June 25, 2024

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Newcomers to Canada can find belonging in scenic nature

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According to research, natural settings can contribute to developing place attachment for immigrants settling into a new country.iStockPhoto / Getty Images

With its forests and fauna, long lakes and pretty parks, Ontario offers new immigrants plenty of opportunity to learn about their new home in a natural setting while experiencing something fun together as a family.

According to Outdoor Play Canada, a summary of research focusing on the relationship between nature and immigrants’ well-being, integration and physical activity, noted that the most common finding was exposure to natural settings facilitates a feeling of belonging to a new place. It goes on to say that routine visits to natural settings can also contribute to developing a sense of place and place attachment, which are both essential when settling into a new country.

Just a short drive from Toronto in the regions of York, Durham and Headwaters (YDH), there are plenty of opportunities for learning and discovery with four major rivers – The Grand, Nottawasaga, Humber and Credit – flowing into the Great Lakes, as well as an abundance of hiking trails and breathtaking vistas.

The Town of Uxbridge in Durham Region is designated as the Trail Capital of Canada. Miles of groomed and ungroomed wilderness beckon to those who want to explore nature, offering opportunities to hike and fish or boat, kayak or Sea-Doo through crisp, clean waterways. The Durham Regional Forest, a 596-hectare area at the top of the Oak Ridges Moraine, is renowned for mountain biking, hiking and horseback riding.

Open year-round, the Kortright Centre for Conservation in Woodbridge, just 10 minutes north of Toronto, covers 325 hectares of pristine woodlands and offers some of the most leading-edge sustainable education programs and events in Canada. Nature workshops, self-guided trail hikes and guided outdoor experiences provide experiential learning opportunities about nature.

Sibbald Point Provincial Park in Jackson’s Point, on the southern shores of Lake Simcoe, offers weekly educational programs for children and adults in the summer, which include nature and heritage drop-in programs. The park is an ideal spot to discover different species of warblers and waterfowl, learn about and fish for the lake trout, bass, whitefish, pike, yellow pickerel and jumbo perch that are abundant in Lake Simcoe, or canoe along the shorefront.

Albion Hills Conservation Park is one of many parks managed by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), which has designed programs for new Canadians, including education for post-secondary students, bridge training for environmental professionals and opportunities for newcomers to discover their local natural environment. The TRCA’s Multicultural Connections Program helps introduce new Canadians to nature with everything from environmental presentations to discovery walks and newcomer events.

North Durham Nature offers guided field trips to learn about flora and fauna, Earth sciences and astronomy with the aim of protecting nature, biological diversity and sustainability in the townships of Brock, Scugog and Uxbridge. Upcoming walks include Bobolinks and Meadowlarks on June 5 and Butterfly Count Primer on June 15.

Set against the picturesque backdrop of the Thames River and Trout Creek junction in southwestern Ontario, the Town of St. Marys offers a unique loan program called the Yak Shack that is attracting immigrants to the area. Yak Shack is free and borrowers can use the equipment Monday through Saturday.

“Visitors receive a lifejacket, paddle and safety kit,” says Kelly Deeks-Johnson, tourism and economic development manager for the Town of St. Marys.

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Cyclists young and old will want to explore the 132-kilometre G2G Rail Trail.IMAGE COURTESY OF HURON COUNTY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

“What we found with the program was that majority of the users were new Canadians from the London and Kitchener area. The comments we received were that they appreciated the opportunity to try something new, but also that it was a free activity that got them outdoors and they could do as a family.” Visitors can participate in paddle safety workshops and guided tours with the kayaks are offered through the local library.

St. Marys is also home to a beautiful trail system. “Each trail is marked with terrain type to be transparent with accessibility,” Deeks-Johnson says. “We also highlight locations that offer the most amazing views and have built selfie spots along the way for visitors to set up for the perfect shot. The view from the Grand Trunk trail trestle is breathtaking.”

In Perth County, west of Toronto, visitors can immerse themselves in the rural culture and environment by joining in community events and activities. “All of our programs – including hiking, biking, fishing and boating – are inclusive for everyone,” says Maggie Kerr, transit project co-ordinator at the Corporation of the County of Perth. “To ensure that immigrants feel welcomed and can fully engage in our many experiences and activities, information is often available in different languages, and operators, staff, and guides are culturally competent and aware.”

Kerr says the Wildwood Conservation area does this particularly well. The popularity of Wildwood Conservation Area among immigrants likely stems from its scenic beauty, recreational opportunities and the inclusive atmosphere fostered by its approach to welcoming all visitors. “Immigrants tell us they appreciate the opportunity to connect with nature and experience the tranquility of the area, while feeling included in the broader community,” Kerr says.

Other popular outdoor destinations in Perth County include the West Perth Thames Nature Trail and Wetlands and the Shakespeare Conservation Area. There are plenty of pick-your-own experiences, for apples, pumpkins, berries and flowers, which allows immigrants to engage with the region’s local agricultural heritage. For immigrants interested in animal experiences, Perth County offers various tours and activities, which include interacting with farm animals, learning about agricultural practices and experiencing rural life firsthand.

Bikers and hikers will want to explore the Guelph to Goderich (G2G) Rail Trail in Southwestern Ontario, a 132-kilometre conservation corridor that supports community recreation and active transportation.

Ontario Parks offers an innovative Park Ambassador Program that can help new explorers learn the skills they need to navigate Ontario’s parks. Visitors can sign up for an online workshop before their visit and, at participating parks, book an ambassador for a 30-minute workshop at their campsite to learn how to start a campfire, set up a campsite and camp kitchen, and what animals they might encounter in a park. There are also drop-in workshops available to learn skills while onsite.

With such plentiful experiences available in Ontario that welcome and accommodate newcomers, many new immigrants will soon very much feel at home in the province’s natural settings.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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