Nature meant beauty and serenity but for Melanie Sereda it also meant pulling your weight.
Growing up in rural Newfoundland, along a rugged coastline with views of the Atlantic Ocean, Sereda would spend days at a cabin or hours inside a boat — jigging and trolling to catch fish.
Sereda, who moved to B.C. 19 years ago, said she feels fortunate she experienced such a rich childhood in nature.
And, more importantly, she’s grateful her dad did not believe in stereotypical gender roles.
Any time Sereda was outdoors with her dad, who was an avid hunter, she was constantly told to pull her weight: set rabbit snares, keep up on hikes, or clean and fillet a fish.
Sereda and her two siblings, an older brother and younger sister, were never given any special treatment from their father. They were all treated equally.
“I was expected to keep up just like everybody else,” she said. “There was no, ‘OK the girls need to do this.’”
But that’s not always the case for some women.
A program kicking off later this week is hoping to connect like-minded women in the outdoors, and promote representation in activities like archery, hunting, and fishing that are typically dominated by men.
“It was really awesome that I had that experience,” Sereda said. “But not everybody does.”
Inside the program
The B.C. Wildlife Federation (BCWF) is hosting a Women Outdoors Skills and Experience workshop throughout the remainder of the summer and into the fall.
The program, which was founded last year, kicks off on Aug. 26 in Pitt Meadows with a workshop focusing on how to safely handle and shoot a firearm.
Although the skills and experience program is relatively new, said Sereda, the BCWF’s women’s program coordinator, the organization has been hosting events for women in the outdoors for decades.
The workshops for this fall are an extension of the federation’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman camp, which began in 1997.
The three-day weekend camp taught up to 50 women various outdoor skills such as how to use a chainsaw and clean wild game. In 2019, the event was held in Camp Whonnock in Maple Ridge. This year, the retreat is heading to Squamish.
With women working full-time jobs or responsible for child care, Sereda said the upcoming one-off sessions — which are open to women who are 19 or older — are designed to make it easier for women to have a break from their daily responsibilities.
Hopefully, she added, women will meet like-minded people with an interest in the outdoors.
“People can go for two or three hours, and have the ability to say ‘I’ve got child care taken care of, or I’m not working that day’ to make time for themselves,” Sereda said. “Which is a part of self-care and self-love. . . . Society is now realizing that we have to fill our own cup.”
There are slated to be a total of five sessions in Pitt Meadows or Maple Ridge from August to November, ranging from archery to how to plan a trip using a compass and map.
Five additional sessions will be hosted in Chilliwack and Surrey.
Instructors, who have been taught how to create a non-judgemental environment, will host each session and provide feedback on various outdoor skills, said Sereda, who is teaching a few archery sessions herself in the fall.
Locally, the federation has partnered with the Thompson Mountain Sporting Association and Silvercore in Pitt Meadows to host the archery and shooting workshops. The map and compass sessions, meanwhile, will be held in Maple Ridge’s Malcolm Knapp Research Forest.
“They were 100 per cent on board,” Sereda said. “Who doesn’t want to be on the frontlines of change in our society?”
Seeing is believing
Although the hunting and shooting sports have been historically associated with men, and professional female hunters have shared their tales of sexism in the industry, the perception is shifting.
One of four new hunters in B.C. are women, according to a 2022 report from the BCWF.
Sereda said she believes that momentum is being driven by a wider push from women to not follow certain gender roles like they may have done in the past.
Women are still fighting for feminine equality, she said.
“Women are realizing and seeing that they have the potential to fulfill their own needs. They’re empowered to do the things they never thought they could,” Sereda said.
Moving forward, Sereda is hoping to expand the program beyond the Lower Mainland.
She longs to give women across B.C. the chance to experience the outdoors — just as she did in her youth.
“It’s about having pride and knowledge that they can learn new things, no matter what age they are, or abilities they may have,” Sereda said.