Sonya Richmond can add a new feather to her cap: She has been named Canadian Wildlife Federation's Stan Hodgkiss Outdoorsperson of the Year.
The Sechelt resident began walking Canada’s 27,000-kilometre Great Trail in 2019, documenting birds and inspiring others to get out into nature and become conservation stewards for their communities. Along the way, Richmond will visit 15,000 communities, and is documenting the journey through blog posts, and #Hike4Birds on social media. By the time she was awarded for her new title, Richmond had hiked through eight provinces and more than 10,000 kilometres of her mission.
Richmond is an analyst at Birds Canada, holding a PhD in forestry. She learned of her new accolade on June 12 as she trekked into Wakefield, Quebec, Richmond wrote on her blog. When Coast Reporter reached her on June 14, Richmond was kilometres away from crossing the border into Ontario, checking Quebec off her list as the eighth province on her path.
"It's incredibly humbling," Richmond said of being named Outdoorsperson of the Year. "The people who came before me have done amazing things. But I think most of all, it's exciting to me because it's recognition of the goals that we've been trying to promote while we're out here, which is just promoting diversity in the outdoor communities and just trying to inspire people of all ages and cultural backgrounds and physical abilities to just get outside and explore Canada, explore our nature. We've been focusing on birds and citizen science, but it's really to try and encourage everyone to get outside and connect with nature. And I think having that recognized as an important tool is huge for me."
Although she's just reached Ontario, Richmond will be going to Prince Edward Island shortly to receive her most recent award. (Then she and her hiking partner Sean Morton plan to walk from the Alberta-Saskatchewan border to Victoria, B.C., before winter sets in.)
Since the Come Walk With Us journey began, it has become an official Royal Canadian Geographical Society Expedition, Richmond was a finalist for the Canadian Museum of Nature’s eighth annual Nature Inspiration Awards, and she and Morton have received support from fans — including a letter of support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"We've been met with enormous kindness and generosity, right across the country," Richmond said.
The Stan Hodgkiss Outdoorsperson of the Year award had been presented to an outstanding individual championing conservation since 1975, and is named in honour of the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s founding president. Richmond was among the nine people celebrated by the foundation’s 2022 conservation awards. The July/August issue of Biosphère magazine will feature profiles of each recipient.
In the announcement of the award winners, Richmond said she wanted to take her career in conservation in a new direction. She sold her house and set out to make history.
“My goal is to use an epic journey to capture the imaginations of people in the digital world by showing them the wonders of Canada’s natural world. Nature is both our inheritance and the legacy we leave to future generations. I seek to inform, educate and inspire Canadians — especially youth — to renew their interest in nature and to empower them to become contributing scientists, engaged community leaders and lifelong conservationists,” Richmond said.