So You’re Here – Now What? How Parks May Help Newcomers Integrate Into Their Communities

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.

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Reconciliation – A Review of ‘Ha Ling Peak’

Preview image of Ha Ling Peak documentary by Brian Zimmerman

Growing up in Saskatchewan, I always had a strong appreciation for the Rockies. Every summer since I can remember, my family would make our yearly pilgrimage to the Banff area where my brothers and I would make a game of trying to accurately name every mountain that we could see outside of our car window. Approaching our stay in Canmore was always the best part and we’d frequently try to petition reasons to live there permanently to our parents, with little success.

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Meet the CPCIL Knowledge Gatherers: Tera Swanson

Currently completing a Master’s in Environmental Practice through Royal Roads University, Tera joined CPCIL as Editor and Coordinator for the pilot 2020/2021 team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers, helping to develop content across a wide range of environmental niches with the common aim of connecting and supporting park leaders. With an undergrad in Journalism Communications from Mount Royal University, the first chapter of her career path focused on both freelance writing and content marketing strategy in the tourism industry within Banff National Park. Living here for the better part of a decade, Tera was exposed to various local environmental issues which eventually inspired her to shape her career path in communications towards a focus on sustainability.

Here’s what she had to say about her experience with CPCIL:

What were some of your first formative experiences in nature? 

Pretty much all of my main memories as a kid were related to the outdoors in some way. I grew up on a farm in southern Alberta, almost on the border of Montana, so most of my time as a kid was spent outside, which took me a while to fully appreciate. Whether it was building forts in our backyard caragana trees or going to summer camp in Waterton or canoeing the MIlk River to Writing on Stone with the Junior Forest Wardens club my family was a part of, nature has definitely been a common thread throughout my life. Maybe not as strong or present at certain times, but always there.

I would say that my first intentional formative experiences in nature, where I was there by my own accord and looking to interact with the environment in a meaningful way, would have been after moving to Field, BC to work at the travel information center at 19 years old. It was my first summer job out of high school. Looking back it’s kind of mind blowing how fortunate I was to accidentally stumble into this beautiful little pocket of the world. One of the first hikes I ever did as an adult was the alpine circuit at Lake O’Hara, so the bar was set pretty high. It took me a couple of years of living in the area to really develop a deeper connection to nature and not view it as this separate entity. It was probably around 2015 that I became more aware of how much more meaningful these experiences could be, at least from a recreation standpoint. It opened my eyes to how nature could help you learn so much about yourself and others, and also drove home how nature needs to be respected. 

Last summer I celebrated a decade of living in the mountains by volunteering on a guided hike to the Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park. It was a great reflective opportunity on how humanity’s time here is really a blip in the universe, and yet despite this there are so many people who still want to to use that time for the better of our environment.

How did you first become interested in a career path in the environmental field? 

When I was in my first years of university figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, my two “must-haves” in a career were that it needed to be creative and it needed to make a positive impact. I went into journalism because I love writing and the idea of being able to help bring light to issues and elevate voices that needed to be heard. While I really enjoyed the program at MRU I soon realized that traditional news journalism wasn’t necessarily the right path for me, although I’ve done a lot of freelance writing since then. I ended up working in content marketing in the tourism industry in Banff National Park, and there are a lot of great aspects of that field. It allowed for a lot of creativity and collaboration with other content creators in the industry, but I wasn’t getting the sense that I was really helping anyone in the meaningful way I wanted. Having lived in Banff on and off for ten years I’d been exposed to a lot of the local environmental challenges that came with it. I volunteered for various local organizations relating to food sustainability or outdoor recreation, and I had always played with the idea of moving into more of an environmental communications niche. The idea of going back to school for environmental studies had been in the back of my mind for probably three or four years before I finally committed, and I haven’t regretted the decision one bit. 

I decided to adapt my career path at a time when the window of opportunity for internships or youth positions was starting to close due to being in my late 20s. So this editor position with CPCIL couldn’t have come at a better time, and I feel very fortunate that they took me on despite my limited work experience in the environmental field specifically. 

In what ways has your perspective shifted since joining CPCIL?

I think before beginning my position here, I viewed my experiences in nature and experiences in parks growing up as almost a default of coming from a family who at the time didn’t have a lot of resources. While my cousins were going to Disneyland or off on cruises through the Bahamas, my parents were packing up their ‘87 Ford Econoline van with all of their kids to go camping with their six-person tent. Our big family vacations were going skiing in Fernie or Whitefish once a year, maybe once every two years. I try to always keep the privilege that I carry front of mind, but I didn’t realize or appreciate the extent of it by fully recognizing just how many more barriers others face in accessing these experiences. Working with the Knowledge Gatherers on their projects has definitely helped improve my understanding of a lot of these issues relating to inclusion and accessibility. 

I think also with where I live, the communities I’m exposed to are made up of a lot of amazing and incredibly driven people, and it’s because nature is readily accessible that allow for experiences for people to grow and push themselves in. But it’s also easy to have the blinders up and centre ourselves in a lot of these outdoor experiences. It can put the focus on personal accomplishment and sometimes ego, with peak-bagging or long distance trail running or “what grade you climb?” or whatever, and I’m guilty of it myself. I think that those experiences definitely help strengthen a personal connection to nature, but I often need to remind myself to move away from this anthropocentric western perspective, and these myths around nature as an escape or nature as something to be conquered. Something that our conversations as a team have really shown me is the scale at which Indigenous voices, in particular, can be left out of the conversation, especially in academic settings. There are entire courses dedicated to environmental worldviews, yet Indigenous perspectives are almost an afterthought if they’re mentioned at all. So it was great to learn about what parks and protected areas are doing to try to bridge that gap, although it was also surprising that awareness of these issues and initiatives isn’t more widespread.

What have you loved most about your time with CPCIL?

Going into this position I think I was most excited about knowing how many new (to me) ideas I would encounter. This 100% happened! But I think I have most loved working with all of the Knowledge Gatherers to help them build on what they’re already passionate about to turn it into something that can help park leaders. It reminds me a lot of what first drew me to journalism back when I started university, so it has been funny to see that come full circle. I have learned so much from not only their research and ideas, but also from their perspectives and our discussions on their projects every week. That’s what I’ve loved the most about this opportunity.