On May 5, MEC announced that they would be dividing a million-dollar gift between the Alpine Club of Canada, Avalanche Canada, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Leave No Trace Canada, Parkbus, along with its Active Days, and Nature Link programs, Protect Our Winters, Parks Canada and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, publishers of Canadian Geographic magazine. They will also continue to support the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides through “funding for schools, clubs and other youth groups to hire ACMG-certified guides and instructors for outdoor adventure trips that may not otherwise be accessible to them because of the cost and potential liability.” Spirit North, “a national charitable organization that uses land-based activities to improve the health and well-being of Indigenous youth, empowering them to become unstoppable in sport, school and life,” will also receive support.
The donations to these organizations, which MEC described as their “Outdoor Impact Partners,” were in celebration of the retailer’s 50th anniversary.
Absent from the list are organizations like the CEC (Climb Escalade Canada), and local climbing access organizations that have received support from MEC in the past, although in years when they received support, annual contributions from MEC were often twice what the company is now proposing.
Gripped had a chance to discuss the donation program with Eric Claus, MEC’s CEO and chairman. Speaking to the amount being donated this year, Claus said, “you have to look at one million. The fact that we’re doing this in this environment is a pretty big deal, it’s not going to be a year of record earnings, but we made a commitment to do it, and it’s not something we do lightly. It’s a great message to the outdoor community, that despite the challenges of 2021, we still have the ability and wherewithal to do it. We plan to maintain and grow partnerships.” Claus said “our partners are really appreciative, it is really difficult to get sources of support in this kind of economic environment.”
Claus also explained the strategy for choosing the organizations that would receive MEC support this year: “We wanted to support national organizations. They all represented things that were important to us.” One of the important issues Claus sees in outdoor recreation is the fact that there are “a lot of new people in the outdoors,” including new Canadians and BIPOC people who can face systemic barriers to their experiences and enjoyment.
MEC summarized their goals this way: “A national partner funding strategy helps us make a big impact across Canada. National organizations have a very real local impact. Our partners support initiatives that protect wild spaces, teach outdoor skills and Leave No Trace principles, and help grow outdoor communities across Canada.”
Claus also says that MEC intends to partner with local events post-Covid-19, “maybe not directly with funds, but to be present at the events, to have a community focus. At a high level, we need to get Covid-19 behind us.”
MEC, which was formerly a member-owned co-operative was controversially sold to an American investment fund in 2020 and ceased to be a co-operative. The company has come under scrutiny for changes to its operations and culture, as well as governance, but the new management have nonetheless continued the former co-operative’s tradition of community support for the Canadian outdoor community.