The adventure and therapy of nature

National Great Outdoors Month continues, get to know GTA adventure enthusiast Yaël McEwaan

Get to know GTA adventure enthusiast Yaël McEwaan

Crown and private land, provincial and national parks, conservations areas. There are so many opportunities to experience the outdoors in Ontario (photo credit: Mehdy D.)

June is National Great Outdoors Month and we're feeling inspired to explore nature and seek out adventure! But where to start? We first caught up with Diana Lee for a few pro tips, now get to know Yaël McEwaan.

Yaël was born in France, but grew up in the French Caribbean. He's been living in Toronto for ten years, working as a Senior Manager in the nonprofit sector. In his spare time he is an aspiring climber, avid backcountry camper and adventure motorcycling enthusiast. 

Was the outdoors a big part of your childhood?
Travelling was a big part of my childhood, thanks to my mom, who worked in that industry. At the age of 10, I had already visited 15 countries on three continents and lived a year in Angola. It made me more open-minded, always looking forward to the next adventure.

At the age of 11, my family moved back to Martinique, a French Caribbean island. It is then that I discovered a lifestyle connected to the ocean. The Caribbean outdoors included learning to sail or to kayak at school and occasionally hiking up rivers on the weekend with the family.

As a teenager, I remember hitchhiking to the beach to meet my friends and building a two-story treehouse in the forest. My first, and only, overnight camping on a beach was really the experience that ignited my love and appreciation for the outdoors.

Canoe camping is one of @YaelMcEwaan's preferred ways to fully disconnect and to experience the outdoors. It can be intense, yet also extremely relaxing. (photo credits: Josiah O.)
How did you get into hiking and adventure sports in your adult life?
In 2011, I moved to Toronto, seeking a life of adventures. Once settled, I started using online coupon sites to get deals on adventure activities and organize local day trips with my friends around the GTA. Snowmobiling, whitewater rafting, Bungee jumping, caving, and skydiving. I wanted to try everything inaccessible before. I was constantly challenging myself to stay active and outdoor year-round.

Since then, I've gone climbing in Alberta, skiing in Quebec, camping all around Iceland and hiking in various national parks. I am currently planning multiple camping trips, a moto-camping trip to the East Coast, while preparing for my first adventure motorcycling rally. 

What is the best part of getting out of the city and into nature?
Getting out into nature is therapeutic; it delivers a unique feeling of peace, bliss and freedom. It allows me to disconnect from the city's uproar, change perspective, and step back and refocus. But the part I enjoy the most is to co-create shared memories. Paddling to camp is meditative. The fireside chats under the Milky Way. Also waking up early with my campmates to catch a sunrise.

Has the outdoor adventure scene changed in the past decade? 
I remember just five years ago, participating in many events where I was the only person of colour. Since then, the conversation around diversity and inclusion has changed a lot. Many BIPOC voices and community groups have emerged and worked with industry leaders to advocate for a better representation. We have seen more substantial support to initiatives that are lowering the barriers to access the outdoor, such as gear libraries, clinics, community-based events to nurture the next generation.

@YaelMcEwaan's favourite part of camping is to waking up at 5 a.m., jumping in a canoe and chasing the sunrise. (photo credit: @YaelMcEwaan)

What are your top 3 tips for first-time campers or hikers?
  1. Know your needs. When going camping for the first time, it is always good to have one or two essential items that will bring you or your companions the comfort needed in this unfamiliar environment. If you are a coffee drinker, make sure you come equipped! If you are a light sleeper, bring your earplugs!
  2. Challenge yourself! Each adventure is unique and the next time you go, challenge yourself to go a little bit further or pack lighter. You can also experiment with camping food, seasons or styles. There is no one way to experience the outdoors. You will surprise yourself and learn a lot. Just make sure that you have the right gear!
  3. Find your pace. When hiking, paddling, or canoeing in groups. Be mindful of differences in speed, strength and skills. Mix the levels and leave earlier enough to account for breaks, enjoy the scenery, and avoid any rush to settle before dark.

Favourite GTA/ Ontario spot to hike or camp? 

  • Forks of the Credit and Belfountain Conservation Area. Just one hour away from Toronto, it is a perfect destination to grab a coffee at the local coffee shop, have a picnic or a hike. It became extremely popular in the fall and on weekends, with many activities in the area.
  • Killarney Provincial Park. This was my first backcountry canoe camping experience, so it has sentimental value to me. I can't get enough of the gorgeous lake system and trails available. The fall foliage is spectacular.

To learn more about Yaël, follow his adventures on Instagram.

Be sure to check out our first Q&A with GTA adventure enthusiast Diana Lee, all part of our National Great Outdoors Month coverage.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


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