You may recognize her as one of the hosts of the Hinterland Who’s Who (HWW) television vignettes. But Jody North’s career in wildlife education began decades ago – at age two-and-a-half to be precise – when, much to her mother’s horror, she ran up to a stranger in a provincial park to take a water snake out of his hands.
As a teenager, she volunteered at a zoological facility, “picking up exotic poop,” as she puts it. Later, while employed as a zookeeper and taking care of endangered lions and tigers, she soon noticed that few people realized that there were native species at risk in their home provinces, too.
North since invested her accumulated knowledge into something tangible for kids and animals. She co-founded and for thirteen years, co-directed the Muskoka Wildlife Centre , a last hope for permanently injured and displaced creatures native to Ontario. “It was not a rehabilitation centre or a zoo, but rather a long-term care facility for animals unable to survive in the wild,” she says. “Our number one goal is wildlife education.”
As owner of the largest wildlife outreach program in Canada, North’s team was originally hired to bring animals to HWW events. Instead she was hired as host. “I probably smelled of moose dung,” she jokes, but it was most likely the smell of authenticity HWW sensed. She was called a few weeks later and told she got the part.
While working on HWW’s vignettes, North most enjoyed creating the Atlantic Whitefish video. “It was wonderful to see conservation efforts first hand at the fish hatchery where they are being bred and raised for eventual re-introduction,” she says. But her favourite vignette in general is the monarch butterfly. “It is the species I most admire,” says North. “From egg to pupae to butterfly the magic of their life cycle never ceases to amaze me.”
North brings authentic wildlife experience to her role as one of HWW’s hosts. Throughout her years as co-director of a wildlife centre she’s seen – and handled – quite a bit, including Woodrow, an orphaned beaver with a fractured skull and no front teeth who looked – and spoke – to North as a he would a mother. “He was happiest on my knee because of the trauma he’d gone through,” says North.
Besides wildlife, North’s interests include camping, exploring the great outdoors, and she spends as much time as she can with her son. He is one reason why she is pleased that HWW was re-launched in a kid-friendly way. “There is such a positive national impact that can be made by a conservation initiative that reaches so many through television and the internet,” she says.
When North isn’t in Muskoka, she’s travelling or giving wildlife seminars to young people. “I’m most happy when surrounded by children,” she says. “Their minds are like sponges and they bring hope for change.”
Louis-René Sénéchal got his first picture of wildlife at the age of nine when he tried to take a photo of a squirrel. “I was interested in nature before I could even hold a camera,” says Sénéchal. It was the first of many of the Hinterland Who’s Who (HWW) co-host’s encounters with Canada’s wildlife.
But it was at his family’s cottage deep in Quebec’s Gatineau Hills, just north of Ottawa, where he discovered at an early age how closely the lives of humans and wildlife are interwoven. “Meeting a black bear once in Gatineau Park made a big impression on me,” he said. “I realized we aren’t as far removed from nature as we think.”
When Sénéchal isn’t hosting and narrating the Hinterland Who’s Who (HWW) television vignettes, he works as a Senior coordinator, Interpretation and Information Programs at the National Capital Commission's Gatineau Park. “I’m very lucky to be working within nature itself and with people who are already interested in wildlife,” says Sénéchal. But he also enjoys the variety of work he does with HWW. “I get to gain some great experiences while still educating people about nature,” he says.
One such experience was filming the HWW’s Boreal Forest vignette. “It was a beautiful morning – sunny but cold. You could hear the songbirds singing in the tamaracks and catch glimpses of them hopping from one branch to another. It was great,” Sénéchal recalls.
Chance encounters throughout his life granted Sénéchal many opportunities to develop nature interpretation skills and interest other people in animals. An avid winter camper, he recalls sitting in lawn chairs on a frozen lake in January with a visitor from Paris, France, amidst a chorus of calling foxes. On another occasion, Sénéchal gave an impromptu nature interpretation to neighbours fascinated with a black bear’s visit to his family’s compost bin. Or another time educated a group spellbound by a fellow camper’s unfortunate experience with leeches.
“I love all life forms – even the small, slimy kinds,” says Sénéchal. “This love for nature is backed by an insatiable desire to learn more about the living world. Through HWW’s vignettes, I hope to share this passion I have for the natural world a large number of people – mostly children.”
Although city kids are his favourite audience, he spends a lot of his personal time in the wild, “loading up” on actual contact with animals, which he will share with visitors to the museum. “People don’t always understand their need for nature – most feel removed from it,” he says, “but really they are not, and I have been able to help them make the connection.”