Canada’s outdoors are just as diverse as the people who explore them. The outdoors can be a safe place for people to disconnect from it all and reconnect with themselves. As a passionate outdoorsman and someone who identifies with the LGBTQ community, nature has always been my medicine. Growing up, I was passionate about mountain biking, white-water kayaking and skiing, but the LGBTQ community seemed to be missing. By my early 20s, I was studying and surfing on Vancouver Island, enjoying the outdoor scene more than ever—but even there, something was missing. No matter how much I looked, programs and clubs to meet other outdoorsy gays seemed nonexistent. Why was this? Was I a unicorn? I mean, certainly at pride festivals, one could argue that—but figuratively, was I the only one who enjoyed these “masculine” sports?
Credit: Holly Louwerse
Following my university studies in 2013, I moved to Banff where, unfortunately, it was no better. Outdoor adventures galore—but again, sans queer community. And while I didn’t find that community back then, Banff Pride has since emerged as a leader in bringing the 2SLGBTQI+ community together through year-round events.
What’s an interesting connection between Banff, Vancouver Island and Vancouver, where I now happily reside with my partner, were the common factors of safe place, safe space and wonderfully welcoming people. As Canada has recognized its need to be an inclusive country for everyone, no matter whom they love or how they identify, so has the outdoors and tourism industry. But I can only speak for my own experiences—I cannot speak for everyone in the 2SLGBTQI+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and additional sexually gender and diverse) community. And even though I found a safe and welcoming place in the outdoors amongst LGBTQ+ allies, this is not the case for many people.
These programs are looking to change that on a local and national level.
Park People supports and mobilizes people to help them activate the power of parks to improve the quality of life in cities across Canada. Within that, they have various types of programming to support diversity and inclusion.
Wesley Reibeling (he/him) is the Toronto program manager. He emphasizes the importance and power of community-led events and programming in parks across Canada, specifically in large urban centres. The Sparking Change program exists in different iterations in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and it connects equity-deserving community groups with training, networks, seed funding and coaching to transform their parks into engines of community development. “Our Park People Sparking Change programming is really one from a grassroots approach that fosters and centres connection and access to nature in urban environments,” explains Reibeling. “We work to connect people to nature and to each other.”
The Toronto and Vancouver teams have been able to foster and support 2SLGBTQI+ focused events such as 2-Spirit Storytelling and DIY Skate Crew, among many others. The 2-Spirit Storytelling/Drumming Group is a program designed to provide land-based programs to Two-Spirited, Indigenous including First Nations, Metis and Inuit People and 2SLGBTQI+ people within the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). The activities include community members drumming together, singing, sharing stories and connecting to Mother Earth.
In Vancouver, Park People partners with local organizations for picnics meetups in local parks to help create community while outdoors. Reibeling explained that Vancouver’s Stanley Park is one of Canada's only parks with gender-neutral washroom facilities.
Funded through Tourism HR Canada and the Government of Canada, the Rainbow Registered program was launched in June 2021 to create a safer space for both domestic and international 2SLGBTQI+ travellers in Canada. “Remote or rural nature destinations can struggle to connect with 2SLGBTQI+ travellers due to perceptions that these areas are less welcoming of the community. So creating safe and inclusive spaces in the outdoors is crucial,” says Darrell Schuurman (he/his), co-founder and CEO of Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC). “Programs like our Rainbow Registered accreditation program are one way that businesses and attractions can demonstrate their commitment to 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion and attract members of the queer community to outdoor experiences. The interest in these travel experiences is very high, so it's important to demonstrate your commitment to inclusion to earn the respect and business of 2SLGBTQI+ travellers.”
From coast-to-coast-to-coast, Canada’s tourism industry is creating a safe and inclusive place in the outdoors for all visitors. In British Columbia, Hotel Zed/Accent Inns was the first hotel chain in the province to join the Rainbow Registered program. Their newest property is in the heart of the adventure destination of Tofino. They have a surf and bike rental shop on the property and promote inclusive recreation on the trails by foot and bike, in the water riding Canada’s best surf and, of course, at their groovy property. In the Yukon, the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon has joined the program and is influencing other tourism businesses in the territory to join and help create safe places in travel and the outdoors for Canada’s North. At Sally’s Brook Wilderness Cabins in Nova Scotia and Creekside RnR Glamping in New Brunswick, their doors are open to all guests no matter who they are or who they love—and outdoor adventure is what they know best.
Influencers and Outdoor Groups
Credit: Holly Louwerse
Elsewhere in the 2SLGBTQI+ outdoors space, influencers and online communities are making a difference. My favourite influencer is Pattie Gonia. She/he/they use the power of community and environmental activism through creative drag performances to normalize being authentic and true to oneself in the outdoors.
When it comes to other online platforms to adventure with like-minded 2SLGBTQI+ people, Surf the Greats is a paddle and surf shop in Ontario that prides itself on being an inclusive coldwater surf community with various events for everyone. Out and Out is North America’s largest activities club with various events held to bring the community together, and Out and About Vancouver is a passionate community of over 300 gay men and their friends who love the outdoors. They organize meet-ups, events and activities like hiking, walking, cycling, kayaking, skiing, camping and more. And in Revelstoke, Queer Shredders is a small social media group that brings together nature-loving folks of the Revy area.
Events, groups and organizations that encourage community and activity in the outdoors for the 2SLGBTQI+ community are happening all over Canada. If you’re curious about local adventure groups in your community, check with your local pride society for more.