Digital Marketing, SEO and My Life as a 20-Something

Author: Natasha Burtenshaw-deVries (Page 2 of 4)

Digital Marketing, Content and SEO Specialist. Soccer player. Sailor. Hiker. Skiier. Huge Toronto FC fan. Reader. Problem solver. Lifelong learner. 20-something just trying to navigate this crazy world.

Connect with me on Twitter @natasha_bd

Social Enterprise…What Does It Really Mean?


This is the first in a four-part series where I explore marketing and branding in the social enterprise industry. Today’s post demystifies the world of social enterprise and lays the groundwork for digging in from the marketing angle. Check back on Tuesday for part two!

Social enterprise. Charity. Social innovation. Corporate social responsibility. Non-profit. Social impact. Systems change…if you have a desire to make our world a better place, then you’re probably familiar with these terms. You’ve used them yourself, you’ve probably donated time or money to organizations who label themselves as such. But do you really understand what these terms mean? Does anybody really know what they’re all about?!

Keep reading as I lay out for you what a social enterprise really is, what a social enterprise is not and why marketing for a social enterprise needs to be approached a bit differently.

First Thing’s First: What is NOT a social enterprise?

Before we get into definitions, let’s start off by clarifying what is not social enterprise. They may have elements of social innovation or social change, but the organizations and activities below are not social enterprises.

  • A non-profit organization or charity that is funded through donations, grants, government funding and/or service or membership fees
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Social programs
  • A non-profit that charges a fee for membership or goods/services offered
  • A business that donates to charity
charity donation box

If an organization is funded primarily by donations, then it is NOT a social enterprise

So, What IS a Social Enterprise?

Social entrepreneurship as a whole can be described as any sort of entrepreneurship or business that creates social value or seeks to address social issues. Therefore a social enterprise, in its broadest sense, is an entity with profit-generating activities that simultaneously work to affect positive social change.

But if only it were that simple! There about as many definitions as there are social enterprises, also known as social businesses. This is due to the varied nature of social business activities, with many different social missions and models of change, numerous revenue models and various legal structures (which are different in each country or jurisdiction). I won’t be getting into these nuances, as this is ultimately about marketing. Now, what are others saying about social enterprise?

The BC Centre for Social Enterprise says:

“Social enterprises are revenue-generating businesses with a twist. Whether operated by a non-profit organization or by a for-profit company, a social enterprise has two goals: to achieve social, cultural, community economic and/or environmental outcomes; and, to earn revenue.” -BC Centre for Social Enterprise

MaRS’ definition takes a more nuanced approach, with a distinction between social enterprise and social business. In MaRS’ view, social enterprises are strictly part of a non-profit organization, while social businesses are “commercial for-profit entities, created by social entrepreneurs to address social issues. SPBs maintain their social purpose at the core of their operations, while existing in the market economy and delivering shareholder value.”

A social enterprise, according to MaRS, is:

“ Social enterprises are revenue-generating entities generally owned and operated by a non-profit organization (which may or may not also have charitable status). Since there are no shareholders, any profits from the operation are re-invested into the work of the organization.” -MaRS

Is your understanding of social enterprise more clear now? Great, now let’s throw one more thing into the social change mix…corporate social responsibility.

Are Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Enterprise the Same Thing?

Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Enterprise often look similar, but don’t be fooled! They are two separate activities that should not be confused.

How do you distinguish between them? It’s important to ask what the role of social change is in the organization as a whole. If social change is their primary goal, then they are a social enterprise. If financial profit and delivering financial value to their shareholders is their primary activity and purpose, with social impact as a secondary or less important activity, then they are simply engaging in corporate social responsibility.

How can you determine this? Remove the social impact activities from the organization’s operations. What’s left? If removing the social impact activities removes all or most of the organization’s operations and revenue, then they would be a social business. If removing the social impact activities leaves a fully functioning and profitable operation, then what they do for the world is simply corporate social responsibility.

volunteers corporate social responsibility

Many organizations have their employees volunteer in the community. This is a great form of Corporate Social Responsibility

Is Social Enterprise Marketing Any Different From Business or Non-Profit Marketing?

If you take away the ‘social’ then you’re left with ‘enterprise’, so wouldn’t the regular rules of marketing apply?

Yes…and no.

Social businesses have incredible, unique stories that can and should be shared with the world. Stories are excellent for raising awareness of important causes, as well as brand awareness and driving sales. A social enterprise should never shy away from telling their story and sharing their impact.

But their story, I would argue, is not their value proposition. It cannot be their unique selling point. Pulling on heartstrings and making people feel good may encourage initial sales, but if the product or service you offer isn’t of high-quality or isn’t priced appropriately, will they repeat that purchase? Some will, but many won’t. And that doesn’t bode well for the long run.

To be truly sustainable long-term, social entrepreneurs need to find an optimal balance between their model of change and a high-quality end product that is competitive in the market against other businesses lacking a social mission.

As far as marketing goes, social business marketers must put product and quality first in their marketing strategy and use their story as additional leverage instead of making it the core value proposition or marketing message.

social enterprise marketing product

To succeed in marketing a social enterprise, you need to put your product first, and then tell your incredible story


Social enterprises are on the rise, with many social entrepreneurs finding new ways to apply business principles to social problems. Social innovation has existed for centuries. Now, the increasing number of social businesses are creating new models of change and having a positive impact on millions of lives around the world. As social entrepreneurs market their businesses and causes, they need to find a better balance between leveraging their stories and putting their product first to create sustainable business models that will expand and sustain their positive impact that our world needs.

How can they find this optimal balance? Stay tuned for next week’s post as I dive further into the world of marketing for social enterprises with best practices and strategies for building a social enterprise brand and marketing it successfully.






Our Mobile World: A Day in the Life of a 24-Year Old and Her iPhone


If I had a dollar for every time my grandmother asked, “do you ever take your eyes off that thing?” then I would have…well…a lot of dollars. Sorry Grandma but it’s 2018 and mobile is where it’s at.  Grandma may think it’s a waste of time, but my iPhone helps me stay organized, it provides and stores helpful information and is a useful tool for all the everyday micro-moments of modern life. So, how exactly does it help me? Keep scrolling to read more…

Starting My Mobile Day: Browsing the News

It’s 7, maybe 8 am. At this time, I’m either on the train into Toronto, sitting down at my desk at home or at the office or if I’m lucky, still lying in bed. This is when I want to browse the news, so I pull out my phone to get informed. If I’m already at my desk I’ll do this on my computer, but my first news check of the day usually happens on mobile. I’ll browse my usual news sites with Safari, as well as Twitter for more local sources and commentary from the people I follow. Unless I hit a paywall or that one stretch near Clarkson station where the signal is awful then this is a positive and frictionless experience. It leaves me feeling informed and ready to face the world, which for me is the ideal way to start a day.

Checking In on Slack

Alright, I’ve checked the news. Now, what’s going on with school? Being in a hybrid program has its perks, especially as a commuter, but juggling multiple group projects is challenging when you’re not on campus every day. Communication is key, so we use Slack (and sometimes Messenger) when I want to communicate or I want to know what’s happening with our projects. This need to know and communicate can happen anytime; you’ll see posts from me at 7 am, 11 pm or anytime in between! If I’m on the go then I turn to mobile. If I’m at my personal laptop then I may use the desktop app, but I’m often guilty of still using my phone. The outcome of this micro-moment ultimately depends on the discussion (or lack thereof) itself.

Apps, Apps and More Apps!

Every time I open my phone, I have 40 apps to choose from (23 of which I downloaded myself and weren’t pre-loaded). If it’s on my phone it’s there for a reason, but each has a different purpose. The value an app provides typically doesn’t correspond with how much time I spent on it. 

So out of all those apps, which ones do I use the most?

1. Safari

So many options! While the thousands of apps available offer many possibilities, no single app offers as much as Safari does. The possibilities aren’t endless, but close to it, which is why I spend a lot of time there.

2. Words With Friends

I’m a bit embarrassed (and surprised!) that this showed up as one of my most used apps. I’m not big on mobile games but I started using this about a month ago thanks to family. It’s our silly thing for when we can’t play Scrabble together in person and a great way to make a long train ride go faster.

3. Twitter

I love to stay up to date without having to read full articles. I love to connect with my community. I love live tweeting events. In other words, I love Twitter.

4. Messages

Unlike many people, I prefer to use text/iMessage when possible instead of other messaging apps, especially with the people closest to me, so this is where I do most of my mobile communication.

5. Instagram

It’s always good to do a bit of mindless browsing, catch up on what people are up to and share a bit of my own life. I may spend a fair amount of time here, especially for killing time on the train, but Instagram is something I could definitely live without.

safari browser logos

For both time spent and value provided, Safari is my number one mobile app.

Time spent =/= value. Which apps do I value the most?


As I mentioned above, there is so much you can do. This is the one app where the time I spend on it matches its high value to me.

Weather Network

Living in Canada I think the value in this needs no explanation. As someone who likes to do outdoor activities (especially in the winter, yes I’m crazy) this is critical for establishing plans and determining clothing and equipment.


I was skeptical of meditation, but Headspace made me a believer. 2018 has thrown challenges at me that I never could have dreamed of. Headspace helps me relax, slows down my mind (that’s always in overdrive) and keeps me feeling grounded. That’s value I can’t put a price on.


My phone’s always accessible, so why not use that to pay for purchases or earn rewards points instead of digging out your wallet? I’ve been on board with Apple Pay since its release. Nothing makes me happier than saving time, even a few seconds.


In terms of time this is really split between Messages and Messenger. For value, I prefer Messages but can talk to more people on Messenger (like my sister who lives in Myanmar) and use it a lot during school for communication with classmates.

The Sun Sets with Spotify

As the evening rolls around and I’ve finally made it home, I either want to relax or I want to feel energized! For these micro-moments I turn to music from Spotify. Spotify’s endless choices mean I can always cater it to my mood, through my own playlists or saved songs, radio stations or Spotify/user-generated playlists for every occasion. Usually I listen to music at home, but also in the car, on the train or at the gym. However I’m feeling or want to feel, Spotify can help me out.

Do You Ever Want to Throw Your Phone at the Wall?

Unfortunately, it’s not always sunshine and rainbows in the mobile world, often thanks to a website that isn’t mobile optimized. Party City’s website comes to mind. I recently had an idea for a surprise for someone while on the train and wanted to plan it while it was fresh in my mind…but their mobile website is terrible! It kept adding filters I didn’t want, the menus were difficult to navigate and it was so slow.  I eventually gave up and waited until I had my laptop to do my final browsing and planning. Party City is the best choice for both selection and location, but if there had been a similar option with a better website I definitely would have switched to that one instead.

emoji tongue out

How I feel about Party City’s website on mobile


The Future is Mobile…and Analytics

Now for marketers…what does all the above mean? It means a million things, but that would require a whole series of blogs. A key takeaway for marketers is that time spent does not always relate to value. Mobile marketers need to view analytics as a big interconnected story as opposed to a collection of isolated metrics. They also need to ask what those metrics truly mean. For example, low time spent isn’t necessarily a bad sign for an app if, like the apps I mentioned above, it delivers significant value to the user. Similarly, you could have millions of people download the app but if they don’t use it regularly or the usage drops off soon after download, is it really that valuable?

Data tells stories, and each metric is its own chapter. You wouldn’t read only one chapter of a book and make a judgement about the entire story, so marketers need to look at all the data available to them and make decisions based on the big picture, not just a metric that fits their narrative or goals. Better data analysis will lead to better strategy and tactics, which will make a better mobile experience that meets all the needs and micro-moments of the many mobile users in today’s world.

The world is on their phones, and we’re still in the early days of mobile. I look forward to seeing how mobile developers and marketers will find better ways to cater to our micro-moments, how they’ll create new needs and micro-moments for us and how mobile will carry us into 2019 and beyond.

The Friday File: September 28th

It’s been a while (err, about 4 months) since I’ve published this but I’ve decided to get back to doing this regularly. A weekly post sharing some of what I’ve been reading and watching throughout the week. Enjoy!

Local cannabis retail shops – Burlington Ward 1 candidates weigh-in on provincial opt-out option (John Bkila, Burlington Post)

Really appreciative of the Burlington Post’s coverage of the municipal election, especially the compilations of candidate responses to key issues. Not going to lie, I’m rethinking my vote for mayor.

Rowan’s Law Day will remind everyone of the dangers of concussions (Charles Tator, The Globe and Mail)

The Globe and I don’t always see eye to eye, but for this article we do. Concussions suck, and we do a a terrible job around education, prevention and diagnosis (especially for youth). We need to do this better. Yesterday!

Guide to removing referrer spam and fake traffic in Google Analytics (Optimize Smart)

I did NOT have time for this in the office on Thursday. Alas, I had no choice. 

Progressive Web Apps – The Next Step in Web App Development (GeekyAnts, Hackernoon)

Who knew these were even a thing? Well, I do now.

Scrabble gets 300 new words in US dictionary revamp (BBC)

This Scrabble champ has even more words at her disposal now.

Content Meets Copyright: Ethical Content Marketing

In a world where content is king, content marketers are busy bees making content to feed their audiences. In 2018, it’s not just about feeding them so they’re no longer hungry but feeding them higher quality content using multiple mediums and platforms that targets various consumer needs and stages of the purchasing journey.

Sound exhausting? Trust me, it is. So how do some people cope with this pressure?

Content Marketing Meets Copyright Laws: What NOT to Do

To save some time and sanity, some individuals resort to shortcuts to meet their deadlines. What are these shortcuts that enter murky legal and ethical territory? Written articles that are reproduced without permission or credit. Images that aren’t under Creative Commons license.  Research or original ideas presented as one’s own or without proper credit.

These actions violate copyright laws, are unethical, can potential lost income for the original creator and can ultimately backfire on the person who is plagiarizing the works of others. The pressure on content marketers is real, but so are the potential legal, financial and reputational risks to both the individual and the company or brand they represent.

In my early days of blogging, I wrote from the heart, and copyright laws were never a concern because my work was 100% mine. As I’ve moved into the digital marketing world as a professional, my blog posts have changed (both at work and my personal site) and with that has come a whole new set of considerations. I am careful with the images I use, ensuring they are under Creative Commons and from a reliable source (Pixabay is my personal favourite).

When writing a blog post that requires research like this one, I give credit where credit is due. Content takes time, but plagiarizing is never the right shortcut to take.

What About Sponsored Content?

My two favourite sources of marketing information and inspiration are Moz and Search Engine Journal. I live for Whiteboard Friday! Both sites have limited sponsored content, and in the 6 months or so since I started following them I haven’t noticed an increase.

Regarding Search Engine Journal’s sponsored content, I am not bothered by it for three reasons. The first reason is that it’s quite infrequent (unlike many so-called Instagram ‘influencers’ who never seem to post anything they’re not paid for!). A sponsored post here and there isn’t unreasonable given that I access their content for free. Second, what sponsored content they do post is clearly labeled through post tags, a tagline at the bottom of the blog and even a slightly different background colour on the main blog page (as seen in the image below).

sponsored post screenshot

Finally, sponsored content on Search Engine Journal provides just as much value to me as their regular owned content. It can even be a good opportunity to learn about different tools and services available! Search Engine Journal finds the right balance between transparency, frequency and the nature of content itself when providing sponsored content to their readers.

With the pressure to produce more content than before combined with the ease of access to other people’s content online, it can be tempting for content marketers to take shortcuts that violate both copyright laws and ethical standards by plagiarizing. It’s important that we treat the works of others how we would want them to treat our own by not reproducing work when it’s not allowed, and giving credit where credit is due.




Digital Literacy in 2018: It’s a Given, Isn’t It?

It’s 2018, isn’t everybody digitally literate? Digital literacy may seem like a default skill in 2018, and it is if you define it as being able to use the internet and other digital tools. I, however, would argue that true digital literacy encompasses more than just the ability to use the internet and requires a broader definition.

I believe true digital literacy is the ability to find, consume and produce digital content in a variety of mediums and platforms. As digital marketers, we need to ensure that we provide value for others, our content is responsive and accessible for various user devices and needs and adheres to relevant standards and legislation regarding privacy and security.

Digital literacy is not an either or but rather a spectrum. Take my Grandmother and I for example; we are both digitally literate but to different degrees. At 78 years old my Grandmother uses e-mail and she sure loves spider solitaire. This works well for her, and compared to some of her friends she’s an expert! However, if my own digital literacy skills were on par with hers, as a 24-year old digital marketing student, I would be struggling in my studies and probably finding another career path.

So, what exactly makes a digital marketer ‘digitally literate’? Here are 3 skills I believe are critical to digital literacy for marketers, both today and moving forward into the fast-changing future.

3 Critical Digital Literacy Skills for Digital Marketers

Written Communication

We’re moving towards an internet dominated by visuals and videos, but I don’t think words will ever disappear from our screens. Even if words disappear from public digital spaces, they will still be necessary for both workplace and personal communication and information management.

Technical Skills

Digital marketers need to be able to do more than post a blog with a photo in a CMS. You don’t need to be a coder, analytics whiz or techie, but you do need to understand how these things work and what is possible. This allows digital marketers to effectively communicate with the experts tasked with implementing these more technical tools for you.

Critical and Forward-Looking Thinking

There will always be some new tool, platform or development at our disposal (if you’re not the one involved in creating it!). Digital marketers must navigate the ever-changing digital landscape in a conscientious, strategic and forward-thinking way that ensures a positive benefit in the present and future for their client or business, and the internet and society as a whole. We have seen the harm that technology can create, and digital marketers must do their best to shape the digital world in a positive way.

These are three critical skills for digital literacy as a digital marketer, and areas I am personally strong in. Through personal blogging, managing my own website, as well as my summer co-op I have developed written and technical skills. I have used local workshops and conferences as well as online resources to further explore and learn about these topics. I am a conscientious person and a big-picture thinker; thinking of consequences and how something will play out in the future is in my nature, and was further refined during my liberal arts undergraduate education and non-profit board experience.

While I consider myself fairly competent in these key areas, there is always room for improvement. I look forward to further developing my digital literacy as I continue my studies and digital marketing career.

Do you agree with my thoughts on digital literacy? Let me know in the comments!

5 Things I Learned In My First Semester Studying Digital Marketing

After returning to school in January to begin a post-graduate program in digital media marketing, I often get asked, what the heck is digital marketing? What do you learn about? It was a whirlwind three months and I learned more than I could list here, but here are 5 key takeaways from my first semester.

Five Things I Learned In My First Semester of Digital Marketing

A whole lot of hard skills

Content marketing, Facebook ads, marketing strategy, Google Analytics, social listening, e-mail marketing, RFM, LTV, marketing research, building personas, paid ads, SEO…you name it, I probably learned it. Digital marketers require a multitude of skills and an extensive toolbox to draw from and I certainly got a good start on building mine.

Everything must come back to your marketing and business objectives

It’s easy to stray from your game plan when you’re focused on creating engaging content and making the most of all the tools digital marketers have at our disposal. But one thing that was really drilled into my head is that everything you do must help achieve your business objectives. The ultimate goal of marketing and business is to be profitable, and if that doesn’t happen then the only thing you’ll be managing is your own LinkedIn while searching for a new job.

Marketers are constantly learning

(I mean, this is true for everybody, but especially important in digital marketing) Our world is changing at an increasing pace, and marketing is no exception to that rule. Many of our courses didn’t even have textbooks, because they would be out of date by the time they were published. Digital marketers need to stay on top of changes and trends to make the most of what’s available and to be where their audiences are. Stay current by reading industry blogs and publications, and always find ways to keep upgrading and adding new skills.

You can’t be an expert at everything

As a professor once said ‘you don’t need to know how to do everything yourself, but you need to understand how it works so you can pay someone to do it for you.’ We laughed, but it’s true! You can’t do everything, but you need to understand enough to know what can be done and to communicate effectively with the person tasked with the job. You don’t need to code your own website, but you should know enough to talk with your web developer, and you should be able to do basic things like a blog post or update copy on a website without expert help! Stay informed, but know your limit and bring others on board when you need them

Data…data…and more data!

There’s so much data out there which presents many opportunities as well as nightmares for marketers. On the downside, there are increasing concerns and legislation about consumer privacy and use of data (Cambridge Analytica and GDPR anyone?), and even many marketers don’t know how to interpret the data and analytics available and how to act it it. On the plus side, data helps us better understand and segment our audiences, do incredibly targeted communications and understand the impact of our communications, from impressions and engagement to the all important ROI. Regardless, in an increasingly data driven world, data and analytics are two things digital marketers must understand and be able to act on.

It’s an exciting time to be in the digital marketing field, and I couldn’t be happier with my career choice. Do you have any questions about studying digital marketing? Do you need help with your own digital marketing? Let’s connect.

The Friday File: March 9th

A weekly post sharing some of what I’ve been reading and watching throughout the week. 

The clues to a great story (TED Talk, Andrew Stanton)

Make me care, 2+2, wonder. A great talk about telling great stories.

An Ode to Toronto FC (Jeffery P. Nesker, Waking the Red)

In Bez we trust. Toronto ‘Till I Die you guys. 

What Women Need to Know Before Getting an MBA (Bridget Casey on Greedy Rates)

An MBA is most likely the next to be added to the expensive paper collection, so I appreciated this read. We’ve made progress, but we’re not there yet.

Health system neglects northern patients by design: Doctor (Nick Purdon and Leonardo Palleja, CBC News)

In my 6 weeks on a remote reserve in northwestern Ontario, I learned a lot about the shocking realities of health care up there. Or rather, the lack thereof. Some amazing people doing great work, but talent and passion only go so far when you lack basic resources. Please read this. Please. Canada is an amazing country, but not for all.

12 Marketing Certifications That Can Land You a Job at Ladder (Michael Taylor, Ladder)

I’m making good progress on the hoops I need to jump through to finalize my summer internship. Now that I know the type of projects I’ll be working on, it’s time to get working on some learning above and beyond my coursework that will prepare me to learn and excel this summer. This is a great list of certifications for digital marketers, and ones I’ll be working towards (if I’m not already) as I gear up for a summer of social media and SEO! 


The Friday File: February 23rd

The first in a new weekly series sharing some of what I’ve been reading and watching throughout the week.

The Power of Sharing Your Story With Students by Beth Pandolpho

Educators are human beings too, the more you show this the more successful your students’ learning experience will be. Being honest about my experiences learning French with my former ESL students helped them see me on a more human level, especially as I was pretty much the first English speaker within their community they had met who wasn’t perfectly bilingual.

Can You Afford To Risk Not Aligning Corporate And Social Purposes? by Christopher P. Skroupa, Forbes

Nope, you can’t.

The Purpose-Driven Marketer: How Patagonia Uses Storytelling To Turn Consumers Into Activists by Jeff Beer, Fast Company

Social impact and mission driven brands have been capturing a lot of my ‘I should be textbook studying but it’s alright because I’m still learning’ time lately. Career goals, right there.

Millennials’ prolonged stay at Parents Inn is having a profound impact on housing markets by Murtaza Haider and Stephen Moranis, Financial Post

Honestly this one just made me really angry because it paints an unfair picture that ignores the struggles and obstacles my generation faces in affording basics such as our own housing. I WOULD BE 100% INDEPENDENT AND NOT LIVING WITH MY MOTHER IF I COULD. But worth a read nonetheless.

Advertisers warn social media to step up, or they’re out by Ramona Pringle, CBC News

Levels of trust in various forms of media has been changing in recent years, and Canadians feel it’s increasingly difficult to trust what they read online. It will be interesting to see how social media platforms continue to respond to problems of abuse, fake news etc. and how we can find an optimal balance between personal content, brands, news and paid ads as we move forward in this constantly changing and developing landscape.

Adventures in Jasper National Park

In need of a vacation and with my return to school in January pushed back by 3 weeks, from January 1-9, 2018 I set out on an adventure to Jasper, Alberta for a few days of adventures in beautiful Jasper National Park. I then returned home on board Via Rail’s The Canadian, which took me across 4 provinces over 3 nights and days. Enjoy the first of the photos and stories of my adventures, and stay tuned for more.


First real glimpses of the town on my first morning after breakfast at Smitty’s, with the sun still not quite above the mountains yet.


Jasper was, and still is, a railroad town.


The Two Brothers Totem Pole, found on Connaught Dr close to the train station. A beautiful sight, and I was pleased to see some presence of Indigenous art, but some research showed concern held by local Indigenous people towards it. I enjoyed reading the historical information signs around the townsite, and while there was some mention of Indigenous people and history in them, this is definitely an area where Parks Canada can and needs to improve.

IMG_8338 (1)

A bit of telescope iPhone photography from a wonderful experience at the Jasper Planetarium. A cool planetarium show followed by the chance to moon and stargaze using telescopes and binoculars, aided by well informed and very pleasant staff. 12/10 would recommend.


Medicine Lake. Or as my tour guide called it ‘the world’s largest bath tub!’.


Snowshoeing out on Maligne Lake. Thanks Paula at Walks and Talks Japser for a great adventure!


Sundog over Maligne Lake.


Mid-mountain at Marmot Basin. Never mind the skiing, I could have sat there and admired the views all day.


Finally got the confidence to venture to the top! Only fell once. And needed a break at the mid-mountain chalet (something we sure don’t have a need for in southern Ontario!).


After two days of snowshoeing and skiing I earned myself a latte, chocolatey treat and a few hours of reading in the cozy back section of The Other Paw Bakery Café.


Just a bunch of elk wandering through town and along the tracks!




Final stop in Jasper, the lovely historic train station, waiting for my adventure on board The Canadian to begin!

So there you have it, some first glimpses of my time in Jasper. A truly wonderful vacation that left me refreshed and energized to return home, I would absolutely recommend a visit. Stay tuned for some more detailed accounts of my time in the town and the park, as well as my time on board The Canadian all the way home to Toronto!

7 Things I Learned From 6 Weeks In The North


I debated whether or not to write anything to share publicly. Out of respect for my terms of employment, for the respect and privacy of those in the communities I visited, out of fear of saying the wrong thing, and to not just be another white person taking up space where Indigenous voices should be front and centre. These concerns are one of the reasons why I have stayed quiet until now. But given how so many Canadians still live in relative, if not complete ignorance of the experiences of Indigenous peoples both in the past and present, I think I have a certain responsibility not to stay silent.

On that note, before reading, I ask two things of you as you move on:

  1. Be critical. Of both my perspective and experiences, as well as your own. This is written through the lens of a 23 year old, white, urban, middle-class, university educated female from southern Ontario who only spent 6 weeks in the north, and only 3 weeks in each community. Through what lenses are you reading this post?
  2. Don’t listen to me, go listen to Indigenous voices. I mean, yes, please read and understand and appreciate this post. But then go on to proper sources for learning. Indigenous sources. There are many incredible voices out there (I highly recommend CBC Indigenous as well as following @IndigenousXca on twitter as your starting points). But as I’ve said before, I’m a white girl from the south. While I have things to share, at the end of the day I’m not the one we should really be listening to.

Having gotten those thoughts out in the open, now this post can actually begin.

Summer ’17 for me took me all the way up to Northwestern Ontario for 6 weeks to work in two remote, fly-in reservations (approximately 400 km and 600 km north of Thunder Bay) running summer camps focused on literacy for children in the communities. One month after my return I still struggle to truly share with others what the experience was like, but let’s go with ‘wonderful yet tough’ for now. While I don’t wish to in anyway speak on behalf of Indigenous people, here are some general thoughts and ideas I took home with me from my time in the north that I hope you can appreciate and learn from too.

plane selfie

Arrival in community #2, happy to be on the ground for good after some very turbulent skies. Yes that’s a gravel runway, and no that’s not the smallest plane I flew on.

1. Racism and colonialism are alive and well

Not that I didn’t comprehend these topics before, not that I had never seen them. But I saw them in a whole new light this summer, one that I don’t always see first hand. We need to accept that even in Canada, these are still everyday realities for so many people and the negative effects are widespread, deeply embedded in our society, and have long-lasting intergenerational effects. We have normalized so many things that would never be accepted beyond a reserve, from unsafe drinking water to the stereotypes and negative words they are so often confronted with. Why? Because. They. Are. Native. It hurt so much to see this in a light that was new for me but an everyday reality for so many. But we must acknowledge it, accept it without defence or deferring responsibility, and make meaningful change at both individual and systemic levels.

2. What ‘resilience’ truly means

I’ve struggled to come up with a way to expand on this point without rambling on for hours. But it is there, it has been there for generations and it is only getting stronger.

3. The beauty of the land

I almost wrote ‘the beauty of our land’ but stopped myself. Because the land I was on this summer was not my land, I was merely a visitor. But my oh my, the north is so beautiful. Rugged, but with beauty I have never seen before. And it is so critical that we take every effort to protect this beautiful planet that we all share. And particularly critical that we properly consult with Indigenous communities and put their immediate and long-term health and well being at the centre of any matters regarding resource development, pipelines or anything else that affects the land they live on.


When you fly on single-engine planes, you always get a window seat.

4. We must immediately provide funding for clean drinking water and equal funding for education

yellow drinking water

I still hesitate sometimes before using tap water, because in both communities I worked in we had to boil water to make it safe to drink. Even after boiling it, it was still discoloured.

Full stop. Just do it. That we have let these inequalities go on for so long is absolutely appalling, and these are two things that would have enormous and widespread positive impacts for all members of these communities. The only reason this has not happened is a lack of political will, at least amongst those it doesn’t directly impact.

5. Thunder Bay. Or as one kid called it ‘Murder Bay’.

From the plight of students who must leave their communities and families to go to Thunder Bay for secondary and post-secondary education, to open and violent racist words and actions so many face, Thunder Bay is not just an unwelcoming place for many Indigenous people, but a dangerous one. This was pretty shocking to learn, and if we cannot provide adequate education, healthcare and other opportunities to those living in remote communities then we must ensure they have a safe place to go to receive these things. Thunder Bay is where many end up, but they are not often served well there.

6. Food security and costs must be addressed in a culturally appropriate way

$5.69 for a 2L carton of milk. Roughly $3/lb for bananas. $11 for a small brick (270g) of cheese. $17 for 1 kg of frozen chicken. Shall I go on? These are Nutrition North subsidized prices. But more subsidies aren’t the answer. We have to find a better way to support remote communities in feeding their people in healthy, sustainable, affordable, culturally appropriate ways. Because what’s happening now, at least in the communities I was in, doesn’t check any of those boxes, and the status quo just can’t continue.

7. Every Canadian must take responsibility for reconciliation

No, we were not the ones who sent children to residential schools or who established our own settlements on unceded land. No, maybe you don’t say racist things or do your best to treat everybody in equal and kind ways. But we must accept and acknowledge how we have benefitted from colonialism and discrimination against Indigenous peoples (such as land theft and not respecting treaties) and we must move forward towards a better future. There are some great resources becoming available about how individual Canadians can do this (here’s one to get you started), because reconciliation isn’t just about governance and treaties, but unlearning negative stereotypes and beliefs, understanding, and simply respect from one human being to another. Yes the government has work to do, but so do I and so do you.


Sunrise from the dock


Bonus: I am allergic to bee stings

Yeah, that was a painful and itchy lesson. I’d suspected it based on a reaction as a kid but never got tested, which needs to officially happen now. Thankfully just ‘large local reaction’ allergic not anaphylactic, but unpleasant nonetheless. It also got infected. Because my life is ridiculous. However, I was home by this point and very grateful to be able to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic for antibiotics instead of only having the nursing station available.

Thank you for taking the time to read this long post. I seriously encourage you all to go and better educate yourself on issues facing Indigenous people in Canada, to connect with Indigenous people and organizations in your community, to pressure politicians at all levels to take reconciliation seriously, and to make reconciliation a personal mission for yourself. This summer was a starting point for me, and I hope this post can be one for you.

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