A stay-at-home mom for 17 years, Lillian Neilly decided in 2014 to seek a job with the Meadow Lake Provincial Park. Recently, Northern Pride spoke with Lillian about her role as head interpreter, the benefits of being a full-time mom and living in the countryside.
Q: What’s your role with the Meadow Lake Provincial Park?
A: I’ve been the head interpreter the past two years. I help organize all the programming in the park. I book the school groups who come in June, so I’m in contact with the teachers and I also initiate any new school or groups who come to the park for regular programming in the month of June. My staff and I develop the calendar for our summer programs, which run during July and August. We try to hold an event every day in one of the four major campgrounds – Greig Lake, Kimball Lake, Murray Doell and Sandy Beach.
Q: Is your position seasonal?
A: Yes, I start working in April to contact the school groups and begin organizing for summer events. In May, the interpreters start and we do a week of training with them, then we start learning the programs for the school groups that come starting the last week in May.
Q: How many school groups visit the park?
A: We had a good number of groups this year. We were quite booked and even had a couple days where we had more than one school. We would host one school at Greig Lake, for example, and host the other at Sandy Beach. We’d have to split the interpreters up, which makes it a little bit more challenging because we can only provide certain programs.
Q: Which programs were available to them?
A: We have a variety of educational programs like learning how to canoe and geocache. We have a skulls and scat program, which is about animal awareness. We also do an aquatic study with the kids and a fire starting and survival program. We do hikes about nature, habitats, the Ice Age and a medicinal plant hike. We also have a map and compass program. A school will choose three programs, then the students will participate in each. About 60 students come at a time and each program runs an hour.
Q: Can anyone attend regular programming in the summer?
A: Yes. They’re all drop-in programs. We do host canoe programs during the summer, but people need to pre-register so we know how many people to expect. This year, we have an Amazing Race challenge for adults at Kimball and another for young people at Greig Lake. People need to pre-register for those too because there are only so many stations in the challenge.
Q: What did you do before working at the park?
A: I was a full-time mom for 17 years. Before that, I worked in the accounting field and also with the Meadow Lake Co-op for nine years. I worked for the health district for a couple of years, then I decided to stay home and raise my two children. I was a full-time mom until I started here in 2014.
Q: Tell me about your family.
A: My husband, Blair, and I have two children. He works for the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies in Meadow Lake. Our daughter, Trista Friedrich, is completing a Masters degree in psychology at the University of Saskatchewan. Our son, Aaron Neilly, lives in Lloydminster and works as a civil engineer technologist.
Q: Where do you live?
A: We live on an acreage in the Loon River area, which is about 20 kilometres northeast of Loon Lake. We’ve lived there since 1997. Our kids loved the space. They could run around and explore the woods. We went on quad rides and were able to do so much outdoor stuff. Our kids both enjoy being outside now because they had the space growing up. They also learned how to occupy themselves by going outside and making forts with sticks and stuff like that.
Q: What was it like being a stay-at-home mom?
A: I loved it. I got to go to all the activities and volunteer at the schools. When the kids were younger, I did a lot of volunteering and, as they got older, I was able to drive them to wherever they and other students needed to go. I think more people should stay home and raise their kids if they can work it out. A lot of people can’t, but there are so many learning opportunities. You can be right there with them learning and it’s a great asset to the kids to have a parent around.
Q: Is it challenging living in the country?
A: Not at all. The only thing is you have to do a lot of driving to get to where you want to go. Other than that, I wouldn’t go back to living in a town or city unless I was older. Right now, it’s perfect for us. We enjoy the quietness and we don’t find it difficult. If the weather is bad or if there’s a lot of snow, people with the rural municipality are working. They plow our road regularly and it’s kept open. But, if it snows really bad, we just stay home and it’s not a big deal.
Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born and raised in Loon Lake. Growing up there, everyone knew each other and looked out for one another. It was great growing up in a small community where there were friends everywhere. It makes it easier to build lifelong connections. Also at a small school, everyone knows everyone.
Q: What do you remember about life back then?
A: It was maybe a little bit busier because there were more rural children. The families have gotten smaller over the years, but it’s pretty much the same. It hasn’t changed much and it’s still busy during the summer because of the lakes and Makwa Lake Provincial Park. A lot of visitors arrive during the summer and it gets quieter during the winter.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: We like to do a lot of fishing whether it’s in the summer or winter. It’s our main hobby right now. We also go kayaking and go down the Waterhen River or other river systems. We enjoy camping as well.
Q: How often do you see wild animals in the park?
A: Just about daily we see a bear when we’re on the move. We saw a yearling cub not long ago walking across the road – that was neat to see. As we move across the park, we’re constantly seeing deer and different waterfowl. When we’re paddling on the lake, we’ve seen eagles and red-tailed hawks. When you’re in the park, you’re in the animals’ home. Because we’re in the boreal forest, we have all the animals coming back in the summer after they migrate. We also see a lot of loons and ducks.
Q: With so many animals nearby, are there issues with campers?
A: No. The conservation officers do an excellent job educating our visitors on being bear aware and making sure their campsites are clean. Sites need to stay clean so bears aren’t coming into the campgrounds.
Q: What’s your favourite part of your job?
A: Meeting all the people is great. Most of the visitors who come are from somewhere else in the province or country. Sometimes it’s their first time at the park, so it’s nice giving them the heads up about what they can see while they’re here. Doing the programming with the kids is also fantastic – it keeps me young. I’m outside all day and I love it. We only have to be inside to do a little bit of book work. We get to enjoy the day as much as our visitors do.
Q: Do you have any advice you’d like to share?
A: Keep learning. If you keep learning, your life will never be boring. When I took this job, I had to do a lot of learning and I had to do it quickly. Each day you can learn something, you’re better off.