• campfire

    Whether learning to build a campfire or tending to a garden, getting more youth involved in nature is the goal of Nature Canada's inaugural Young Nature Leadership Grant program. (Photo: John Cavers/Can Geo Photo Club)

Like many Canadians, some of Nina Andrascik’s best memories are of being in nature, camping with friends or participating in her outdoor education class at Nepean High School in Ottawa. She noticed, however, that the class didn't reflect the ethnic diversity of her school, so this year, thanks to a $1,000 grant from Nature Canada's inaugural Young Nature Leadership program, Andrascik will launch an outdoor education initiative dedicated to getting more young new Canadians out into nature. 

“Part of being Canadian for me is being in nature,” says Andrascik, one of six young Canadians to receive a grant from the national conservation group. “I think everybody should be able to experience it, but I think a lot of people don’t because they think it’ll be too hard, or because of certain cultural barriers.” Andrascik's program will offer a two-day, one-night camping trip for girls.

Whether learning to build a campfire or tending to a garden, getting more youth involved in nature is the goal of the grant, which draws inspiration from Nature Canada’s Nature Playbook. The playbook outlines strategies to help connect youth with nature.

“The six grant recipients will run tangible programs to help get people outside,” says Chloe Dragon Smith, who co-chaired the writing of the playbook and will serve as a mentor to the grantees. Dragon Smith, from Yellowknife, N.W.T., received Nature Canada’s first Young Women for Nature award this year for her work on the playbook. “This grant is a really great way to celebrate the playbook and create more champions for nature.”

The grant recipients are all under the age of 30 and based across the country, from New Brunswick to British Columbia to the Yukon.

Olivia DesRoches, from Hampton, N.B., will build and operate a greenhouse at her high school in collaboration with her classmates. “[I hope] it will give us all more insight into the importance of locally grown foods, as well as educate other students on ways to be more sustainable,” says DesRoches.

Mathilde Papillon, from Ottawa, Ont., will be constructing a green wall, or a vertical garden, in her high school, École secondaire publique De La Salle.

Chantal Templeman, from Cochrane, Alta., plans to take a darker route than her fellow grantees; she will be leading a caving program to help teach youth about bats and cave conservation in Banff National Park.

Martha Henderson, from Whitehorse, Y.T., will be starting a girls nature club, helping teenagers plan and execute their own outdoor excursions.

Caroline Merner, from Vancouver, B.C., is kicking off a climate change survival program called TIDES. The weekend program will help educate youth on small-scale sustainability and conservation efforts, like building a solar-powered oven, or cleaning up a coastline.

“Addressing climate change often has this doom and gloom narrative, but that doesn’t actually inspire youth,” says Merner, a recent graduate from Dalhousie University. “It needs to be inspiring and tangible.”

The grant programs are intended to be small-scale, community-based projects, with the idea that anyone, particularly young people, with a vision and a love for nature can develop similar initiatives.

“These women are going to, through their very modest projects, connect thousands of young individuals and their families to nature,” says Dawn Carr, supervisor of the grant projects and executive director of the Canadian Parks Council. “That can have a really significant impact on how these individuals think of and conserve nature in the future.”

The recipients’ projects will be completed by the end of 2017. Nature Canada hopes the grant will become an annual contest and that the projects started this year will continue into the future.