A lack of diversity on trails, in parks and within outdoor clubs; they were not reflecting the rich diversity of a big city like Montreal. Through observations and research, I discovered there are many barriers keeping new Canadians from getting outside: limited funds, transportation, gear, a group, lack of experience, or simply not having any idea about certain activities, such as snowshoeing. Winter can be a particularly depressing time for new Canadians too.
The Plein Air Interculturel program offers accessible, affordable (or free) beginner outings. Most don’t require personal gear, a car or previous experience. The outings are within a group setting so people make new friends and continue to get outside afterwards. We also offer an introduction to winter sports course so beginner adults can try cross-country skiing, skating and snowshoeing right in Montreal. I send out outing suggestions too to connect people with clubs and activities they don’t know about.
Most participants are adults and they all have two things in common: they are all very open-minded and love being outside in nature. People are from all over the world, mostly new Canadians that have been here for as little as 2 days or as many as 15 years. They include refugee claimants, people with temporary work visas, permanent residents and international students. Our activities are open to all Montrealers, so we have some people from here too.
Leading kayak outings gave me confidence. Working for a non-profit doing community development taught me how to fill out a grant application and carry out a project. I got support from Montreal-based entrepreneurship programs that helped me consider feasibility and target audience. The most important thing for me has been following what I’m passionate about; everything else falls into place because I’m so motivated.
For new Canadians to succeed in finding necessities and completing paperwork, they also need to build a strong social network, maintain physical and mental health, and generally be happy and motivated. Doing outdoor recreation with a group can provide all of this; participants even meet others who can help them find jobs from time to time. I also wish people knew is how incredibly meaningful it is to donate to it. Donors sponsor low-income new Canadians to participate in activities, which has a positive and direct impact on their happiness and sense of integration.
The diversity and open-mindedness of the participants. Last weekend my canoeing partner was a refugee from Cameroun. The chances of canoeing with someone of that background in any other context is slim.
Finding ways to make the outings financially accessible while ensuring cars and gear are provided for everyone is tricky. I spend a lot of time fundraising to make sure that happens, and funding from year to year is always uncertain. I spend a lot more time reaching out to new participants than I thought I would too.
When I’m outside, especially with family, friends and amazing participants.
Putting this program in place! It’s really my “baby”! I love talking about it.
Exploring a new class 2 river in the area with my husband Fred by kayak and ending the day with ice cream. In winter, backcountry skiing with friends along the ski trails of the Laurentians followed by a warming bowl of Pho.
Following what motivates me!
Siberia is on my list! It would be fun to find some kind of hut to hut cross-country ski trip there.
I go for a walk on the Mountain in Montreal. Just being immersed in nature and greenery makes everything calm and clear.
Ready to join Adrienne at a Milton Park event?