Seventeen days after the last spike was driven into the Canadian Pacific Railroad track in Craigellachie, B.C., the government of Sir John A. Macdonald established Canada's first national park around a set of hot springs that had been discovered in Banff, Alta.
That 26-square-kilometre parcel of land was the start of a national legacy that has since expanded to cover 365,000 square kilometers spread across 42 different parks.
They range from Quttinirpaaq near the North Pole to Point Pelee at the southernmost tip of Ontario, and from the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve on Lyell Island in the Queen Charlotte Islands to Terra Nova on Newfoundland's North Atlantic coast.
To mark the 125th anniversary of Canada's national parks, which took place on November 25, Parks Canada has compiled a collection of stunning photos by 39 photographers that depict the extraordinary landscapes that have been preserved through the system.
Called Canada's National Parks, A Celebration, it features sweeping panoramas of barren Arctic mountain ranges, sea lions basking on rocky Pacific outcrops, crimson-tinged grasslands during a prairie sunset, and the misty woods of Fundy park in late autumn.
Land for eight of Canada's existing national parks was designated during the tenure of former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney.
"As Canadians, we are deeply connected to and passionate about the miraculous beauty of our wilderness. It genuinely is the foundation of who we are as a people," Mr. Mulroney said Wednesday in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
"One of the joys of my time as prime minister was to have added some of the most beautiful places in Canada to our national parks system."
Increasing the sanctuary provided by designated parkland becomes more important as human activity encroaches on the vast expanses of wilderness that define this northern country. But even Canada's first prime minister recognized the value of setting aside areas of special beauty and natural significance.
"Our country wasn't even 20 years old when Canada showed international leadership in establishing Banff," said Alan Latourelle, chief executive officer of Parks Canada
"And that international leadership is continuing with this current generation of Canadians. We are continuing to expand the parks system. And what we're all collectively doing is making sure that future generations of Canadians will be able to experience Canada in all of its diversity from a landscape perspective, a wildlife perspective and geography."
Most of us have not experienced, first hand, the grey wisp of cloud as it floats over the ice in Bylot Sound in Sirmilik National Park on North Baffin Island or sun dogs in the sky above Wapusk National Park on the northwestern tip of Hudson Bay. The new book, said Mr. Latourelle, brings our national parks to Canadians in their homes.
But he expects the remote areas that are now difficult to reach will be visited by increasing numbers of people in the years ahead.
"If you look at when Banff was created, very few people had access to Banff National Park at that time. It was by train and then by horseback and only well-off Canadians could go there. It was considered the wilderness, Mr. Latourelle said.
"We are continuing to take steps today and in the future to ensure that these places in 100 years from now when they become potentially more accessible, that Canadians will have places that are sacred, that are their national treasures, that they can go and experience."
The book, available at major booksellers across Canada, includes a complimentary daily family pass that can be used at any national park, said Mr. Latourelle, "to inspire Canadians to come and experience these exceptional wonders."