Ontario Parks wants more immigrants to go camping

Sonal Thakkar and her family camping

Sonal Thakkar and her family camping

When Sonal Thakkar and her husband immigrated to Canada 14-years-ago, she knew next to nothing about camping until a relative who happened to be an avid camper took them camping trip one weekend. “We loved it so much and ever since we make it a point to go as many camping vacations as possible every year. Our kids simply love the whole experience,” she says.

She has since encouraged several other South Asian families to join them camping. Among them is Pankaj Kapoor who in turn has introduced camping to Chirag Bedi his friend. “I had never gone camping in India but here I found it so nice that we invested in camping equipment and go on camping atleast every summer,” said Pankaj. “We first went to a Yogi Bear campsite and my 9-year-old son really loved the activities and the whole experience. We now plan to go camping again this year,” says Chirag.

Despite the growing number of ethnic minorities in Ontario cities and for that matter across the country, those numbers are rarely if ever reflected on campgrounds. Some of the reasons is cultural. Camping was never an option in many countries and in other countries, doing so would be at one’s own risk. The other reason is that camping is an activity that requires some knowledge, chaperoning and the purchase of camping equipment that can run up a few hundred dollars. But this is an investment given that the same equipment can be used for many years if handled gently.

These days regular campers notice more South Asians as well as other minorities camping than ever before but their numbers are few and Ontario Parks is doing everything it can to encourage more newcomers to acquaint themselves with a relatively inexpensive short camping vacation and visit one of its dozens of campgrounds across the province.

Learn to Camp is an initiative that resonates with many new immigrants. Very often newcomers want to experience something but may just need a chaperone or someone to help them get comfortable with a new concept like camping.

Many immigrants, especially those who’ve lived in housing conditions that rivaled a typical campsite are naturally reluctant to go camping. Refugees who’ve lived in camps may be alarmed by the concept of ‘camping’ having had enough of it.

So it is a matter of educating new immigrants or literally taking them camping with experienced park employees on site to assist them with everything.

Last summer, this reporter went for a Learn to Camp program held at Bronte Park, Oakville.

The program began with a wonderful orientation for the participants, most of whom were new immigrants who had young children. Two park employees demonstrated how to pitch a tent, how to build a fire and everything needed to know in order to have a great camping experience.

The program provided each participant a six- person tent, air mattresses an air pump, a screened dining shelter, folding chairs, ice-coolers etc. In short everything you needed to camp was provided. All participants were responsible for was to bring their own food, drinks and toiletries.

All the participants enjoyed the experience immensely. At night they all sat by a campfire, got to know each other and even shared their meals.

The next day I asked all of them to rate their experience and not one of them was disappointed. Some were enquiring about the cost of investing in camping equipment and were keen on going the next year as well. A few who weren’t sure if they were ready to invest in camping equipment said they’d consider attending another Learn To Camp program this year. – CINEWS

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