Several newcomers had their first Canadian camping experience over the past weekend by joining staff with the YMCA of Greater Saint John at Fundy National Park.
It's the first partnership between the YMCA and Fundy National Park to host the grand finale of the YMCA's Welcoming Week, a schedule of community events like networking workshops designed for newcomers.
A total of 43 campers from 12 countries were accompanied by 15 YMCA volunteers at the Learn to Camp event held this past weekend, with park rangers showing newcomers camping tricks and providing a historical "educational experience," said Kathryn Melvin, general manager of Newcomer and Community Connections at the YMCA.
Érika Cantu of Moncton, who is originally from Brazil, drove with her 11-year-old son Lucas to the campgrounds to join her Saint John friends in the experience. She said a friend posted on Facebook asking if anyone was interested in sharing the camping accommodations with her.
Cantu described it as an experience she'll be able to check off her bucket list.
"My son loved it and now it is our family tradition," she said.
Cantu said she has learned that things are best when they are simple and one does not need a lot of things to "explore the nature." Her son Lucas enjoyed the experience, as he was able to practise skills like making a fire on his own following instructions that were given.
A highlight of the one-of-a-kind experience was Saturday night's dinner and bonfire, Cantu said, noting that while awkwardness prevailed during day-time activities, the campers all became family over food. All the families brought their food together for a potluck and shared some unique cooking techniques, she added, while many showcased their musical talents over the bonfire.
"We really connected," she said.
"The next day we thought we knew everybody."
The two-day experience felt like a week to her, as it gave her a chance to step out of her work routine and "disconnect from everything."
"I feel I was unplugged from my routine and plugged to this whole new adventure that was able to charge me mentally as well," she said, adding that she has been busy settling in Canada for the last 10 years and sometimes forgets to take care of herself.
"I should've done that years ago."
Antonio Degnera, who lives in Saint John, said such community events help to "adapt to the Canadian culture" and the organizing team did a great job.
Degnera emigrated from Ukraine in mid-February with his family. He has camped previously back home, but he said he could see the difference as camping in Canada has a different kind of natural aspect.
"Ocean, beach and sea is beauty," he said. "It's amazing."
He said he will continue attending more such events as they are "inspiring."
Melvin, who is an avid camper herself, recognized the event's success by calling it "very collaborative."
She also mentioned the campfire was a "special moment" and also her favourite part from the trip. There were "no hiccups with wildlife" during camping, she added, and while it rained on Sunday, "it didn't hold anyone back."
Rhythm Rathi, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal