Greetings Wildlands League community! My name is Eugenia Kwok, Outreach Manager at Wildlands League. I am fascinated with the tireless work and volunteer support I see for Wildlands League. I’ve started a new blog series called “Volunteer Spotlight” to showcase some of the amazing work that our volunteers do and what compels them to give their time and effort to protect Canadian nature.

This is an interview with Wildlands League volunteer Erik Thomsen (ET below). Photos courtesy of Erik Thomsen.

EK: Why do you choose to volunteer at Wildlands League?

ET: I choose to volunteer with Wildlands League because I see the protection of nature and conservation of our natural places as essential not only to the health of our environment, but also to the well-being of our culture and our collective spirit. We are blessed, in Ontario, to still hold vast and untouched swaths of pristine wilderness. The province’s boreal forest – which one of the most vital carbon sinks/stores in Canada – is home to thousands of species of plants and animals. Our 250,000 lakes and 100,000 km of rivers comprise one-fifth of the world’s fresh water. Remarkably, most of the province has been spared from the influence of humankind and looks the same today as it did a thousand years ago.

On the water at Paddle the Rouge 2018

Over the last several years, I’ve had the good fortune to travel across the province and explore many of Ontario’s remote wildlands. These beautiful places have afforded me some my fondest memories, and as a result, I recognize that our land is more than merely a collection of natural resources; our land is also an inexhaustible spiritual and cultural resource. Ontario’s natural places are sources unity, recreation, belonging and happiness. Rich histories and traditions bind us to our land. I believe that to lose our wild places, is to lose part of what makes us human.

In the face of numerous, diverse and complicated threats, Wildlands League works tirelessly to enhance the protection of our wild places. This work is done so that future generations may enjoy these places and reap their benefits in the same way that we do today. Supporting the organization and their fantastic work, in any small manner that I can, is always a privilege.

EK:  What does Paddle The Rouge mean to you?

ET: The longstanding efforts of the Wildlands League have been paramount in ensuring that ecological integrity is permanently assured in the Rouge River watershed. In 2017, the federal government fulfilled a major request of the Wildlands League and other conservation groups and passed laws prioritizing conservation and environmental protections in the region. Parks Canada is also in the finalizing the transfer of lands that will make Rouge National Urban Park the largest protected urban space in North America (stretching from the Oak Ridges Moraine in the north to the shores of Lake Ontario in Scarborough to the south).

Erik exploring the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park, Alberta with his wife, Michelle

The protection of the Rouge is incredibly important. The park is situated in one of the most densely populated regions in the country and is home to 1,700 species of plants and animals. The protections that have been achieved will help ensure that further development and growth will not come at the expense of the expansive biodiversity seen along the river. What’s more, these protections will continue to provide surrounding communities with access to nature.

Paddle the Rouge represents an opportunity to reach out to community members and collectively celebrate the great outdoors. The event helps to spread awareness about the protection of the Rouge watershed and, more broadly, about the importance of conservation. Equally important to this, the “learn to paddle” portion of the event directly connects people to nature. We hope, especially for young participants, that this experience fosters a lifelong love and appreciation for the natural world and encourages them to get outside as much as possible.

EK:  What was your most memorable moment from volunteering with us?

ET: I have volunteered with the Wildlands League on a number of occasions over the past year and each event and experience has been memorable in its own way. One of my favourite things about these volunteer opportunities is that they provide a platform to talk to people – from all walks of life – about their own experiences in nature. I’ve found that having a conversation with folks about the things the they’ve seen and places they’ve been, can be very effective in connecting them to issues/campaigns that they may not be familiar with. Ultimately, I’ve had some very memorable exchanges with the public on a range of nature and conservation-related issues.

Mattawa River Provincial Park, Ontario

In response to the question posed above, however, I would have to say that this year’s Paddle the Rouge event was especially memorable for me as it was my first time participating in the “Learn to Paddle” portion of the event. As part of this experience, I was responsible for helping groups of children (between the ages of 5 and 14) learn to paddle canoes. After some preliminary dry-land instruction, volunteers took groups of two or three kids out onto the Rouge River to practice strokes, navigate obstacles, race other canoes, explore the environment and pose for pictures. All of the kids under my guidance were extremely eager to learn and had a tremendous experience. In fact, at the end of one of the sessions, a young girl in my boat expressed disappointment when she realized that it was time to head in and told me that she ‘wanted to get a canoe for herself’!

EK: What WL campaign are you most interested in?

ET: The Wildlands League is currently managing a number of extremely important campaigns. In my time volunteering with the organization, I have learned a great deal, for instance, about the decline of Ontario’s moose and caribou populations, Canada’s unfulfilled commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the protection of sensitive areas such as the Rouge River watershed. However, I continue to have a particular interest the organization’s partnership with the Moose Cree First Nation to protect the North French River.

Having travelled to Moosonee and Moose Factory aboard the Polar Bear Express as a child and having returned by canoe in the summer of 2016 via the Missinaibi and Moose Rivers, I have a special affinity for the traditional homelands of the Moose Cree. In this latest journey to the area, particularly, I developed a strong communion with this beautiful, alluring landscape. Akin to the North French, the Missinaibi flows north through Ontario’s boreal forest, off the edge of the rugged Canadian Shield and into the Hudson Bay Lowlands, before reaching a confluence with the Moose River en route to the Arctic Ocean. Over nine days, the river was our home; we drank its waters, harvested its fish, ran its rapids, watched moose calves graze with their mothers and eagles soar; we felt the dual extremes of cold northern tempests and the warmth of the late day sun; we marvelled at vivid tangerine-coloured sunsets, and the green and purple apparitions of the Aurora Borealis.

The rivers that flow north to James Bay are special, enchanting places, that need to be protected. The North French especially remains a vital source of fresh water and food, and holds deep historical and cultural significance for the Moose Cree people. And yet, while the Missinaibi received park status in 1970, similar formal protections still elude the waters of the North French. It is time for this to change.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with Wildlands League, please contact me at 

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