Alberta environmental groups moving campaigns online during the COVID-19 outbreak

Ideas and resources for virtual events and campaigns


With limitations to in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak, the only option for large events and rallies is to transition them online. Albertans can still join, learn and act – all from behind their computers or smartphones.

Many environmental groups and organizations in Alberta have swiftly adapted to virtual events and campaigns. Even though this change was not expected, it is an opportunity to experiment with delivering different styles and formats. 

Here are some Alberta environmental groups that adapted their events and campaigns to a virtual format, and tips to manage the transition for your own events.  


Defend Alberta’s Parks

CPAWS Southern Alberta and Northern Alberta chapters

The Government of Alberta announced the removal of 164 sites and closure of 20 sites from the parks system in March 2020. 

In response to this announcement, the two Alberta chapters of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) planned events to provide Albertans with information about the announcement and opportunities for action. In-person town halls were planned – there were 900 RSVPs for the Calgary town hall. However, all the events that were scheduled (from town halls to outreach booths) were cancelled before they could happen.

The COVID-19 outbreak made it impossible to host outreach and information events. There was clear interest from the public in the parks closures, so the Southern Alberta and Northern Alberta chapters of CPAWS transitioned to virtual events. 

“We have had a fair amount of success in our online organizing,” says Tara Russell, program director at the Northern Alberta chapter.

“It has certainly felt like a lot of work, but we have an awesome and very savvy team.”

The two chapters came up with online events and creative campaigns to leverage public interest. To replace in-person town halls, two virtual events were planned using Zoom video conferencing. In the first town hall, over 150 people attended and provided many questions. 

Russell noted that some attendees expressed a preference for an online town hall instead of a traditional in-person event. Online events have the potential to attract an audience of people who – for a variety of reasons – prefer to attend virtually instead of in person. 

Video conferencing can substitute events for information exchange, but action-oriented events are more difficult to transition to online.

In both Calgary and Edmonton, there was clear interest from the public for rallies before the COVID-19 outbreak restricted large gatherings. There was a response of nearly 1,000 people in Calgary and 700 in Edmonton when the rallies were cancelled. The staff at the two chapters were left with the challenge of leveraging people that were clearly interested yet not allowed to meet.

The goal of rallies is to show support through numbers. When in-person numbers are not permitted, CPAWS shifted to a creative social media campaign.

CPAWS Southern Alberta and Northern Alberta chapters organized the #DefendABParks Rally from Home. By asking supporters to post photos of themselves with their outdoor gear in their own homes, CPAWS connected the new regular routine during the coronavirus pandemic – isolation at home – with Alberta’s parks. 

The photos that were tagged #DefendABParks included individuals in their tents (in the middle of their living room) and families sitting indoors while outfitted with skis and winter gear. The campaign resulted in a variety of photos and a video on social media platforms.

The campaign called on supporters to call and send letters to their MLAs, in addition to suggestions to request virtual meetings to discuss the parks closures.  

On a practical note, the complete impact of the social media campaign was difficult to evaluate because of privacy settings – some supporters shared their photos only within their personal social media networks. Even though these photos shared the issue within the individual’s network, it is difficult to count the total number of individuals, posts and shares that the campaign produced.

Learn more about the Defend Alberta Parks campaign and send a letter to your MLA.


Digital strikes

Friday for Future Calgary

Fridays for Future Calgary has been organizing weekly strikes every Friday at Calgary’s city hall for over a year. 

When in-person events were no longer possible, the strikes were transitioned online by engaging with Calgarians of all ages on social media and sharing messages of concern and hope.

“There was already an online strike group called Fridays for Future Digital on Instagram,” says Rose Jackson, one of the organizers with Fridays for Future Calgary. 

‘We decided to take inspiration from them and get Calgarians to digitally strike with us.”

The number of participants has not been the same as the regular strikes at Calgary’s city hall, but a core group has continued to participate every week.

Limitations to meeting in person have been a burden for the weekly strikes, and this has also impacted the group’s ability to meet and organize future events. Planning has not ceased, but instead have shifted to prepare for alternative events such as:

  • Virtual teach-ins
  • Documentary viewings
  • Song planning

Jackson noted that this break in the routine provides time to nurture collaboration with other groups and lay the foundation for joint events in the future. 

In addition to digital strikes, Fridays for Future Calgary is also sharing local photos and art – to showcase concerns and messages of hope. 

Follow Fridays for Future Calgary (on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram) to join their digital strikes every Friday


Building social support

Extinction Rebellion Calgary

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Extinction Rebellion Calgary focused on providing space to connect and share – online. Weekly online socials over video conferencing are an opportunity to build social support and continue regular meetups – if in a markedly different way from before. Especially now, with the risk of contagion, finding ways to connect with each other from safe distances are key to maintaining overall wellness; humans are naturally social beings.

Extinction Rebellion Calgary has previously used video chat platforms (including Zoom and, more recently, Jitsi Meet) to host organizational meetings, but the COVID-19 outbreak made it necessary to shift all meetings and events online. 

Gwen van der Wijk, an organizer with Extinction Rebellion Calgary, notes that online events can be more accessible and convenient for many attendees – making virtual events another option to consider, even when in-person gatherings are safe. 
The necessity to adapt encourages creativity. Even though the COVID-19 outbreak limits the types of events and tactics that are possible, the need for alternatives can produce new ideas that have not been considered before.

Learn more about Extinction Rebellion Calgary and follow them to learn about upcoming events.


Ideas and resources for online campaigns and events

Host virtual meet-ups

  • Transition in-person meetings to casual or formal virtual meet-ups


Present a webinar


Offer online training


Produce a webinar

  • Rural Routes to Climate Solutions creates a regular podcast.


Movie screenings and discussions


Share learning resources