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Welcome to Canada, welcome to winter

February 28, 2020

Learn how Mary Murdoch makes Inclusion and Diversity personal by sharing the joys of winter with newcomers to Canada

Canadian winters can be long, cold, and isolating. That’s why Mary Murdoch loves to get outdoors and enjoy the cold, snowy months. Now, through volunteering with Newcomers on Snow, Mary is helping new Canadians embrace the joys of winter in their new home—on skis.

When did you get involved in Newcomers on Snow and why? 

Three years ago, our local cross-country ski club here in Fredericton, New Brunswick (“Wostawea”) began an outreach program to introduce new people to skiing, to discover a way to enjoy our winters, have fun in the snow, and get outside on trails in the woods. Club members were interested in outreach, but access to ski gear and the unknown of a new activity were barriers to get new people involved. So, our club held a fundraiser to purchase new ski gear and offer it for use in a supervised setting.  

I was keen to be involved because this has been a great activity for our family over the years and the club is welcoming for all ages and all abilities. Plus, our outreach program now helps us to include people from all places. I knew this would be a great way to “break the ice,” get to know newcomers, have fun together.

Tell us about the program.  What are its goals and mission? 

Our goal was to introduce new people to cross-country skiing, particularly people from warmer climates who are not used to snow and might feel a bit overwhelmed by a new climate. We contacted the Multi-Cultural Association of Fredericton (MCAF) and they jumped on board to develop a plan. We launched in 2018 with 70 newcomers, $10,000 in new gear, volunteer coaches, and a great venue on ski trails at a local park. We’re now into our third year of new skiers. This year we have 48 people from 15 countries and from 6 to 60 years old. We finished our last lesson with a potluck supper—what can be better than sharing seriously good food from around the world with new friends?

Why was taking part in this program a fit for you?

It’s a thrill to watch people discover the fun they can have on snow. The smiles, the laughs, the adrenalin rush. And it was all capped off with hot chocolate to warm up après ski. I love to meet people from other places—this is a way to make new friends, learn about life in other countries and other cultures, all while having fun outside.  

What was the most striking experience you’ve had with the newcomers to Canada who have participated? 

We had a couple of guys wanting to take a run down a steep hill before they had learned how to snow plough to slow down. They were super keen, and our coaches tried—unsuccessfully—to stop them. One of our coaches commented that these new skiers’ views of “risk” may be very different from ours based on where they come from, and what they have experienced in life.  Thankfully, both made it down the hill after a few tumbles—but with no injuries!  

Why do you think it’s important to engage newcomers in this way? 

Sharing this activity together on snow gives us all a starting point to build connections, relationships, friendships. We have something in common to talk about and do together the next time we meet. If we can help newcomers find a way to fit in with our lifestyle, we build a more welcoming place for them to put down roots and raise their families.  

How does this speak to, or fit in with, your ideas about Inclusion and Diversity at Stantec?

Following the success of making safety personal, we can make diversity and inclusion personal.  It becomes the way we live our lives – “we are better together”.

A newcomer from Morocco gets help with her skis as she takes a cross-country ski lesson in Fredericton, New Brunswick. 

Gloves and mittens are a must at minus 15C. 

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