Using interpretive walks to help newcomers connect to their city through nature
Access to nature helps build community and combat social isolation. Learn how Evergreen is giving new Canadians a taste of nature.
Published on August 13, 2019
Building better, more thriving cities requires all to feel like they belong. For newcomers, arriving in a new country can be isolating, especially for seniors.
According to Statistics Canada, 30 per cent of seniors in the country risk becoming socially isolated, and that number is higher for newcomers.
Through our Adaptation in the City Project in North Vancouver, we’re looking to help these at-risk communities build connections through nature by bringing groups together.
Partnering with MOSAIC, a charity that empowers immigrants, refugees and migrants to meaningfully participate in Canadian society, we have been leading their clients on interpretive walks in one of North Vancouver’s largest and most beloved parks.
MOSAIC brought their students to Mahon Park, 25 acres of lush greenspace in the heart of North Vancouver, to show them the blissful nature that exists right outside their front doors, giving Evergreen the opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of advocating for greenspaces in cities. The walks generally last about an hour and include a guided tour of the forest identifying plants along the way.
Most of the students are elderly, and come from different countries across the world, from China to Nicaragua. It’s not just the introduction to this new greenspace, located, for many, within walking distance of their homes, which helps them connect. The program also helps build new language skills for non-native English speakers.
For new immigrants, language barriers are a key factor that can spark feelings of loneliness and isolation.
According to stats from 2011, half of immigrants aged 65 years or older who arrived in Canada in the last 10 years do not speak English or French. That’s a huge barrier for social inclusion and a feeling of belonging for new Canadians.
Through the interpretive walks, students have be able to learn the English words for plants, animals and other aspects of nature. It’s a small act that has the potential to spark belonging for the participants.
On many walks, participants are able to engage with nature in diverse ways. They compare the live plants to printed plant ID cards, touch the plants, learn the names of the species, smell the unique Red Elderberry leaves, and sometimes even get to eat the sour Oregon Grape or the sweet Red Huckleberry.
Canadian newcomers have ample forests and parks around Vancouver, and it’s an honor to know that we are helping build that bridge.
Last month, we led more than 80 participants from seven groups from MOSAIC on interpretative walks in just three days. We’re thrilled they got as much enjoyment out of it as we did! In our survey, 100 per cent of the students felt they were more connected with nature after the walk.
Funding support for Adaptation in the City Project provided by EcoAction, and partner support provided by the City of North Vancouver.