I have to hand it to Ontario Parks — they seem to understand the spectrum of outdoor experience in ways most people never stop to think about.
Throughout late July and early August I towed a camper to over a dozen provincial and national parks between here and Georgian Bay, making a study of campground life and the peculiar transient societies therein.
While one of the most accessible forms of recreation available to Canadians, camping is not immune to a sort of classism. From large ethnic families of new Canadians sleeping under tarps to well-heeled waspy retirees adjusting satellite TV dishes outside their $300,000 custom coaches, the disparity can be remarkable.
My thrifty parents, who travel and camp the United States extensively in a converted cargo van often endure the sneers of snooty private campground owners who take them for homeless, who prefer the look of a more ostentatious clientele. Of course it might help if they didn’t do dishes in a port-a-potty (which happens to make a great sink, by the way).
It seems that Canada’s provincial and national parks recognize, in a very foundational way, the dangers of identifying a ‘preferred clientele’ among campers, which I think is really important.
The idea that those most willing to forego creature comforts should be rewarded with advantageous access seems woven throughout the ethos of the parks system at every level. The most notable manifestation of this idea is that you’ll most commonly find the best campsites (closest to the beach) to be unserviced tent sites while the full electrical, air-conditioned RV scene pays more to set up camp a fair distance away from the water.
I could totally be imagining it, or there may be a better reason why this seems to be the case in almost every park I camp in. I like to think there’s some social engineering going on, a concerted attempt to level the playing field.
It’s not just income that dictates the scope of your interests in the outdoors. Age, fitness and family circumstances can change where you fall on the spectrum.
When you’re 25 and the goal of your weekend is walk dozens of kilometers up a mountain to the edge of a glacier with 50 lbs of everything you need on your back — pool noodles, bicycles, Christmas lights and cast-iron cookware aren’t essentials in your world.
But they are when you’re 42 and the goal of your weekend involves little more than staring into fire and maybe staging a Mel Brooks Film Festival for your seven-year old.
I’ve been both of these people at different times and have still spent my life struggling to relate to other peoples’ approach to the outdoors whenever looking outside my own demographic profile. Well vive la difference!
I’m just glad there’s someone keeping tabs on the bigger picture and looking out for everybody’s interests, whether I’m imagining it or not. — Chris Marchand