Building a solid foundation for new campers at P.E.I. National Park

Parks Canada 7th annual Learn-to Camp programs was met with a warm reception and warmer weather for the new Island residents.

'I think that when you are close to nature, you are relaxed'

The Learn-to Camp at P.E.I. National Park drew about 100 participants. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Families lined up along the beach at P.E.I. National Park on Sunday, digging, scraping and dripping as they worked on building sand castles, some for the first time.

"It looks easy to build, but actually not — really not," said Gemma Lin, a first-time camper.

Lin and her family were some of the 100 participants to take part in the Parks Canada national initiative, Learn-to Camp.

She spent her first night ever in a tent at Stanhope Campground, very different from where lived before she moved to Canada.

"In Taiwan, I live in Taipei so that is kind of a big city," Lin said. "Buildings everywhere so we don't really have chance to kind of get close to nature, like a beautiful seashore, like here."

Gemma Lin said the weekend was filled with a lot of new experiences as she had never been camping before. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

This is the seventh year for the Parks Canada Learn-to Camp program offered in national parks across the country.

The PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada helped in bringing participants to this weekend's session.

So, for some of the campers, it was their first time getting in the sand and staying in a tent on Prince Edward Island.

Participants at the Learn-to Camp program at P.E.I. National Park this weekend added building sand castles to their list of fun outdoor activities. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

"I think that when you are close to nature, you are relaxed," said Maggie Luo, who recently moved to Canada from Beijing. She had camped before but this was the first time with her children.

She was woken up very early in her tent by her son, who was excited to hear the birds singing.

Luo was also happy with all the different programming offered at Learn-to Camp.

"For the kids, it is good to learn the local culture and to learn about the daily recreations by local people."

Maggie Luo said it was great to meet new people learning to camp at the same time. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

The Learn-to Camp program is a partnership with Mountain Equipment Co-op which loans the equipment for  campers to use, such as tents, sleeping pads and flashlights.

During the weekend, participants were taught to light campfires, set up tents and cook over a camp stove.

Saturday evening included a seafood feast with Maritime seafood like lobster and mussels.

The Mi'kmaq Heritage Actors also performed with storytelling, drumming and dancing, to connect the campers with Indigenous culture. 

There was bonding and sharing around the campfire with singing and the traditional roasting of marshmallows.

"It is about connecting with a national park, about understanding what the natural side of living in Canada is all about," said Janette Gallant, communications officer for Parks Canada.

"Learn-to Camp has proven to be a really successful program across the country, so much so, that it's been expanded in recent years. As of three years ago, we were reaching 10,000 campers across the country, as of last year, now we are reaching 100,000."

Janette Gallant, communications officer with Parks Canada, said the program has expanded across the country in recent years. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Ten-year-old Lea Wong acknowledges she prefers to spend time indoors, but enjoyed the camping experience.

"I thought it was going to be stressful but it turned out to be fine," she said."I would recommend this place to my friends but you have to be prepared."

Her father, Young Wong, had camped before in Hong Kong, but this was their first time camping in Canada.

He felt it was important to get his daughter outside in nature.

"As she said, she is more of an indoor person, she likes to stay home, like most other kids actually, so any chance I have, I like to take her to do different things outdoors to get more sun."

Young and Lea Wong met new people and enjoyed the experience, even if Lea was apprehensive before going. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

The campers left early Sunday afternoon, shaking hands with new friends after a shared bonding experience.

"They come in a little unsure of what they are about to do, but excited about it," said Gallant.

"So it's coming out of the busy-ness of the city, coming out to the National Park and then by the end of it, feeling like this is your home, this is somewhere that you love."


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Jane Robertson

Video journalist

Jane Robertson is a multi-platform journalist based out of Charlottetown. She has previously worked out of Edmonton, AB, and Iqaluit, NU, in her award-winning career that has spanned more than a decade with CBC. Twitter @CBCJRobertson Instagram @CBCJaneRobertson