My meetings since the beginning of this project have sometimes taken unexpected paths. It was the case with Mélanie. At the inauguration of the temporary Park Stanley Avenue pedestrian project, I had unsuccessfully approached two young men hired by GUEPE, the body responsible for the animation of this stretch of pavement. In November, during an information session on the outcome of the project, one of them was sitting behind me with some colleagues. We exchanged a few words. Then, in December, came an email from Gabrielle, the director of that organization. An appointment was finally agreed with Mélanie.
It is on a gray autumnal Wednesday that I met with her. Mélanie is responsible for the educational services of GUEPE, a French acronym that could be literally translated as “WASP” but actually stands for United Group of naturalist-educators and environmental professionals, a nonprofit partner of the City of Montreal that provides services aimed to young people, but also to the general population.
Mélanie is a city girl. She grew up in Rosemont. It was while studying in Natural Sciences at Collège Ahuntsic that she got to know this borough. Together with her husband, a Franco-Albertan native of St-Isidore, a hamlet in the northwest of that province, she settled in the CEGEP neighborhood at the end of her university studies. The couple now has two children, a two-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl. They love to practice outdoor family activities in the Nature-Parks, but also in the Laurentians and on both sides of the Ottawa River.
Melanie completed a BA in Biology and a Masters in Ecology of Animal Behavior at UQAM. She was initially headed for basic research and was interested primarily in the evolutionary processes that make the animals live each in a way preconditioned by their physiology. She however realized that she would miss the contact with people and some more practical aspects of work.
From her first student job onward, she showed talent for animation and pedagogy. She has done animation for tourists Downtown. She also worked for an animation firm where she gave Hip-Hop workshops to toddlers, among other things. Gradually making her way to jobs more closely related to ecology, she worked at the Granby Zoo, as an educator at the Centre de la Nature de Laval animal farm, and as an adoption consultant for the SPCA.
She is with GUEPE since 2009. Now a permanent employee, she oversees the development of educational projects with the team of naturalist-educators. The GUEPE organizes tailor-made activities for schools from 13 different boards, as well as for many Day-Care Centers and the Montreal Nature Parks’ network. I thought GUEPE was a purely local project. If its scope is mainly the territory of the Greater-Montreal, Mélanie told me, to my surprise, that it has received mandates for animation activities from a Sept-Îles organization. Activities can take place both in childcare and educational institutions, as well as in the Nature Parks’ network, mainly those of Bois-de-Liesse, Île-de-la-Visitation and Pointe-aux-prairies.
GUEPE's offices are located in the Peninsula Area of the Bois de Liesse Nature Park, where the boroughs of Ahuntsic-Cartierville and Pierrefonds meet. In its premises live a few representatives of the animal world. I saw snakes, turtles and a rabbit. They are also home to a small collection of stuffed birds and specimens of butterflies and insects native of Quebec. The Maison du Ruisseau, next door to GUEPE’s offices, can accommodate groups for meetings or nature stays at the city’s doorstep. The site borders the Ruisseau Bertrand, near the Rivière des Prairies.
December being a quiet time for animation activities, the office was pretty calm on the day of my visit. As much of the staff was on site to do office work, the place was a little crammed. This explains why I saw Genevieve working with her laptop among the stuffed birds and Anaïs sitting on the floor in front of a large window in the process of coloring props for future educational activities! You may see a small photographic report of my visit by clicking on the link under the article.
GUEPE acts as a consultation service for its customers. For example, it designs educational activities and documents, creates educational components and interpretation panels for trails and does the conception of interactive walks. It is also fairly independent financially since it offers its services to a very diverse clientele. Nonetheless, the team must ensure that it remains creative for its income flow to continue.
Mélanie for her part feels particularly comfortable in activities for young preschoolers. With her family, she is also preparing for winter. As she prefers cross-country skiing to skating, she is planning to go to the upcoming GUEPE used ski equipment sale to equip her children. Indeed, handling the rental of skis and snowshoes in the Nature Parks of Montreal is also part of GUEPE’s mandate.
As you see, these people hold activities throughout the year. You will find links to their newsletters on the GUEPE’a Facebook page.