Céleste Leblanc knows the Wye Marsh well, having visited its 3,000 acres of wetlands and woodlands since she was a young girl.
“I always came here as a kid,” says Leblanc, who, at the age of 22, is the new camp director for one of the area’s most popular day camps at Wye Marsh.
After she completed her diploma in outdoor adventure education at Fleming College in 2022, she landed a role as an outdoor educator at Wye Marsh that summer.
Applying all the skills she acquired in school and as an outdoors enthusiast, she was canoeing, kayaking and leading groups around the wetlands.
When the opportunity to lead the camp opened up, Leblanc was asked to step into the role.
“It was a lot of fun, and I jumped into it halfway through the summer,” she says.
“I went from canoeing all the time to dealing with campers and a lot of emails and administrative work.”
While it’s been a big learning curve, she says she loves working with the kids because they’re so happy to be at the marsh.
“The kids are so much fun every year,” says Leblanc, who spent time with the young campers as an outdoor educator the year before.
The campers enjoy canoeing and archery, learning about birds of prey, and the turtles and snakes that call the marsh home. Each week is packed with activities as campers learn the flora and fauna of the marsh.
There’s also a camp specifically for the artistically inclined budding outdoors enthusiast called Art Critters. Older campers, from ages 10 to 14, participate in survival camp, where they learn orienteering and survival skills they put to the test every Friday with a hike in the marsh.
Over the course of the eight weeks of summer camp, about 250 kids make their way through the marsh — about 60 each week. With seven counsellors and three or four counsellors in training, that means Leblanc was responsible for more than 70 people of various ages every day.
While that is a big responsibility — and Leblanc says she is still learning about her new role — she feels her education prepared her for the leadership position.
Now, she’s setting her sights on bringing more activities for next year’s summer campers and for the winter and March break campers to create a more diverse experience for the kids who take part more often.
“I’m trying to make it a little better,” says Leblanc.
“I’m pretty excited for next year’s summer camp because I’ll be putting a lot of work into it over the next year, and I would love it to run the way I envision it.”
She says the job is “more rewarding when you see the kids enjoying themselves.
“Camp is super fun. We are one of the only day camps around that offer canoeing and archery, and it’s not every day they can spend in a marsh.”
Living in Penetanguishene her whole life, Leblanc has always enjoyed camping, fishing, hunting and many other outdoor activities. Working outdoors was a natural choice.
She came to work at Wye Marsh the summer after she graduated in 2022, and less than a year later, not only is she directing the camp, but she’s also the program manager responsible for the Scouts and Guides who visit the marsh many times over the year.
Leblanc will be handling their overnight and Saturday programs. Scouts and Guides come to Wye Marsh four to six times a year — two groups per month in the camping season.
Leblanc will also be taking part in running the activities that will help the Scouts and Guides earn badges.
She says it’s an amazing work environment because people are learning every day from everyone there, and they all have an array of expertise and skills.
“When you come to the marsh, if you have a question, and the person you ask can’t answer it, they’ll find someone else that can,” she says.
While she has visited the marsh for years and holds it in high regard, she says she has met people who think the marsh is a swamp or a bog.
“The marsh doesn’t get the appreciation that it deserves,” she says.
“The coolest thing about the marsh is that it filters water for the waterways.”
The Boreal forest in Canada has more surface freshwater than any other ecosystem on the planet. Marshes and wetlands filter that water and store carbon.
More information about Wye Marsh is available on its website.