Pride in the great outdoors
By Ratika Sethi, BC Parks co-op student
This pride month, we would like to highlight the community fostered by the Vancouver Outdoor Club for Women (VOCW). VOCW is primarily an organization that serves the lesbian community and welcomes all who identify as women. Club members meet for a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, snowshoeing, and skiing around Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest. I had the pleasure of talking to VOCW’s member Kelly Moon, who shared with me what VOCW’s experience with provincial parks has been and the queer inclusive outdoor community the club fosters.
Ratika: Kelly, can you tell us how members of VOCW spend time in provincial parks?
Kelly: Some members of the Vancouver Outdoor Club for Women (VOCW) spend a large part of their recreational time in provincial parks. Parks local to the Metro Vancouver area, like Seymour and Cypress, are particularly popular with our club members but they also visit parks all over BC when taking trips and vacations.
There are lots of ways to enjoy BC Parks with the VOCW. Our membership consists of those who love a good physical challenge and those who want to experience the peace and beauty of nature. Members of our club like to kayak, hike, camp, canoe, ski, and more. We do everything from longer backcountry backpacking trips to cycling tours, group river rafting and alpine skiing. Some of our members are solo outdoor enthusiasts and some participate in regular small group activities like hikes, snowshoes, and paddles. We also host many larger group activities throughout the year in provincial parks, such as group camping trips and weekend stays in BC lodges. Our bigger trips are always accompanied by a host of outdoor activities to choose from daily.
Ratika: What has the club’s experience been like, recreating in provincial parks?
Kelly: VOCW members love BC Parks. Group sites are a great fit for our club, and we plan at least two larger group camping experiences annually in BC Parks. We are mindful that wherever we are recreating in BC, we are doing so on unceded Indigenous territory and club members are expected to adhere to ‘leave no trace’ principles to respect and preserve these precious and sensitive natural spaces. We also promote recreational safety by offering discounts on wilderness first aid training and regularly posting opportunities for members to learn more skills through various outdoor education vendors.
BC Parks are a wonderful way for VOCW members to spend time together outdoors. We have been enjoying the group camping sites and hiking trails for over 30 years. Booking campsites and permits can be a little bit challenging sometimes but the effort is worthwhile. Sunshine, hiking, skiing, paddling, cycling, and swimming are member favourites but even a rainy cold day in a BC Park is better than being indoors. Our club is queer-friendly and welcomes new members.
Ratika: What was the reason for establishing an organization like the Vancouver Outdoor Club for Women that provides a safe space for outdoor recreation to the LGBTQ2S+ community?
Kelly: The Vancouver Outdoor Club for Women (VOCW) was founded on September 19, 1979 by Clasina van Bemmel, an Outdoor Recreation Director at the Vancouver YWCA. She saw a need for women to enjoy outdoor activities together, to learn to be comfortable in the outdoors by learning new skills and to become physically and mentally fit.
This women-only club was a first of its kind in Canada. The membership is primarily lesbians, but the club is inclusive and welcomes everyone who identifies as a woman.
To launch and promote the club, two well-known female mountaineers were invited to speak: Phyllis Munday, a BC Mountaineer with dozens of first ascents to her name; and Joan Firey, who was part of the famous all-women expedition to climb Annapurna I in 1978. The tickets sold out, the evening was a huge success and the VOCW was officially launched.
Membership was limited to 50 women as, at first, there were not enough experienced leaders for the trips. Clasina led every VOCW trip for the first three years! Now we have over 100 members. All activities are organized by volunteers within the Club who offer events of interest for all levels of physical strength and endurance.
The purpose of the club is to provide a relaxed and informal structure within which both queer and non-queer women can experience the excitement and challenge of outdoor activities. VOCW promotes the concepts of skill sharing and cooperation in the outdoors, as well as fitness and healthy lifestyles. We facilitate non-competitive, co-operative interaction between members and foster outdoor leadership skills in members. VOCW feels strongly about actively supporting the concepts of environmental protection and co-operate with other groups whose objectives are wholly or in part similar to those of VOCW.
To learn more about the Vancouver Outdoor Club for Women, visit: https://app.groups.place/group/outdoorwomen or check us out on Facebook @VANOCW.