Canada's Parks - Hidden, Natural Treasures
Canada’s national parks are a refuge where raw freedom still reigns. It was here before history, this land of Canada. Hidden in the mists of distance and time.
Stocky Frenchmen called voyageurs would dispel much of the mystery. They would turn their faces west and paddle across the continent in search of furs. They rode the watery veins and arteries of the land, to open its secrets to the trappers and traders who would follow.
Today, Canada’s parks keep alive fragments of what they saw. The primal rhythms still pulse across the land, sometimes wild, sometimes serene, always splendid!
L’Anse aux Meadows
Where icebergs persist all summer, Vikings waded ashore a thousand years ago. Today, it is generally agreed that the Vikings were the first Europeans to reach North America, almost 500 years before the voyages of Columbus.
Gros Morne is known for some of the most spectacular scenery in eastern Canada. A land of fiords that lie in canyons carved by glaciers. The woodland caribou wander on the highlands. Rock formations here tell the story of moving continents. The French name Gros Morne means “Big Gloomy,” which seems to describe the weather here.
Cape Breton Highlands
In Cape Breton Highlands National Park, winter lasts until the fourth month of the year. Few hikers venture into this highland plateau. Its rugged slopes may speak of freedom, but make tough going through the birch and spruce. At sunset, moose watchers come to French Lake. At dawn the red fox hunts to feed her pups, and the lynx retreats to its remote sanctuary in the park. Her very existence depends on the healthy environment which the park provides.
In Kejimkujik Park is utter peace. Eighty thousand years ago, ice ground over the bedrock, creating lakes that dominate the park today. Kejimkujik Lake is the liquid heart of the park. People of the Archaic Tradition were here before the Egyptians built the first pyramid. They linked their survival to the survival of other creatures, and found food in the lakes and forests.
Prince Edward Island Park
Prince Edward Island is eastern Canada’s most popular park. A million visitors come every year. Here, the House of Green Gables is the actual setting for the book Anne of Green Gables, which has been published in seventeen languages. Author Lucy Maude Montgomery spent her own childhood here in the woodlands. Visitors still come to share her love of the woods and flowers.
In Kouchibouguac National Park, spring calls the black bear from his winter den. Barrier islands block the tides of the Gulf of St. Lawrence from the forests.
The Bay of Fundy is renowned for some of the highest tides in the world. Water rises 40 feet/12 meters in only six hours, transforming the valley into a standing marsh. The forests here too are evolving to their original form under the protection of the national park, including the red spruce which was almost wiped out by over-logging in the 19th Century.
The Canadian Shield is exposed in La Mauricie National Park, outcroppings of ancient rock that are over 600 million years old, the foundation stone of North America.
This is the southern-most tip of mainland Canada. Point Pelee National Park is for the birds, a popular stopping place for waves of birds during spring migration. People flock here too, every spring, until they almost outnumber the birds!
The northern-most part of Canada is Ellesmere Island. Summers are surprisingly long in Ellesmere Island National Park, even though it’s a thousand miles north of the Arctic Circle. Wolves are the main predator here. Musk oxen are their natural prey. The two have lived in balance here for thousands of years.
Grasslands National Park in southern Saskatchewan is home to sage and sharptail grouse, and the only place where black-tailed prairie dogs can still be found in Canada. Like the American bison, they once covered the prairies by the millions. Before the vast prairies of North America were plowed into farmlands, fifteen to thirty million pronghorn antelope roamed here too. Their existence brings a sense of wild freedom to Grassland National Park.
The voyageurs traded with the Indians here to obtain this area’s valuable beaver pelts. The beaver were once exterminated here, but they have returned today. They cut down trees, yet build dams to create ponds and lakes, amounting to flood control for the whole region. These ponds are dependable water for moose. Now hunted only with cameras, the moose provide pleasure for today’s visitors.
Whistling swans and Canadian geese take refuge in this beautiful park, while humans take refuge at the famous Prince of Wales Hotel, built in 1926 along a popular route into Glacier Park in the U.S. Today, these two parks comprise an International Peace Park, marking the continuing friendship between the United States and Canada.
Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay
Rising above the continent, the massive spine of the Rocky Mountains dominates Canada’s oldest national park, Banff, and three other parks that touch its borders, Kootenay, Yoho, and Jasper. Mountain goats, black bears and elk are popular with visitors here.
Wood Buffalo National Park is the largest in Canada, larger than Switzerland. The whooping crane, rarest bird in North America, nests only here, so the park is designated by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site, of global significance.
There are no roads in Nahanni National Park, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It is a genuine wilderness, and if you venture here, you must be self-reliant and responsible for your own safety. The only highway here is the Nahanni river. Only about 600 people a year travel its waters. A sense of mystery exists, as we pass places named Death Canyon, Headless Valley, and Broken Skull River. The centerpiece of Nahanni National Park is Virginia Falls, twice the height of Niagara.
This is where Canada meets the Pacific Ocean. The rivers drain a land lush and temperate; winters are short, summers are nine months long. It is a soft and inviting land. We see a female hummingbird regurgitate nectar into her young. Mule deer fawns, hidden by their mother, gambol in the grass. An encounter with them still satisfies our need for a romanticized national park experience.
Even further west lies Kluane National Park. It sits in majestic silence. Mt. Logan, Canada’s highest mountain, is found here. There is more fresh water locked up in these frozen glaciers than is contained in all the Great Lakes put together. Kluane is home for myriad forms of wildlife, including Dall sheep, the white sheep of the north.
Filmmaker Dale Johnson has conserved a slice of this great wilderness. Join him, in Canada’s National Parks.
Product materials copyright © respective owner(s): used with permission
Site materials copyright © Southwind Productions: all rights reserved