Thanks to Parks Canada, I had the chance to sit down and chat with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau about her love of the great Canadian outdoors and her role as the Parks Canada Honourary Guide for Families. All opinions are my own.
An Epic Chat With Sophie Grégoire Trudeau – Parks Canada Honourary Guide For Families
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Madame Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Parks Canada Honourary Guide for Families, while spending some time with her at Thousand Island National Park near Gananoque, Ontario.
As I sat at a picnic table located on Beau Rivage Island (French for “beautiful shoreline”), a short boat ride from Gananoque, I marveled at the opportunity that had been given to me and my fellow writers.
We were about to get the chance to have a fifteen-minute chat with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau about her childhood, her love of nature, her favourite outdoor activities, and her role as Parks Canada Honourary Guide for Families.
Canada’s Oldest National Park East Of The Rockies
Canada’s Thousand Islands National Park, established in 1904, is the oldest national park east of the Rockies, and the first national park established in Ontario. Rich in biodiversity, this Parks Canada park is home to over 40 species at risk.
Consisting of several ecologically important mainland properties, this national park lays claim to more than 20 islands and 88 small islets between Kingston and Brockville.
According to Parks Canada “Thousand Islands National Park represents the unique natural features of the Frontenac Arch, the rocky portion of the Canadian Shield that extends down into eastern Ontario and crosses the St. Lawrence River forming the Thousand Islands. This unique area is recognized internationally as one of UNESCO’s World Biosphere Reserves”.
Parks Canada’s Newest Acquisition: Landon Bay
Our unforgettable day began with a meet and greet with Sophie, her lovely assistants, and the Parks Canada team at the park administration office in Mallorytown, Ontario.
From there, we were whisked away to one of Thousand Islands National Park’s newest acquisitions – Landon Bay.
It was at Landon Bay where we met up with a group of cute-as-a-button kindergarteners who were all set to join us for a hike along the Landon Bay Hiking Trail.
These cuties took to Sophie like bees to honey!
Along the trail, we had several opportunities to encounter Parks Canada staff eager to educate us about:
- the history of the indigenous peoples in this area
- the endangered species located in the park including their Rat Snake, Willow (the Rat Snake is the longest snake in Canada)
- the large number of “species at risk” in the park
We also had the chance to learn about Thousand Islands National Park’s turtle box program.
Did you know? Turtles like to nest in sandy areas near roads and highways, which is (obviously) very dangerous for them. Parks Canada staff began making turtle boxes to help keep mothers and babies safer from road hazards.
If you happen to live close to Thousand Islands National Park, and notice turtles nesting on your property, contact Parks Canada staff and they will be happy to provide you with one of their turtle boxes.
Off To “Sea” The Thousand Islands Boat Museum
The Thousand Islands Boat Museum is ” a hands-on Museum where history becomes something that can be touched, built, and experienced.” Antique boat lovers will find a collection of antique boats showcased at the museum docks.
We gathered here for a short presentation that included a video highlighting all that is offered at this unique museum. It was evident that museum staff love their job. Their enthusiasm to share the video with Sophie, and with us, was contagious.
Introducing The 2019 Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors
While at Thousand Islands National Park, we had the pleasure of spending time with Parks Canada’s Youth Ambassadors for 2019.
The Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors‘ mission is “to share the work that Parks Canada does with young Canadians wherever they live, study, work, and play. We will be highlighting and participating in some of the great conservation work being done around Canada”
What a fantastic trio Izabella, Gabrielle and Nathan are! There’s no doubt in my mind that these wonderful young folks will make Parks Canada, and Canadians, proud this summer!
Boating to Beau Rivage Island
From Gananoque, we were taken on board a Parks Canada boat for the short ride over to beautiful Beau Rivage Island.
There is a stunning vista around every corner of this island.
Keeping Up With Sophie
One of my favourite activities this day was the opportunity to get out on the water and kayak on the mighty St. Lawrence River – one of the best ways to see the beauty of the islands in this national park!
Paddling around Thousand Islands National Park’s Beau Rivage Island with my fellow writers, the Parks Canada Youth Ambassadors, and Sophie, was a real treat, and one I won’t soon forget!
The only problem for this novice kayaker (me!)? Keeping up with the expert paddler – Sophie!
The windy conditions and choppy waters were no match for this down-to-earth Canadian! Sophie blazed a trail for the rest of us, and I ended up with the sore muscles to prove it! Ha!
That’s me in the blue kayak! See how we are starting to trail behind?!
A Chat With Sophie Grégoire Trudeau
The highlight of my day at Thousand Islands National Park was our opportunity to chat with Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
And yes, she told me it’s okay to simply call her Sophie. In fact, she prefers being addressed by her first name.
So what exactly is Sophie’s role with Parks Canada?
As the Parks Canada Honourary Guide for Families, Sophie will “celebrate Canada’s diversity and help more Canadian families to connect with Canada’s nature and culture through Canada’s national parks and national historic sites, encouraging families to experience the outdoors and learn more about our country and its history through Parks Canada’s Learn-to Camp program.
Sophie was such pleasure to chat with, and she gave us some fantastic insights into her love of the great outdoors and our national parks, a peek into her childhood, and even shared with us some personal family stories.
She agreed to let us record this conversation. Here are some excerpts from our great “waterside” chat…
ME: I’m just wondering what your experiences were with camping when you were a child?
SOPHIE: “My father used to take me when I was like 2 or 3 and he pulled me in a sled when he was cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. I come from the Laurentians in Sainte-Adèle, so my first four years of life were almost undressed in nature. I’m an only child, so they (parents) were like “Where’s Sophie? Oh…she’s just playing outside”.
“That bonding with nature, especially at a very young age, happened quite organically, naturally, and I fell in love – then and forever. I feel my soul is connected to nature.”
“I would play for hours and hours building cabins with cedar branches.“
“So it started at a young age, and my father would make me taste all the different kinds of sap trees to distinguish them.”
(My father would say things such as) “okay now you are going to put your ear on the rock and you’re going to listen to the silence of nature” “I was like “what?!”
“When I was a teenager, I was like “whatever!” but…I do it with my kids now. So I get it. And I think it instilled in me, I guess, some peace, respect for nature. It’s my haven. It’s where I go and ground. I just love it. Keeps us healthy.“
ME: Where was your favourite place to camp as a child?
SOPHIE: “Near Maniwaki – called Blue Sea Lake.“
ME: I actually have relatives on Blue Sea Lake!
SOPHIE: “You do? Well, they probably know the Gregoire’s because they are all still there. “My father and his side of the family, the Gregoire’s, were waterskiing champions and they taught me how to ski there too – behind this super small boat with a yellow rope (laughs). Those were my summers. That’s where we went. It’s my favourite childhood place.”
ME: So your kids have this love of nature too, obviously.
SOPHIE: “(Laughs) They don’t have a choice! (laughs) I’m the kind of mom who’s like, even if it’s rainy we’re still going out. Even if it’s minus 30, we go out for an hour max – but we’re still going to go out. They’re whining but I don’t care – get out! As we know, they just feel better when they get back inside. So that’s how it happens in our home, and also, sometimes we’ll just camp on the ground. Always just for fun. We’ll make a fire…“
ME: How many Parks Canada parks have you been to?
SOPHIE: “I haven’t counted, just because, but I’ll name a few. I haven’t counted them because I started visiting them before. We went to the arctic in Pangnirtung Fjord…Rouge Park – we launched it all together. It’s the only urban park. We want to do more. Parc la Morrissey, Gros Morne…there’s many that we’ve been to but, more and more to come. Saguenay, we’re going to see as well.“
ME: As part of your role as the Honourary Guide for Families, will you be visiting more over the summer?
SOPHIE: “Yes, yes of course! Yes, we’re starting now so there’s going to be 2 or 3 for sure. Oh, Pacific Rim of course. I’ve been there many times. Gorgeous. Stunning. Takes my breath away. I hope that we’ll be going back this summer. So yes, many of them but, never enough!“
Referring to a discussion about kids spending too much time on their electronic devices…
SOPHIE: “Don’t even start me on…we don’t have video games at home. No, we don’t. I’m like “go to other people’s places…not my place” (laughter)“
OTHER WRITER: What is your favourite outdoor experience to do?
SOPHIE: “That’s a really tough one. We’re quite intrepid in our family. Also, it’s what attracted me to my husband in many ways, that he’s a lover of nature. He was a white river guide for years and a snowboard instructor. I taught skiing as well, to little kids. We’re quite adventurous when it comes to sports and the outdoors.“
“Our top three (outdoor experiences) would be surfing (because I love just hanging out in the water). Cross-country skiing and alpine skiing (I’m a big skier), and – I’m trying to choose every season (laughter) – mountain biking, LOVE mountain biking.”
“I love skating on lakes, rivers, like Rideau. We go there all the time with the kids. I mean, name it and I will say yes!“
“Repelling! Just hiking. I love hiking. Canoeing, paddleboarding, kayaking, we do it regularly. We are fortunate enough to have the secondary home of the Prime Minister. We have a lake there.“
“For my husband, it’s (nature and outdoor activities) super important to him and his personality. Everybody needs it (nature) but not everybody has been given the chance to actually explore (outdoors) since a young age but, his father (former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) was a big canoeist, and he’s a big canoeist. Right now he’s teaching our kids to do the “J” stroke!“
ME: Do you feel like you get enough time to do these sorts of things?
SOPHIE: “Never! I could be (doing outdoor activities) all the time. I make time. I could go full speed and not have the time but that’s not me…no, I will not. It’s almost like a daily hygiene to be in contact with nature. It keeps your mind healthy, your breath changes, how you move changes. I can’t do without it. So even if it’s 5 minutes and I’m in a building, I’ll go near a park, near a tree – whatever – I really try to do it even when I’m on the road and it’s crazy. Yes I try to do my best because I feel better.
“I really believe in physical activity. One out of two Canadian girls will drop sports and physical activity when they reach puberty. It’s a huge problem. I think this contact with nature that Parks Canada is really inviting Canadians to explore is working at the source of having a healthier population in society. I truly believe in it. I live it. We can’t really teach anything without experience, so I guess I allow myself now to teach it by experience. I practice yoga a lot also.“
“I find that in nature, you learn a different rhythm. You learn patience which is something that, you know, in society and culture, you learn self-hate before self patience.“
“Sometimes I get asked, “what do you tell your kids about how it’s important to move and get out there?” I’m like, you know what, at one point it’s not about telling them, it’s about doing it with them. Kids learn by imitation and they need to see you at work and at play doing something so that they can try it too from a young age and I see it. And sometimes, okay, there will be resistance but, once they are out there…(they love it). It’s in our actions as parents. It’s the same thing for body image, for self-esteem, for your relationship to yourself. They pick up on all that. Integrity within yourself, as a parent, they (kids) feel it. They smell the BS.“
All Aboard For A Thousand Islands Boat Tour
Our fabulous day at Thousand Islands National Park ended with a jaw-dropping boat tour by Scott from 1000 Islands Kayaking Co. Scott toured us around the Parks Canada islands of Lindsay Island, Hay Island, Aubrey Island, Mermaid Island, Thwartway Island (and Camelot Island in the distance). The last island we toured past was McDonald Island.
McDonald Island is one of the Parks Canada locations which provides oTENTiks for camping. We hope to bring you back to McDonald Island later this summer, or fall, for our own oTENTiks experience. Stay tuned!
A huge thank you to Guy Theriault and the Parks Canada staff for hosting such a fantastic experience.
Special thanks to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau for taking the time to spend this day with us, for being the best hiking and kayaking teammate ever, and for agreeing to sit down and chat with us!
Now tell me, which is YOUR favourite Parks Canada national park…and why?! We would love to read your thoughts in the comments below!