for Ontario Parks and to have the opportunity to contribute to the protection of nature for current and future generations. Over the years, I have had the privilege to work with many talented and capable women in Ontario Parks. I am continually amazed and inspired by their dedication, expertise, and accomplishments.”

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


Why are your scientists picking up wildlife? Can I pick up snakes and turtles too?

Please do not handle wildlife. The staff members featured here are trained scientists engaged in professional research. These scientists are following a strict animal care protocol approved by the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry. These protocols review the desired outcome of the research, and ensure measures are taken to put the least possible amount of stress on the animal. We ask that you always observe animals from a distance for both the safety of you and the animal.