Rethinking their job and retirement: five team members' journey into nature
Their stories are different, but after a busy professional life, these five Sépaq employees listened to that little inner voice, which kept telling them that happiness could be found in nature. Esther, Denis, Lyne, Cynthia, and Céline reconsidered their career and retirement plans and found a job in a national park or wildlife reserve.
Here’s a portrait of five people who have followed their hearts into the woods.
Three years after being hired, Esther Dorval still seems a little surprised to be at Parc national de Frontenac. "I had no idea I would be going back to work," the 68-year-old asserts. In 2014, after some 20 years of service as a techno pedagogue at TÉLUQ university, the Lévis native had begun her retirement, a well-deserved rest.
To think that she would just sit back, however, is to misunderstand this active and curious woman. After five months of traveling in an RV with her husband in the American Midwest, her desire to keep on moving completely morphed. The couple bought a piece of land in Beaulac-Garthby, south of Disraeli, in the Chaudière-Appalaches region.
Far from seeing retirement as an end in itself, Esther wanted to remain where the action is: "I wanted a whole new life.” When she saw a Facebook post about recruiting at Sépaq, there was a click. "It said, 'We welcome retirees,'" she recalls. That's all it took for her to land at the national park near her home.
First, she called her daughter, who works in human resources. "Would you do a resume for me?" she asked. A few interviews later, in the spring of 2020, she became a field operations attendant, a job with varied tasks and contact with the public, all in a park she already knew. "I used to camp there," she exclaims.
After years in academia, she now has the opportunity to reconnect with her love of nature and outdoor activities. A member of the Girl Scouts in her youth, Esther enjoys developing relationships with park visitors, especially youth. "You have many years ahead of you to enjoy the great outdoors," she tells them encouragingly.
A great ally of nature, she loves her new job. Her passion follows her home: she has gone camping with Julia, her four-year-old granddaughter, since the little girl was a newborn. She is passing on her family's heritage and interest in the outdoors, just as her own parents did to her.
When will Esther really retire? The friendly attendant doesn't know. However, it doesn't look like it's going to happen anytime soon, as she's trying to convince her older brother to return to the workforce as well. "I'm trying to recruit him," she confides.
Listening to Denis Rondeau talk about his career path, you can tell that he is exactly where he has always wanted to be. The 46-year-old began his career as a tree trimmer before training in industrial upholstery. Over time, the Québec City resident ended up losing his smile at work. "I was no longer happy," recalls the man who has always enjoyed hunting, fishing, and outdoor activities.
Chance is sometimes amazing. In Denis' case, it put his life on a whole new trajectory. It was a chance meeting with the director of Réserve faunique Mastigouche at a hunting and fishing show that changed everything. The director, whom Denis had already met during a moose hunting trip, told him that he was looking for passionate people to join his team. Why not him?
After leaving the event, Denis tried to convince himself that a Sépaq career was not his cup of tea, but the spark had definitely been lit. His girlfriend, Audrey, quickly noticed the glint in her partner's eye. "I completely changed tack," he admits, thanking Audrey for her foresight.
Having worked for Sépaq for a dozen or so years, he has found an environment that meets his desire to be where the action is: "I'm a guy who likes challenges. I like it when things are happening! From territory warden at Réserve faunique du Saint-Maurice in the Mauricie region to sector manager at the Laurentian reserve north of Québec City, not to mention a role as a main activities attendant, Denis has made his way in the Sépaq world.
Calling himself a lumberjack, this family man is enthusiastic about the fact that his career horizon is not lacking in space, literally and figuratively speaking. From his office window, he can observe the cycle of the seasons in the Laurentian mountains. "Working here is not a chore. It's a way of life," he affirms, clearly delighted.
A team player who enjoys working in the field and human contact, this woodsman has a reputation for being a leader who listens to his colleagues. Convinced that the opportunity he has seized awaits others, Denis has even become responsible for the Sépaq booth at hunting and fishing shows.
Denis now has a chance to give to the person next in line. And to change destinies.
Even before choosing an outdoor job, Lyne Alain chose herself. After 31 years in the healthcare field, she'd had enough. "I thought I'd stop there," recalls the 55-year-old, who concluded her career as an occupational and physical therapy technician in 2020.
"You never get used to seeing people sick or dying," says Lyne, who worked in the emergency ward for a long time. Time had taken its toll and fatigue had set in. Repetitive tasks, a team chemistry that was no longer quite the same, an increasingly difficult clientele… Lyne really needed a change.
The woman who started out as an orderly realized it was time to move on. "I had been thinking about it for a long time," she says. So, a year before her official retirement, Lyne listened to her inner voice and took the plunge. "As long as I'm in shape, it's time to go for it," she told herself.
The resident of Sainte-Brigitte-de-Laval, a suburb of Québec City, was first hired as an activities attendant and then as a territory warden at Réserve faunique des Laurentides. She did not even have to change her pension plan, so she was not penalized for leaving the healthcare field.
In any case, this inveterate hunter and angler had to act. "It was the right decision, at the right time," specifies Lyne, pleased to use all the experience and wisdom she’s accumulated over 50 plus years.
She enjoys her varied duties and is advancing in the organization by accepting new challenges. "It's not just a 9 to 5 job," she exclaims with delight. One thing is for sure: Lyne couldn't go back to her former life: "When I made my decision, my partner said, ‘The monkey is finally off your back!’ All that stress was a thing of the past."
In her new environment, life is no longer an emergency ward and waiting rooms don’t exist. Not to mention that, since her big change, the self-proclaimed mischief maker has a smile on her face and has fun at work every single day. "We're like a little family," Lyne says, describing her colleagues. Clearly, she has discovered her true good nature.
A few years ago, dresses and high heels lost their appeal for Cynthia Michaud. Soon to be 42, she now takes pride in her uniform as an employee of Réserve faunique de Rimouski. "I love lacing up my work boots," she realizes with a laugh. The resident of Saint-Anaclet, a municipality east of Rimouski, also has a soft spot for the region: "I’ve rediscovered my roots!
As the mother of a son and daughter now in her twenties, Cynthia has never been afraid to work hard or take on challenges. She was a stay-at-home mom for seven years and then a clothing store manager. She always told herself that she would go back to school when her children reached high school.
At 34 years old, she trained as a cabinetmaker. After an internship in the company, she worked for three years at the Utopie MFG ski factory in Saint-Narcisse. However, she developed allergies there, without really knowing the cause. A plan B came to light: she was hired at Réserve faunique de Rimouski, where one of her friends was already working.
Summer 2022 will mark Cynthia's third season in the heart of nature; she enjoys her manual tasks, which are never routine. "You’re a Jack or Jill of all trades," explains the activities attendant. She enjoys working in this new professional world, in the middle of the forest, where her talent for renovation and maintenance work is put to good use.
She feels right at home in this reinvented daily life. "I'm not an office girl," confirms Cynthia, who once studied accounting.
The perks of Cynthia's new life are to die for, including after-work fishing parties with colleagues and wildlife watching (moose, of course, and the occasional lynx) right from her "office.”
Now that she’s had a taste of Sépaq life, she would find it very hard to give it up.
Céline Godbout loves people and it shows. After a professional career in the service of others, whether as a counsellor or as a self-defence instructor for women, she wanted to lighten her daily routine. "I was looking for something different, something less heavy," specifies the 62-year-old.
Three years ago, she tried her luck as a day labourer at Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville. Passionate about the outdoors without considering herself a great sportswoman, she had some apprehensions: "Will I really be able to drive those big trucks?”
Finally, she got caught up in the game. Three days a week, from spring to fall, she vibrates to the rhythm of nature. "It's not just a job. It's a way of life," she admits. To her great delight, Céline spends her days outside in contact with the public or making sure their stay is as pleasant as possible.
The job is in line with the deep values of the Longueuil resident: ecology, respect for the environment, universal access to nature... "I feel in harmony with my vision of life!”
Born in Montréal’s concrete jungle, she is proud to contribute to nearby Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville, this unique urban oasis in the heart of the St. Lawrence River. "It's a setting I simply adore," affirms Céline, speaking of the national park and its team. She emphasizes the real pleasure she gets from being around people on vacation, relaxed and happy to be there.
Her enthusiasm has not waned over the years, quite the contrary. “Nature helps me flourish!" she summarizes. “You have to listen to yourself as you get older.” When all is said and done, Céline has succeeded in freeing her professional life from a feeling of suffocation and heaviness.
In the soft light of a summer morning, as she drives her electric cart alone along the park's pathways, she has a smile on her face. You can tell she's breathing more easily now.