It is the oldest national parks service in the world, a national conservation and recreation program that spans twice the domain – both aquatic and terrestrial – that it did just a half decade ago.
Parks Canada turned 100 this year.
Celebrations to mark the centenary will take place on Saturday in 100 communities across Canada as part of the annual Parks Day event. There will be climbing lessons and paddling lessons and costumed interpreters telling tales of Canada’s past.
Concerts at Centre Island in Toronto will feature the Skydiggers, Serena Ryder and Sarah Harmer – who will sing a new camp song she has composed for the occasion. In Prince Edward Island, visitors will be able to try traction kiting – kite surfing across sand. And in Montreal, a new type of accommodation to lure beginner campers to the wilderness will be unveiled.
Reaching out to urban Canada
Canadians learned in June that there would be a new national park – one that would be easily accessible to the millions of people who live in and around Toronto.
The federal government billed the Rouge Park, located on the east end of the city between Scarborough and Pickering, as a sanctuary for nature and the human spirit.
But Peter Kent, the federal Environment Minister, said he hopes it provides an introduction to the national parks experience for those who are not regular visitors to Canada’s wilderness “and hook them on making a bit more effort to go a little bit farther, and perhaps even great distances, to some of the more remote natural spaces and enjoy them.”
Parks Canada is also trying to draw new Canadians to the campground. At a ceremony held atop Sulphur Mountain in Banff in May, surrounded by six snow-peaked mountain ranges, 50 people born outside the country took the oath of citizenship.
It’s not a yurt - but what is it?
At the Montreal Parks Day event on Saturday, Parks Canada will unveil the first type of accommodation that, starting next year, it plans to offer people who are new to camping.
It looks like a prospector’s tent. It will sleep six people. It will have an eating area, and some models will have a wood stove. But campers who rent them – for between $90 and $100 a night – will have to use the kitchen shelters, showers and washrooms in the parks.
“We’re trying to attract people who are curious enough about camping to try it but they are not really keen on buying the full gear and investing in it because they are not sure yet that they will like camping,” said François Duclos, a visitors’ service policy adviser for Parks Canada.
“Our ambition in the next couple of years is to have a couple of hundred units and that would be in at least 10 to 15 locations across the country,” Mr. Duclos said.
Parks Canada has been calling the tent the “ready-to-camp,” which is rather dull. So the service will ask the people who check it out in Montreal to come up with a better name. Canadians are urged to tweet suggestions to @parkscanada using the hashtag #pc100.
What lies ahead for the national parks?
Much of the park expansion that is taking place in Canada is in the remote North or in the oceans, where wildlife and the natural habitat needs protection – places that would take much planning and expense to reach.
Consultations are taking place with the Dene to determine the boundaries of a park called Naats’ihch’oh, north of Nahanni National Park in the Northwest Territories, which will protect the watershed of the Nahanni River and caribou herds that live there.
Sable Island, 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax, will become a national park, protecting not only its famous horses, but also its vast population of seals.
And the new marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, has been described as the Serengeti of the north because of the vast array of animal life found there.
But it is not all meant to be enjoyed vicariously. The parks service does want people to make the trek to these distant wildernesses.
“What we’re trying to do,” Mr. Kent said, “is catch the imagination of the tens of thousands of Canadians who travel abroad every year to go to Kilimanjaro or the Serengeti or Bora Bora and remind them that there are equally spectacular and fascinating and magnificent Canadian places to get to.”