This summer, I was the Student Web and Social Media Assistant for the Coastal BC Field Unit of Parks Canada. Since I was based in the Sidney office of Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, much of my work focused on that park reserve. I brought my experience in photography, writing, and videography to GINPR’s social media feeds but I learned a lot, too.
When searching for my first co-op term, I wanted a place in government because until recently, my only professional experience has been with small, startup-like organizations without much institutional structure. I wanted to better understand the internal processes of a larger organization. It also gave me the chance to be outside, which is also different from what I’ve experienced before.
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ABOUT PARKS CANADA
On behalf of the people of Canada, we protect and present nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, and foster public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations.
Since 1998, Parks Canada has been a separate agency reporting to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, currently the Hon. Catherine McKenna, MP. The Parks Canada Agency manages 46 national parks, 168 national historic sites, four national marine conservation areas and one national urban park. Parks Canada staff monitor the ecological health of the parks (intervening when necessary), maintain visitor infrastructure like trails and signage, greet visitors and inform them about the park, and ensure the safety of visitors and community members with services like search and rescue.
ABOUT GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK RESERVE
Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR) is among Canada’s newest national park reserves, established on May 9, 2003. Unlike most of Canada’s national parks, GINPR is not a single terrestrial space, but a patchwork of entire small islands and portions of larger ones, including Saturna, Mayne, and Pender Islands. A full list of areas within GINPR can be found here.
GINPR is rich in both natural beauty and historical significance. A Mediterranean-like climate supports ecosystems like the Coastal Sand Dune ecosystem on Sidney Island and Garry Oak ecosystems. It contains many species at risk including the common nighthawk and the contorted-pod evening primrose.
Prior to European colonization, GINPR was occupied for thousands of years by a group of First Nations now known as the Coast Salish. First Nations people continue to live, hunt, and fish on these lands. Traces of European settlement from the 19th and early 20th century are everywhere on these islands. Highlights include the remnants of the Sidney Island Brick Factory, an old fox farm on Tumbo Island, and the orchard trees that dot the islands. Interestingly, there is also a Hawaiian settlement on Russell Island, and the descendants of those settlers share stories with visitors during the summer.
I worked at the Sidney Operations Centre, the main office of GINPR. There are also field offices located on Pender and Saturna Islands.
ABOUT THE JOB
My job as Student Web and Social Media Assistant was to maintain the GINPR Twitter and Facebook pages by generating new content for the summer.
There was no typical work day. The only daily task involved checking email and the reach of prior social media posts through the analytics tools in Facebook Insights and Hootsuite and responding to questions from visitors submitted through Facebook or Twitter.
Since social media posts were submitted for translation once a month, all my work was spent preparing for this deadline. Depending on the time of the month, I could be contacting colleagues for what they wanted to promote on social media that month, photographing or interviewing other staff as they did field or outreach work, or doing the associated back-end work (researching GINPR history/ecological information for posts, transcribing interviews, editing photos).
There were several large projects that I was a part of, namely outreach events like the Clam Garden Science and Culture Camps in June, the Sidney Island BioBlitz, and the Fab Forts event at Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site. I also went out on my own to Saturna Island at the end of July to talk to visitors and photograph park sites. Some of this photo and video work will be used as part of Canada 150, a national initiative featuring special events and communications to do with Canada’s 150th birthday. A sample of this work is below.
Before entering the job, I expected my academic training and prior experience in writing and journalism to come in handy (and it did), but I am also thankful for my political science degree which helped when interacting with First Nations.
I chose to document my experience in a photo essay/portfolio hybrid because photography was a major component of my job. I prefer photographing people over landscapes, and the GINPR photo library needed more photos of visitors and staff, so it was a perfect fit.
EXAMPLES OF WORK AND LEARNING OUTCOMES
CLAM GARDEN RESTORATION
COMPETENCY: INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION/KNOWLEDGE
One of the most rewarding experiences of my co-op term was working on a clam garden restoration event for school-age children from around the region. We had nearly 200 students of all ages from SD79 Cowichan Valley, Stz’uminus Community School, and the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board arrive over two days to a clam garden in Fulford Harbour. Students learned from many presenters, including Hul’q’umi’num and W̱SÁNEĆ elders and knowledge holders, scientists and staff members from Parks Canada and Royal Roads University, and from our partners Food Is Medicine and the Clam Garden Network.
In Indigenous politics classes, I learned how important it was for Indigenous peoples to physically be on the land and actively practice their culture to revitalize it, but I had not seen it for myself until then. Those classes also detailed the tragic and unjust ways the federal government had treated Indigenous peoples. That background informed how I approached people for photos and stories since I worked for the government. It was an opportunity to do better now and in the future.
Special events like the clam garden restoration were a chance to use #facesofpc, inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York project. It was also a natural extension of my journalistic background. I made quick portraits and interviewed people about their connection to the land we were on. Throughout the term I spoke to colleagues about why they wanted to work at Parks and share some favourite stories. The resulting social media posts proved popular among participants and staff.
SIDNEY ISLAND BIOBLITZ
COMPETENCY: PROJECT AND TASK MANAGEMENT
I co-ordinated a team of volunteer photographers at BioBlitz, a 24-hour species survey on Sidney Island. This was only the second BioBlitz event at GINPR and the first with no vehicle infrastructure, so there were numerous logistical challenges to the day.
During event planning, I surveyed the volunteer photographers about their skills, equipment, and availability, then matched them with complementary assignments. I took requests from the national BioBlitz co-ordinator, who wanted video footage and interviews with staff and participants to promote future BioBlitz events at other locations. I devised a bracelet system to track which of our 200+ participants did not want their likeness used for promotional purposes.
It was a challenge to balance out these competing demands for my time since I was shooting candid photos, video interviews, B-roll, co-ordinating volunteers, and trying to post live updates to Facebook and Twitter in both official languages, one of which I do not speak. I had to get certain posts pre-translated and work out the technical difficulties while keeping up with the event. In the end the meticulous planning from all involved paid off.
SATURNA ISLAND VISIT
COMPETENCY: COMMUNICATION/PROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOUR
I spent a weekend on Saturna Island talking to visitors and photographing the island. I was facing the public in uniform more than usual, so I had to remember to greet people in both official languages (“Hello/bonjour”) and answer questions about the park in a friendly, approachable way. Maintaining professionalism when asking people to sign photo releases was of the utmost importance.
Since it was also a business trip, I had to justify expenses and file the necessary paperwork, which I had never done before. One of my goals this work term was to gain experience working for a large organization, since my prior experience has all been with small ones. Each environment comes with its challenges. Though there is a lot of freedom in small organizations, there is limited support and funding. In government, there are resources but a lot of associated protocol and form-filling. It was a challenge to start, particularly with a much slower social media workflow that required time for translation, but I was used to it by the end of the term.
SOME FAVOURITE PHOTOS
This summer saw a number of firsts for the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve social media presence. We published our first 360 photos, Facebook Live videos, and GIFs.
(click above to view with 360 effect on Facebook)
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Moving from a small student newspaper with a staff of 15 to a federal agency with thousands of employees required some adjustment. One of the biggest challenges I faced this term involved technology, and as someone in charge of social media, my performance was directly tied to tech.
Rather than spending a few minutes a day posting something, all posts were scheduled in advance, mostly because they had to be sent as a block for translation ahead of time. In some cases, I had to predict future events and write appropriate posts ahead of time. Translated tweets also occasionally exceeded Twitter’s 140 character limit. Using Hootsuite as a Twitter client instead of Twitter directly led to other challenges. Hootsuite does not allow attachments larger than 3 MB whereas Twitter allows up to 5 MB photos and 15 MB GIFs.
In some cases, the fixes were simple. For instance, I communicated the Twitter character limit to the translation service directly instead of assuming prior knowledge. Sometimes I manually posted tweets that could not be scheduled in Hootsuite because of the attachment limit. Other problems, like the Phoenix pay system, were not so simple.
The rollout of new payroll software for the entire public service did not go smoothly, and like many summer students, I had pay issues. I had to call many toll-free numbers and meticulously document my interactions and pay discrepancies, which I never had to do before. There was no one person or department that could fix my problem — I had to contact Public Works and Government Services Canada, Shared Services Canada, and local Parks HR staff at different points during the term.
The worst of the payroll problems are over for me, but I will have to keep tabs on it for at least the next few weeks, even though my term is over.
I chose Parks primarily because I wanted to be in a work environment that contrasted with my prior experiences. In many ways, the skills I applied were similar to my previous jobs in student journalism, but the size of the institution made many internal processes quite different. For instance, I had to learn to collaborate with people that I only knew from email.
I’m grateful to have seen firsthand the geography and biodiversity of my own backyard and how important it is to people. The GINPR office was open and supportive; I frequently got positive feedback on my work. I was also happy to have been closely involved with park activities as opposed to being on the periphery because I was a student. It was also a boatload of fun.
Citations are in the form of hyperlinks distributed throughout the page. Unless otherwise indicated, all images on this page were shot by me and are property of the Parks Canada Agency.