Just below the Old Mill subway station in west Toronto, teenage participants of Wild Outside gather around an instructor to learn different paddling methods.
For some, the two-hour canoe trip around the Humber Marshes will be their first time on the water, while others are experienced paddlers happy to practice back strokes and tow other vessels or dive into the thick reeds looking for creatures.
For everyone, it’s a free opportunity to get out into nature. About 200 Toronto-area youth have taken advantage of the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s (CWF) cross-country ski program, some of them regularly, since its launch in late 2019. (Wild Outside was training staff when COVID-19 hit and has been hosting in-person events for about a year now.)
“It’s just a way to engage young people in creating change and creating a greater good and also to inspire others to do the same and build community,” said Elizabeth Todorobic, who joined this first event shortly after hearing about Wild Outside via CWF. magazine.
The 16-year-old wants to study environmental science at university and thought ‘this will really give me insight into the environment and what I will learn’, she said .
Josh Ruiz, who found a dead mussel in the shallows on the canoe trip, says he knows he wants to pursue wildlife biology and that Wild Outside helped inspire that decision.
“I wanted to expand my knowledge of nature, go places, meet new people who have the same mindset,” said the 18-year-old, who is already planning to come back as an adult volunteer.
The federally funded conservation program hosts weekly events for youth ages 15-18 focused on outdoor adventure, such as canoe trips, service projects such as shoreline cleanups, invasive species and tree planting, as well as an educational component including a series of lectures.
More than two dozen teenagers are paddling the Humber River — some canoeing for the first time — as Monica Chander and Jacob Parliament of the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Wild Outside program help them develop their appreciation for nature.
For Natalia Martin, Wild Outside has meant mushroom picking and identification, snowshoeing, kayaking, tree climbing, talking to native elders, and lots of hiking.
To encourage leadership among young people, a committee of interested participants can also suggest activities to lead, such as the tree identification hike in the Vallée de la Rouge that Martin has undertaken.
“I highly recommend it to anyone interested,” she said of Wild Outside.
Monica Chander, one of three staff at the Toronto group, says the program helps young people focus on something bigger than themselves.
“It can be really grounding and healing and help with mental health and finding purpose in life,” said Chander, who shortly after leaving under the Bloor Street West Bridge had to guide a pair of paddlers unable to stop turning. circles.
The program often holds multiple sessions of popular events, such as berry picking and learning to camp, to try to keep up with demand, Chander said, and must maintain waiting lists to join the program and to certain events.
For plant lover Mila Popov, interacting with nature is peaceful and calming. The 18-year-old also says she could imagine herself leading trips in the future.
“It allows us to reconnect with the environment,” she said. “A lot of people are disconnected from that and don’t really interact with nature; I guess they don’t really understand how it works.
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / National Observer of Canada