Our First Year in the Pandemic and What’s Next
Author: John McDonnell, Executive Director of CPAWS-OV
My team and I were taking part in a conference call with colleagues from across the country working on a new strategic plan for our nationwide organization the afternoon of March 13, 2020. It was a rather unremarkable Friday until the federal government ushered Ottawa-Gatineau employees home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While we all knew this would be serious, that moment reinforced just how significant the threat was. We decided to heed advice and leave the office early. Knowing it would be at least two weeks before we would return to the office, we hastily grabbed some items from our desks to work from home for what we thought would be a relatively short period of time. In reality, we never returned as a team to our office at 15 Taschereau Street in Gatineau again.
As the weeks went on and news coverage about the pandemic worsened, we entered May 2020 uncertain about how best and safely to move our work forward. We postponed our Annual General Meeting and our annual Dumoine River Art for Wilderness (DRAW) retreat. We shifted our Parks Day celebration to a virtual platform, heralding a new reality for us at CPAWS-OV. We began shifting all of our meetings and events to Zoom, as well as instituting digital weekly team meetings and virtual coffee breaks to allow our team to continue socializing and supporting one another. Despite these challenges, I am extremely proud of our CPAWS-OV team! We accomplished so much in 2020. With our partner CREDDO, we successfully launched our project to establish a major new protected area encompassing parts of the Noire and Coulonge River watersheds in Quebec. As the first wave waned in late spring and over the summer, our conservation team was able to get out into the field with support of the Kitigan Zibi Indigenous Guardians to collect data and help build the case for this new protected area. During the fall and winter, our team was busy analyzing the data and meeting with partners and stakeholders to seize this unique opportunity to create one of the largest new protected areas in our region.
We were delighted to see so many people seek solace and inspiration in nature this year. Record numbers of people discovered or rediscovered our local parks and protected areas. You may recall the long lines and congestion in Gatineau Park last summer and into the fall. This demonstrates just how important nature is to our collective well-being and underscores the need to set aside even more natural areas. To that end, we began to explore the conservation potential of the Madawaska Highlands in Ontario.
We took a new group of local youths on a wilderness trip on the Dumoine River as part of our Canadian Wilderness Stewardship Program. Following pandemic precautions, these excited youth paddled part of the river, hiked, and helped restore a hiking trail.
Despite the new virtual environment in which we find ourselves, our team continued to expand. We welcomed two new staff members to support our conservation and communications programs in the fall. In October, we held our 52nd Annual General Meeting virtually where we welcomed new Board members Line Bernier, Myriam Faucher, and Caitlin Wardrop while bidding farewell to our long-serving Secretary, Stephen Knowles.
Our Gatineau Park Committee got to work on the new Gatineau Park Master Plan. We engaged our supporters through Zoom-based events, submitted two briefs on the plan to the National Capital Commission, and worked hard to ensure the new plan puts nature first. Our Fundraising Committee was busy this year, working hard to help diversify our revenues through new and innovative channels, and our Communications Committee supported the team as we moved much of our outreach online in 2020. As 2021 dawned, many changes were underway and we’re continuing to work on environmental conservation in the Ottawa Valley community. We moved to a new office in Gatineau’s Hull sector where we hope our volunteers, Board members and staff will be able to gather once again. We’ve also revived our CPAWS Café virtually with community members joining us for a discussion on the Dumoine River with Wally Schaber in January, learning about our Canadian Stewardship Wilderness Program in February, and wilderness connectivity in March. Our DRAW retreat is back on and applications are currently open until May 25th.
Our team is hard at work planning the 2021 edition of Thanks to Nature, as well. We’re continuing our work toward a protected area in the Noire and Coulonge River watersheds, with consultations planned throughout the summer and fall. We are also ramping up our work to conserve parts of the Madawaska Highlands over the next several months and will continue to advocate for legal protection of Gatineau Park. Our team also recognizes the importance of diversity and inclusivity in environmental conservation and we are currently creating a diversity plan to enhance our current efforts.
You can count on CPAWS Ottawa Valley and our dedicated team of volunteers and staff to be there to defend nature and ensure its preservation is top of mind in decisions taken on how these areas are managed.