Ella Bradford wakes every morning to the beauty of Canada’s North. Growing up in the Yukon has meant a life built around nature and all the amazing things you can do in it, whether it’s cross-country skiing through fresh snow in winter or hiking and camping every summer in the territory’s vast wilderness, much of her time is spent outdoors.

Ella enjoys outdoor activities in the Yukon, cross-country skiing in winter and hiking in summer.
Ella enjoys outdoor activities in the Yukon, cross-country skiing in winter and hiking in summer.

“Living in Whitehorse is amazing, it’s called the ‘Wilderness City’ because all around my house is forest and nature. Being outside is a big part of my life, which has really pushed me to care a lot about the environment. I’ve become really involved in climate activism in my community to help make sure people continue to have access to it.”

When she arrived at Shad’s McGill campus last summer, she was thrilled to discover that the theme for that year’s design project related to creating more sustainable living spaces for Canadians. Not only did this give her the opportunity to share her passion for environmentalism with her fellow Shads, but she was able to put it into practice solving a real-world problem.

Ella with her Design Project team at ShadMcGill

“When they told us what our design challenge was, I was like ‘that’s so cool, trying to make living spaces more sustainable and community based’. This is something that I think is very important, especially since I’ve been advocating for a more sustainable future, which is more than just having green energy, it’s having more sustainable living spaces as a whole. It was a very cool theme.”

Living sustainably is not only something Ella advocates, but it’s something she and her family practices at home. They have a garden that they use to grow everything they can in the Yukon environment and own a greenhouse that a local man designed for use in northern climates. Her family eats vegetarian and they do what they can to limit waste through things like composting and reusing items in new ways.

Ella’s garden and greenhouse at her home in Whitehorse, Yukon

“Our whole family’s vegetarian, which reduces the world’s meat and dairy consumption, and we eat local food as much as we can. The transit system in our city isn’t that great, but I try to take the bus when I can to limit driving. Better transit is something we’re really advocating for from our local politicians.”

Ella and some of her peers have joined the initiative started by Greta Thunberg known as Fridays for Future where protests, marches, and other group advocacy initiatives are planned and carried out on a Friday to petition local governments and others in power to make the changes necessary to secure the environmental future for younger generations.

Ella and her peers at a Fridays for Future demonstration in Whitehorse

“We organize strikes to raise awareness in both the general population and with our politicians so that everyone knows that climate change is happening and that people care about it and want action to be taken. Lately, we’ve been meeting with territorial and municipal politicians and we’ve been asked for our input into the city’s climate action plan, which feels like some progress.”
The work Ella and her peers have been doing to move the ball forward on climate initiatives in her community requires a lot of organization and teamwork, skills she was glad to be able to build on at Shad.

“I was one of the coordinators for Shad’s Open Day. Having that experience of trying to organize everyone in a short period of time and plan everything definitely helped me develop some useful skills, and it was pretty cool to be able to take on a leadership role.”

Ella and her Shad friends at a lab at the McGill University

Ella plans to continue to take the lead in climate action through a career in environmental engineering, helping to create sustainable solutions that will both replace old technology and protect against the consequences of our already changing climate. And she believes input from our Indigenous communities is key to creating sustainable solutions.

“A lot of our climate action includes working with First Nations. We really value their input and I think it would be interesting to incorporate that with an engineering point of view. They have valuable traditional knowledge of the land and how things are balanced, and I think being able to translate that balance into environmental engineering principles would be really useful.”

For now, she plans to continue her fight closer to home to make sure her voice is heard and the changes her and her fellow activists want to see in Whitehorse come to fruition.

Ella and fellow climate advocate meeting with city councillors about Whitehorse’s climate plan

“When we initially reached out to the city counsellor to talk to them about what the city’s doing in terms of climate action, they told us they were developing a climate action plan. We got to sit down with the project manager, and he outlined what they had going and what kind of data they had collected. We plan to stay involved to make sure it keeps moving ahead.”

When she starts her undergraduate in Engineering this fall, Ella will continue to do her part to fight climate change while away from home, as she believes in the power of every individual to make a difference wherever they are in the world, whatever they’re doing.

“I think people often have the outlook that small changes aren’t going to make a difference, but days like Earth Day help show us that a better world is possible if we do things like eat less meat and walk more often and shop locally. I want people to think ‘Okay I can take this small action and this action can help us make a better world’.”

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