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March 17th 2021

25 years of love for the mountain

For International Women’s Day, we’re spotlighting the contributions of Isabelle Pouliot, an extraordinary colleague who has worked for the Centre de la Nature du Mont Saint-Hilaire for 25 years. Isabelle is in charge of activities and services at the Gault Nature Reserve.

You may well have met Isabelle—she’s all over the Reserve! We tracked down the queen of the Mont St. Hilaire Nature Centre to ask her a few questions. Here’s what she told us:

Where does your passion for the environment come from?
All throughout my childhood, my parents took us out on hikes to birdwatch and go cross country skiing and camping. So I was introduced from a very young age to the beauties of nature, and how rich and fragile it is. That’s a value I grew up with.

What did you go to school for?
I studied biology at the Université de Sherbrooke.

What was your first job at the Reserve?
I started working for the Mont St. Hilaire Nature Centre in 1996. My first job at the Reserve was as a patroller. I started that job at the same time I started university. After a busy week of classes, I would recharge by coming back to the mountain on weekends. I was lucky to work with people who cared deeply about what they did. It was a welcoming and exciting place to work. Some of my colleagues have been working for the Nature Centre or McGill University since the very beginning of my career.

What do you do at the Gault Nature Reserve?
I’m in charge of setting up everything visitors need so they can have a great experience on the mountain, and everything the Reserve needs to be protected in the long term.

The Reserve has seen a lot of traffic for the past several months. How has that changed things for your work?
Outdoor activities are putting a lot of stress on natural areas right now. For us, that proves what we already knew, which is that it’s important and necessary to have lots of accessible natural areas. We all have a deep need to be outdoors. I really hope that the current situation makes people more aware of the need to get more involved and do their part to protect nature.

How has the behaviour of visitors changed over the past 25 years?
People don’t just go walking in the forest to be in touch with nature. More and more, the mountain gets used like an outdoor gym, for people to maintain their physical and mental health.

Is there anything visitors do that saddens you?
Obviously, anything that doesn’t respect the environment. But what affects me the most is visitors who don’t respect our staff when they step in to protect the mountain. Our employees really care about protecting the mountain. They’re committed and they work hard so we’ll all be able to enjoy the Reserve’s trails for a long time to come. They know that a small action can become a big problem when it’s multiplied by thousands of people.

Do you have a favourite season on the mountain?
I love spring! The trees are covered in pale green leaves, there are birds and small mammals scurrying around everywhere. It’s just beautiful.

What’s your favourite trail?
I love to run on the purple trail, early in the morning before any visitors arrive.

You must have seen plenty over the years! Got any stories to tell?
I’m inspired by the visitors I run into. They often tell us about their relationship with the mountain. Love stories have started here, and some have ended here as well. Artists find all kinds of inspiration here. On a sadder note, some people with serious illnesses come here to spend a few last peaceful moments by the lake with their loved ones. Other people choose to grieve by wandering our trails, tears in their eyes. There’s one incident that really struck me, though. One day, a woman climbed Dieppe Summit in a wheelchair with her partner. That hike gave her more confidence and more hope.

We’d like to wrap up by thanking Isabelle Pouliot for this fun conversation, and warmly congratulate her for 25 years with the Mont Saint-Hilaire Nature Centre. We wish her all the best for the rest of her career as well!

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