Someone should hook themselves up to an EKG monitor and do a study on the physical effects of driving away from the city towards cottage country. I think they’d witness the amazing effects of nature immersion on the human mind and body. I know that on trips to the cottage, by the time I’ve settled in on the deck, surrounded by trees, rocks and water, I am a different person. Studies have, in fact, been done on the effects of nature exposure and the bottom line is that it improves physical and mental health. Forest Schools recognize the connection between nature and learning. In Japan, cancer patients often include forest bathing, simply spending time among the trees, as part of their treatment. The Canadian Mental Health Association leads a program called “Mood Walks” that promotes the physical and mental health benefits of physical activity in nature.

Several years ago, I was invited by the Canadian Parks Council to join a group of Canadians for a 3-day workshop in Yellowknife to explore ways to help connect a new generation of Canadians with nature. It was an inspiring few days. We were a multi-generational mix of 14 different people from very different walks of life – from science to government to marketing to education – drawing on our own nature experiences to develop a resource intended to encourage nature connection. Most memorable to me was a trip we all took to an island on Great Slave Lake where we set up for a cookout before heading out to do some fishing. After a classic northern fish fry, we boated back to Yellowknife at Midnight under a barely setting sun. That experience underscored another effect of time in nature – its power to connect us to something deeper. Strangers only 48 hrs ago, our group was suddenly 14 kindred spirits. It’s a connection that first comes from dis-connecting. Away from screens and traffic and noise, the meaning of life shifts to more spiritual things. Shared experiences become more intense. It’s a feeling I’ve spent my entire life chasing. Every spring, I can’t wait to get back to Georgian Bay to fish with my friends, go sailing with my neighbour, or go camping with the old gang – the same group of friends that have been camping on Georgian Bay every August long weekend for the past 36 years without interruption. Sharing a drink by a fire under the stars – it is the best feeling in the world.

As part of our Project Connect initiative, this summer, Georgian Bay Spirit Co will be working with two amazing organizations – Project Canoe and Nature-Link. Project Canoe is a charity that helps inner city youth experience canoe trips in Northern Ontario. The program focuses on youth who might otherwise miss out on the experience of outdoor adventure as a result of systemic or mental health barriers they face in their lives. Tim Richardson, Project Canoe’s executive director talks passionately about the transformative effects these trips have on the youth who participate. In fact, in a survey of youth who have participated in the program, 90% said they had discovered something new and important about themselves.

NatureLink provides subsidized transportation to outdoor spaces and outdoor programming for newcomer Canadians. We will be working with NatureLink to provide bus trips to parks near Toronto and Vancouver for new Canadians and refugees. These trips will give many their first introduction to Canadian nature along with a chance to connect with others in a fun and beautiful setting. Participants will learn new skills, build confidence in the outdoors and further a journey of connecting with their new country on a deep and powerful level.

These initiatives excite me more than just about any other aspect of our business. After all, there has always been a double play on the word ‘spirit’ in Georgian Bay Spirit Co. The spirit of Georgian Bay is the spirit of connection. It’s why we do what we do. Cocktails are a social lubricant. They bring us together. But it’s the spirit of the bay that makes those moments truly special.

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