By Hyun Ho Cho
Hyun Ho Cho is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.
Picture this… it’s 2001. You just stepped off a Boeing 737 into the dry Alberta air for the first time with two very small children, your wife and a single suitcase. You inhale deeply and let out a sigh charged with a variety of different emotions – anxiety, unfamiliarity, isolation, relief, and maybe even just the slightest hint of excitement.
So you’re here. Now what? For many new Canadians and Immigrants like my father, this is the first question that enters their minds when they come from away. Moving to a new country comes with many new challenges related to integration, some of which you can plan for. But you can’t plan for all of them. Most people come to Canada seeking a better life. What does this mean? It means safety, economic opportunity, inviolable human rights, clean air, clean water, freedom of thought, expression and association. Granted, as a nation, we are still far from perfection. However, Canada still offers a dream and an opportunity for those seeking better lives.
As a new Canadian, I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to grow up in a relatively stable household environment where my family received plenty of help from our community when it came to finding opportunities. At first, we felt out of place. We looked different, we spoke a different language and had very different experiences from our neighbours. Even though our basic needs were met, it was hard for my family to feel we had found a home.
A year after we moved to Canada, our uncle, a Métis man from Fort Macleod, brought us down to Waterton Lakes National Park. I was only two years old, but I have strong memories of Waterton in the summer from that first encounter and every year after. It was a place where I felt at home. Where the sweeping wind would clear my tired mind. Where the ice-cold glacial water would shimmer like crystal in the sunlight. It was a place where I felt connected to my newfound home. It was a place I could return to, to reconnect with myself and reconnect with the land I have now come to call home. In these moments and in these places, my identity as a Canadian was born.
Why Should We Care?
As I said – I was one of the lucky ones. Oftentimes when newcomers have the opportunity to come here and make a living, we can have trouble making a life. We don’t know anything about our new “home”. We often miss the opportunity to create a connection to the land that we all call home, we miss an opportunity to feel connected to our nation as a place, and not just as a concept. This is where parks come in. Parks can help people feel connected to an esoteric idea such as a nation and give people a sense of belonging, which can help us integrate more fully into society. In turn, this helps us accept the newfound parts of our identity as Canadians. In this capacity, the shared sense of place created by parks can act as a unifying agent between all Canadians regardless of their origins.
When people come from away, we lose our sense of place, we leave behind those spaces that made us who we are. The places where the moments of our lives resided are no longer near at hand, and it can make us feel even more isolated and farther away from home than we already do. Parks can help us create connections to our new home in a way that makes sense to us. And we are fortunate to have such a varied and extensive parks system here in Canada at all levels.
These spaces give us a conduit to our new homes, and an opportunity to create new memories and associations that will last for years to come.
So We're Here - Now What?
Canada welcomes many new faces year after year. However many of us do not know about parks or programs geared towards newcomers. Not all newcomers have family members or communities that can help bring them into these spaces. Simply put the resources for improved integration are there (Learn to Camp, Learn the Language, Learn the Land), but in order for programs to be successful, they need to speak to their intended audiences.
When my family came here, we had a roof over our heads and food on the table. We were in Canada, but did I feel Canadian? The short answer is no. I didn’t understand my neighbours, I didn’t understand how to connect to the land, I didn’t understand what it meant to feel or act Canadian. So when my uncle a, born and raised Canadian, took the time out of his day to show me what it means to be Canadian and how to connect to the land in the same ways that he does, that’s when I finally felt like I was home. That’s when I first felt I was Canadian.
I really enjoyed reading this post, Hyun Ho! My formative experiences in nature as a child were also in Waterton, it is such a special place. I’m glad that your uncle was able to be this connection for you to access nature. Your article has changed my perspective on barriers that newcomers face when accessing the outdoors, and has shown me how important programs like Learn to Camp are.