Camping used to be a very Canadian thing.
I remember the excitement of staying overnight in a backyard "tent" - it consisted of sheets draped over lawn furniture, as I recall - when I was about eight.
Then came a Cub/Scout outing in the north woods, where encountering a mother bear and two cubs was only slightly scarier than the Sunday morning I had to help make pancakes for the whole camp.
When my daughter was a teenager, the call of the wild was the May Two-Four weekend at a local conservation area or private campground. Thirty years later, she's switched to wine but still loves crawling into a sleeping bag at one of the provincial parks.
But millions of Canadians living in urban jungles haven't camped. Many are newcomers to Canada, whose childhood in rural Pakistan or big-city China most certainly didn't include woodland hikes or canoe trips.
Ontario Parks and Parks Canada are trying to change that through Learn to Camp programs.
The Ontario Parks one was tested last fall in Samuel de Champlain park, near North Bay, by a diverse group with roots in Kazakhstan, India, Rwanda and the Ukraine.
It will be repeated there this summer, and a pilot program will be introduced at three parks in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Darlington, Sibbald Point and Bronte Creek.
Over the course of a day and a half, people will learn how to set up a campsite, about stoves and campfires, food preparation and storage, and campsite safety and cleanliness, and how to have fun in the park.
They'll will be provided with a campsite, most major equipment (tent, stove, dining shelter), and have full use of the site.
The program is open to anyone, but the main target this year is GTA residents. For details, including costs, visit www.OntarioParks.com/learntocamp.
Parks Canada will target families with young children and new Canadians living in urban centres. It's taking a three-pronged approach:
A virtual camping component on Parks Canada's website, www.parkscanada.gc.ca. Online tools will provide information such as new-camper-friendly campgrounds, potential activities, and instructional diagrams and videos.
Staged camping events, including an overnight urban camping event June 18-19 at national heritage sites across the country. Participants will be offered regular on-site programs, interpretive activities, camping workshops and camping-related activities such as hiking, campfire sing-a-longs and star gazing. The main focus will be on Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax.
Three Ontario sites have been chosen: Fort George National Historic Site of Canada, Niagara-on-the-Lake; Woodside National Historic Site of Canada in Kitchener, boyhood home of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada's longest-serving prime minister; and Rideau Canal National Historic Site of Canada a UNESCO World Heritage Site between Ottawa and Kingston.
On-site activities in national parks to help first-time campers. These will include overnight events, simple workshops at both individual and group campgrounds, and informative brochures. Families will be provided with all meals, all equipment except sleeping bags, and, in some cases, transportation.
In the fall, Parks Canada also offers what's described as an all-inclusive camping experience in Georgian Bay Islands National Park.
It allows a family to try camping without have to buy and transport all the gear, and even provides raised cots for parents who may not be keen on sleeping on the ground.
The program includes dinner on Friday night, parking in Honey Harbour and boat transportation to Beausoleil Island, canoe, kayaks and safety equipment, and access to park staff who are on site at all times.
For information on fees and other details, phone the park at 705-526-9804, or visit www.pc.gc.ca/eng/pn-np/on/georg/courriel-email.aspx.
Doug English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o London Free Press, P.O. Box 2280, London, Ont. N6A 4G1.