Banff welcomes Parks' first youth ambassadors
Mike Ciniello has wanted to visit Banff ever since his friends shared stories and photos about their summer vacation road trip adventures in the Canadian Rockies.
So this summer, Ciniello has earned his wish, as he and Alaïs Nevert embrace their summer jobs touring national parks across Canada as the first ever Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors.
Last week, Ciniello and Nevert spent four days visiting Banff, embracing a whirlwind of sights, experiences and new acquaintances.
On Friday (July 6), after an early morning hike up Tunnel Mountain, the pair, along with videographer Merissa Tse, enjoyed an entertaining and informative tour of the Banff Park Museum National Historic Site, led by PC interpretive guide Alissa Sunderland.
“When you looked at the outside of this museum building,” Sunderland asked, “what was the first thing you noticed?”
“The wood.” they replied.
Indeed, that was the response Sunderland sought, as she continued to describe how the building, prominently perched on the north bank of the Bow River right beside the iconic bridge that carries Banff Avenue across the glacier-fed waterway, was constructed of Douglas fir in 1903. All around the building, a cross-log motif displays the strong desire of the Canadian government of the day to mark its properties with the presence of a visually identifiable branding.
Inside the historic structure, Ciniello and Nevert learned how Banff’s Central Park operated a zoo where numerous caged animals were displayed for viewers’ amusement until it was shut down in 1937.
“It was good business practice too,” Sunderland said. “When some of the animals died they were stuffed and put on display in the museum. Certainly we’ve come very far in how we view and treat wildlife in the national parks.”
For Ciniello and Nevert, learning that the oldest taxidermic specimen in the museum, a red breasted merganser, dates back to 1860, and how taxidermist Harlan Smith was a highly skilled craftsman with ideas and practices that were ahead of his time, was all in a day’s work.
“I’ve always wanted to come here,” said Ciniello, a 23-year-old Toronto native and recent graduate of Western University in political science and economics who admitted a strong interest in environmental issues. “I’m trying to take in as much as I can.”
Visiting the museum and learning about Canada’s history is an important component of the youth ambassador’s job, he said.
“One reason I think our job is so important is that our generation sometimes doesn’t get the importance of living history, of actually visiting historical sites. You can’t learn it all from books – or smart phones. Once you come and visit, you can envision someone from 100 years ago actually writing on a piece of paper, or physically working at places like the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.”
While the Bar U site, located 100 kilometres southwest of Calgary near Longview, which the ambassadors visited the previous day just hours after flying into Calgary, provided a glimpse into the day-to-day challenges of pioneer life in the early days of Alberta’s ranching history, the modern highway overpasses that facilitate safe wildlife movement across the Trans-Canada Highway served to illustrate some of the modern challenges faced by the landscape’s four-legged inhabitants at the wheels of its biped visitors.
Throughout the summer, Nevert and Ciniello will post updates about their experiences as Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors on Facebook (facebook.com/OMGParksCan) and Twitter (@OMGParksCan), as well as connect in person with youth as they visit various parks across the country that represent the essence of being Canadian.
And, as an added challenge, the pair is tasked with pursuing their summer job on a student’s budget, staying at hostels and using public transportation.
After they left Banff earlier this week, Nevert, 21, a Montreal native now living in Vancouver where she is studying documentary filmmaking at Capilano University, planned to return to the West Coast where she’ll visit Fort Langley National Historic Site. Ciniello planned to visit Jasper via the Icefield Parkway. After that, the two looked forward to travelling by ferry and bus to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island’s Pacific Coast. Later in the summer they will visit St. Lawrence Islands National Park just north east of Lake Ontario, travelling on a student’s budget from Ottawa.
A fun part of their job, Nevert said, is that their itinerary is only a rough outline, which encourages them to engage with other young people to share ideas and experiences.
“It’s a really neat way to connect,” she said. “When we get to Pacific Rim, we’re going to try surfing – a first for both of us.”
A former Parks Canada summer student, Nevert said she was thrilled to learn she had been chosen from hundreds of applicants. Announced in January by Environment Minister Peter Kent, the job competition was open to young Canadians between the ages of 18 and 25 who demonstrated an eagerness and ability to motivate Canadian youth to become engaged in their natural and cultural heritage. The program was created in 2011 as a legacy to commemorate the first visit to Canada by William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
In addition to travelling to parks around the country over the summer, Nevert and Ciniello, along with five other representatives, comprise a youth council team who will help plan events to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.
“This is a huge task,” Ciniello said. “We want as many youth as possible to help us, to share their ideas about why they love Canada’s parks.”
“I’ve always been a big parks Canada fan,” she said. “And Parks Canada wants young Canadians to tell them what to do.”
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