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Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site of Canada

Happy Campers

Newcomers to Canada enjoy their first camping experience through Parks Canada initiative

Learn to Camp Learn to Camp
© Parks Canada

For many Canadians, the experience of sitting around the campfire, toasting marshmallows and sleeping in a tent is something we take for granted as part of growing up. But for many urban families and newcomers to Canada, camping is an activity they have never had a chance to enjoy.

That changed for a group of approximately 60 people from immigrant families in Winnipeg on June 18 and 19, when they traveled to Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, a 45-minute bus ride north of the city, to take part in Parks Canada’s “Learn to Camp” program.

Learn to Camp,” a national initiative launched in 2011 in celebration of Parks Canada’s centennial, was done in collaboration with Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). The program’s goal was to host urban families and newcomers to Canada to an overnight camping event at a Parks Canada site.

Led by staff of Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, Riding Mountain National Park and MEC, participants enjoyed a safe, enjoyable and family-oriented overnight camping experience and learned essential camping skills. The event was much more than just camping; it included interpretive programming, recreational activities and camping workshops focused on safe and memorable camping experiences, all delivered by the on-site staff.

“Many Canadians today are living in large urban centres or are recent arrivals to the country,” says Marilyn Peckett, Superintendent of the Manitoba Field Unit of Parks Canada. “Through ‘Learn to Camp,’ we offer a safe and fun camping experience for people who have never had the opportunity to enjoy camping in Canada. We hope the experience has instilled in the participants the skills, confidence and desire to continue enjoying Canada’s great outdoors.”

For this national collaboration, MEC, the outdoor retail chain, generously donated tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats for the event, as well as helpful staff from the local store who ran workshops on how to set up a tent and enjoy their camping experience.

Parks Canada partnered with Winnipeg’s Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba Inc. (IRCOM) to identify families to participate in the “Learn-to-Camp” event. IRCOM is a non-profit organization that operates a transitional apartment complex in downtown Winnipeg called IRCOM House. IRCOM House offers secure and affordable apartments to new Canadians for up to three years after their arrival, and provides onsite support and services. Along with families from IRCOM House that had been invited to camp, IRCOM staff members and their families also spent the night at Lower Fort Garry to help facilitate a successful experience.

And so it was under a shining sun at Lower Fort Garry that these families pitched their tents, played games, toured the fort, sang songs around their campfires and made ‘smores. Children laughed and played, adults smiled and relaxed – exactly what anyone in Canada would expect from camping.

James Lou, his wife and their four children live in IRCOM House and were among the first-time campers. Having arrived from South Sudan in early 2010, they have never had the opportunity to travel outside Winnipeg, let alone go camping.

While it was a new experience for them, James said it was one his family will not soon forget. “The camping was very, very nice,” he says. “Our children really enjoyed the space where they could play, and my wife and I liked the history.”

When media came out to cover the event, James was interviewed, and his friends who saw him on television have since showered him with questions about camping and his experience.

“They ask me what it was like,” he says. “I tell them I had a great time and I really enjoyed it.”