Celes Davar invited to be on new Canadian Sustainable Tourism Advisory Council

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) announced on February 27 the new members of the Canadian Sustainable Tourism Advisory Council (CSTAC).   “We are thrilled by the depth of knowledge and the variety of backgrounds of the participants on the Advisory Council,” said TIAC President and CEO Randy Williams. “Ensuring that Canada preserves its natural heritage and lives up to its reputation as a green destination is a top priority for the tourism industry, and this group of experts will unquestionably help us move towards attaining this goal.” 

Celes Davar, president of Earth Rhythms, a learning adventure company operating in Riding Mountain National Park (Manitoba, Canada) is one of the new members of this advisory committee.  “I am delighted by the news that I have been selected to be part of this very wide and unique group of tourism industry members from across Canada.  As one of two members from Manitoba (the other is Merv Gunter with Frontiers North – operating Tundra Buggy Tours and offering unique northern Arctic Canadian experiences), this is an important responsibility.  It has been my perspective that our tourism industry in Canada has not yet understood the depth and challenge of climate change and how it will affect our tourism operations and as well the expectations of our visitors travelling to, and within Canada.”

This new advisory council (see members here) is broad and deep.  I look forward to learning what we can do to assist TIAC in terms of a strong approach to implementing sustainable tourism initiatives in Canada’s tourism industry.  We have been advocating sustainability for our entire history as a company (13 years), and I am one of Canada’s trained Climate Change Project presenters (founded by Al Gore).  In May of this year, I will be travelling to Nashville, Tennessee to take part in the next phase of  The Climate Project.  It will be hosting a North American Summit for its existing climate change presenters from Canada and the US from May 14-16 in Nashville to launch a major movement by TCP, The Alliance for Climate Protection, and Al Gore to start building a formidable grassroots advocacy force to persuade policy makers to pass significant climate legislation this year.     

I deeply appreciate that TIAC has now moved forward deliberately into a much more active approach to engage the tourism industry in assisting with moving Canada forward on the sustainability agenda.  Tourism is a key driver in the global economy, and sustainable tourism practices and initiatives need to be integrated intentionally into the Canadian tourism industry.  I am sure that this committee will help Canada to develop leadership in ensuring that environmental sustainability is one of the three pillars of triple bottom line accounting, consistent with how all business development globally must proceed, quickly.


Canadian elite athlete sees culture as a key element in “the travel experience”

The person who sat beside me could be called a “celebrity”. After all, she is one of three elite athletes in Canada – a Canadian junior Pentathlon competitor. In 2008, she was the Junior National Champion, Senior Provincial Champion and represented Canada at the Junior Worlds in Cairo. The Modern Pentathlon website provides a more comprehensive insight into this gruelling event – five sports in one day. Competitors earn points for their performances in each of the five disciplines: pistol shooting, epee fencing, swimming, riding (equestrian show jumping) and cross-country running. Rachael is the recipient of the 2007 Stacey Levitt Women and Sport Scholarship.

Rachael Gardner, at once humble and wistful, smart and gracious consented to my request to ask her a number of questions about her global travels, and how those experiences have helped her to travel experiences, as a Canadian. After all, we had seven and a half hours from Montreal to Zurich….we were travelling. She to take part in a fencing competition in Budapest. Me, as a Canadian representative going to Austria to present a workshop about experiential tourism in an OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) tourism seminar in Bregenz, the capital city of the province of Vorarlberg. You can download an excellent paper “The Impact of Culture on Tourism” here.

“Culture is the reason I like to travel.” Well, that opening line was amazing…because I was travelling to an OECD seminar, where I would be contributing to a discussion about the links between culture and tourism. “I like seeing the way people do things.”, she continued. ” I love the way people greet each other…In North America, a handshake. In Switzerland, three kisses, alternating cheeks. The French, two kisses, and in Mexico, one kiss.” Taxi drivers are amazing. They have stories to tell.” Listening to Rachael was both an exercise in being pragmatic and hopeful.

She loves travel, and understands and is concerned about the planetary impacts of travel. She shared some of her observations about sustainable practices in different countries, from low flush toilets to eating locally. “We are going to have to find a new source of energy for travel. I can’t see people stopping travel. There is no turning back. We will either disintegrate or make it (travel) sustainable.” That statement stopped me coldly. Pretty much it!

What are three things we can do immediately to travel in ways that emit less carbon, I wondered aloud?  Rachael suggested the following:

  1. When travelling locally in a foreign country, take public transit. Don’t rent a car. 
  2. Carry a water bottle (stainless steel) rather than buying plastic bottled water (where it is possible), a bowl, and spoon to eat locally. Go to the market and find local foods. Don’t buy packaged goods. 
  3. Take every means to go self-propelled. Go for a walk in the market. Seek out self-propelled experiences. Rent a bike. Walk, hike, canoe, take a gondola. . 

As she looks back at her country, through her eyes as a modern Pentathlon athlete and Canadian resident, she looks forward, with finger on her chin, and muses……”Travel makes me feel I know my own country better. We are polite. We are tolerant. We have pride in our toughness to our cold weather. We are hospitable to others. I have a disillusionment with conventional tourism. What I remember are marketplaces, not resorts. I love the taxi rides. I’t s not about the pyramids; it’s the Cairo feeling. I admire Europeans for their capacity to learn and be fluent in so many languages……South Americans are very friendly. Always, in travel, it’s the small things that I remember.”

As tourism leaders in Canada, let’s keep practising what Rachael suggests above. It’s who we are. It makes us authentic in the eyes of travellers. Let’s not get caught up in “selling stuff”, “selling hotel rooms”, or listing things on websites. As tourism business leaders, can we ask ourselves …”What’s the Toronto feeling? What’s the Riding Mountain feeling? What’s the Canadian folk music feeling? What’s a walk in a Canadian forest feel like? How does it feel to walk on water (snowshoe) or put one foot after the other on a beach at night on the north shore of Prince Edward Island?”

The Canadian experience is about feeling Canada, not selling stuff. The quicker we realize this, the quicker we will find guests travelling to Canada for the right reasons, to the right places in Canada, and for the right reasons. By integrating responsible tourism practices into every aspect of our business, we will be a world leader in sustainable tourism – that’s good competitive positioning as well! Download the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC) Green Business toolkit now to find out easy steps to take to make your tourism business a green business leader.

Thank you Rachael, for your company on the plane flight. Thank you, also, for helping me to focus on making sure that I keep finding ways to keep “the Canadian experience” alive in every aspect of my tourism operation. I feel that we have a great representative for Canada, for the voice of youth, consciously making choices that opt for sustainable travel.

Earth Rhythms offers customized travel experiences in all seasons for travellers into Riding Mountain National Park.  We find ways for our guests to enjoy the Canadian experience in Manitoba.  Sustainable golfing, behind-the-scenes learning to make cane furniture, making Easter Breads with the Babas in Dauphin, or snow-shoeing off trail to track elk, moose, wolves, coyotes, and sometimes the ghostly traces of wings from owls or ravens.

Debbie McKeown leaves with good memories of the park

We had a great time!  Debbie and Jack McKeown, on assignment for Travel Manitoba, were here to go snowshoeing.  We watched a Hawk Owl, trekked into old growth aspen mixed wood forests, over a beaver dam in search of a Hairy Woodpecker, and snowshoed some more.  They had an opportunity to experience the spa at Elkhorn Resort, and dine out at our local organic eatery Prairies Seasons Bakery and Café, and they even had the opportunity to connect with a couple of national park staff and learn about Riding Mountain National Park.   Enjoy the short video in which Debbie shares her discoveries about the park, and why snowshoeing is fast becoming one of the most popular adventure sports worldwide.

Snowshoeing is ticket to “stories in the snow”

Investigating elk killed by wolves as part of a snowshoe learning adventure

Investigating elk killed by wolves as part of a snowshoe learning adventure


What if we learned to read nature in a new way that is fun?  What if this activity has the benefit of dropping your cholesterol levels. is exciting for the whole darn family, or group of friends that you have decided to get away with for a few days.  Try snowshoeing – better still, try snowshoeing with a guide for a morning.  

Imagine this – you head out in the early morning, looking for wildlife – and the list begins with Black-billed magpies, common ravens, then a zinger!  A Northern Hawk Owl which dives down and captures a mouse.  Followed by discovery of elk or moose hairs from a kill by wolves, more ravens, blue jays, gray jays, black-capped chickadees, a white-breasted nuthatch and then some amazing behaviours of feeding bison.  And, perhaps, if you are lucky, you might find evidence of an elk recently killed by wolves.  This is what happened yesterday in and around Riding Mountain National Park.  We have a saying – Come quickly to slow down!  Snowshoeing provides a ticket to slowing down and enjoying the stories in the snow.

Debbie McKeown, an adventure travel writer is here, at the invitation of Travel Manitoba, to write a story about experiences by snowshoe in the Riding Mountain area with Earth Rhythms, a learning adventure company.  Hosted by Earth Rhythms and Elkhorn Resort and Riding Mountain National Park, they are combining a stay at the Elkhorn Resort & Solstice Spa with some of our special outdoor learning experiences.  They have dined on local foods, organically grown, and culturally presented by the Prairie Seasons Bakery, a new bakery and café in Onanole (high on our recommendation list as a great breakfast, lunch, or supper location).  You leave feeling that you have nourished your body with really good quality food.

Debbie and her husband-photographer Jack have been snowshoeing at night under an almost full moon with us, photographing wildlife,and then heading off-trail on a guided snowshoe trek into mixed aspen woodlands to a hide-away lake tracking various mammals along the way.   Riding Mountain National Park staffers Angela Spooner (Public Safety & Resource Conservation Specialist) and Patrick McDermott (Park Interpreter) have provided insights about park ecology, bison, wolves, and other national park winter facilities like the Yurt and outdoor ice skating pathway within the park.  Debbie is writing a feature story for Snowshoeing Magazine.  We are delighted that she is here!

Northern Hawk Owl exciting winter resident

Northern Hawk Owl - Riding Mountain biosphere reserve

Northern Hawk Owl - Riding Mountain biosphere reserve. ©Celes Davar



Winter is a great season for walking on water and photographing aerial predators in Riding Mountain National Park.  As I was leaving the Lake Audy warden station today after having done some program planning with Angela Spooner, the Resource Conservation and Visitor Safety Specialist at Lake Audy, she tipped me off that there might be a Hawk Owl in the area.  So, with my 100-400 IS lens carefully on the ready, and my new Canon HF100 Vixia video camera, I somewhat expectantly headed home hoping to grab a “far off” frame of a delightful bird.

Imagine my surprise when, after carefully scanning the tops of trees, I spotted this beautiful bird that also goes by the names of Hawk Owl, and even “Canadian Owl”.  About 15 inches long, and with a wing-span of about 17 inches, it looks more like a falcon when it stretches out in flight, as I observed it in flight twice.  

Ken Kingdon, local birding enthusiast and coordinator of the wildlife health program at Riding Mountain National Park says, ” Northern Hawk Owls, although not seen every year, are a fairly frequent visitor to the region during the winter.   They generally favour habitats made up of forest patches and open fields, where they can be seen sitting high in the trees during daylight hours.  The area where the owl was photographed appears to suit Hawk Owls well – different owls have over-wintered in this area, off and on, over at least the last 10 years.  What makes these owls special is that they can be regularly spotted during the day, hunting for small rodents.  These owls nest in the boreal forest to the North of the Park, and there are no records of them nesting in the Park.

It seems to like to perch in aspen trees at the edge of fields.  Good view of potential food sources like voles and actually other birds (may be as much as 90% of their winter diet).  Even birds as large as sharp-tailed and ruffed grouse in addition to the usual diet of small rodents are fare for this winter predator. My thought is that because there are several farms with barns in the area, that there might be bird feeders or birds hanging around the barns that make them a perfect target for an adept predator like a Northern Hawk Owl. Also, the local area is open and there are sharp-tailed grouse along with, at this time of the year, snow buntings.

If you are interested in learning more about the Northern Hawk Owl, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, or  Owling.  Lots of good information at both of those sites.

Earth Rhythms offers a year-round wildlife watch/photo safari with Celes Davar.  This is a customized outing in the mornings usually, to slowly meander looking for wildlife, birds, photographing and sharing stories about the wildlife and ecology of the Riding Mountains.  Call Earth Rhythms at 1.204.848.4680 to book your personal wildlife outing.  We never know what we may see…even if it’s just the tracks.  There is always a story.

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