On paper, the idea of camping in Ontario sounds crazy: Drive or hike to the middle of nowhere, sleep in a light-weight polyester shelter that could easily fly away if not set-up properly, get eaten alive by mosquitoes, all while forgoing the niceties of flush toilets, the internet, and comfy mattresses.
Yet camping is a quintessential Canadian experience—and Parks Ontario wants to ensure all Canadians have the know-how to pitch a tent, build a fire, and go exploring.
In 2011, Ontario Parks created Learn to Camp, a program designed to teach new immigrants the basics of camping.
During the two-hour workshops, park rangers teach the class about camping safety, how to set-up a tent, and the various recreational activities available at Ontario’s parks, including canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and hiking.
Once the newcomers have completed the workshop, it’s time to put those new skills to the test. Participants are encouraged to sign up for Learn to Camp’s overnight camping trips. Running between June and September, these guided trips take place at nine participating campsites throughout the province, with six provincial parks located in the greater Toronto area. For these trips, the first-timer campers only need to bring bedding, food, and personal items. Everything else, from transportation to the site, all equipment and gear, and even ice and firewood, are provided by the program.
Once participants feel comfortable, they can camp independently with their own group of friends and family while still using equipment provided by Learn to Camp.
Every year, 100,000 newcomers move to Ontario. But the many barriers to camping can discourage new Ontarians from exploring the province’s 300 parks.
The Learn to Camp program hopes that through its workshops and guided trips, camping will be seen as an easy, inexpensive summer vacation rather than an intimidating experience.
Charlene Castell, whose family came to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in the 1970s, and has never been camping before was at a recent workshop.
“People in Trinidad and Tobago have a different type of experience about leisure,” Castell said in an interview with the Toronto Star. “They don’t do camping because they are already doing a lot of work outdoors.”
“This is a fantastic program. We live in a multicultural fabric and camping is part of it.”