Ever thought about how important our parks are to travelling in Canada?

Without intentionally setting out to include our national and provincial parks in the text, Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada actually has sections dealing with five national and eight provincial parks. In addition, 16 National Historic Sites, administered by Parks Canada, get coverage in this literary travel book

May, 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of our national parks system, and a time to remember how important they are to all of us who love to roam to distant corners of this enthralling land. To celebrate the occasion, below are some excerpts from Roaming the Big Land pertaining to our national parks and historic sites.

To read more about them and the rest of Canada, why not pick up a copy of Roaming the Big Land at your favourite bookstore? It is a collection of entertaining and informative tales that probe the essential character of every province and territory in Canada. You can also order the book from the publisher’s website: www.penumbrapress.com/book.php?id=312. (Book retailers and libraries, please order by contacting the publisher directly: john@penumbrapress.ca).

Meanwhile, happy anniversary Parks Canada. Here’s to 100 more!

“The next day we have an eight-hour ferry ride, largely through the open Pacific, to Skidegate Landing. From there it is another twenty minutes by boat to Moresby Island and Gwaii Haanas (‘place of wonder’), spiritual heart of Haida Gwaii. Part of this island is now a UNESCO heritage site, with totem poles left where the Haida first placed them–left, appropriately, to rot slowly away under the watchful eye of Haida guardians. It is not after all to see old poles in mint condition, tall in stature and solemn in bearing, that you make the long trek to the islands. For that you need only visit the magnificent Archaealogical Museum, designed by Arthur Erickson, on the Vancouver campus of the University of British Columbia. Rather it is for the feel of the wilds, of isolation, of emptiness that you make this trip, for the sense that the world is after all flat, and that you have journeyed to its very edge.” (Gwaii Haanas National Park in “Looking for Utopia,” Roaming the Big Land)

“Remember all those maps of Canada you used to have to colour when you were in grade school? Just a dittoed black outline of land mass, really. No sweat, until the teacher said, ‘And colour all the coastline blue.’ All the coastline….Out west, all you had to do was wiggle your blue pencil down the coast, remembering to go around Vancouver Island, the only island out there, and you had it….For years those crude pencilled lines masked for me British Columbia’s craggy coves and stately offshore islands, its beaches strewn with the carcasses of sun-smoothed cedar, backed by massive forests overlooking the great migration routes, and the sheltered bays where grey whales pause en route to the Arctic….So much to explore–and that’s just the blue pencil!….

“We pick up our carton of crab….Armed with only a pot of butter, a loaf of bread, and wine, we head for Long Beach….We walk for hours, awed by the powerful beauty of a wilderness as yet unspoiled by people with coolers and…Oh my god, the crabs!….What a feast! ….Crab at sunset on ‘The Rim.’ What a discovery! Colour it gold.”(Pacific Rim National Park in “Dungeness Crabs,” Roaming the Big Land)

“So we go to Lake Louise and hike the Larch Valley trail, high into the mountains above Moraine Lake, until the lake seems no more than a glittering turquoise puddle a child could cross in one bound. And we picnic sitting on rocks in a clearing, the surrounding Ten Peaks silently watching us as if they covet our granola bars and apples. From the lodge at Lake Louise we trek around the lake, and then climb past spruce and fir trees and clumps of forget-me-nots to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. Then we traverse a narrow ridge until we are almost opposite the infamous Death Trap, below the Abbot Pass. It was here in 1896 that Phillip Abbot became the first recorded mountaineering fatality in North America, the victim of a mishap that had the ironic effect of drawing more climbers to the region. As we turn to start our descent, there’s a roar from across the valley that sounds like a large passenger jet taking off. A broad waterfall of snow is spilling down a mountain crevice. An avalanche!” (Banff National Park in “Rocky Ride,” Roaming the Big Land)

“It’s well after 2.00 p.m. and the tide is low when we finally set off in two outboards for the park. The wind is blowing hard, and it’s cold motoring up the inlet. The mountains are shrouded in fog, but on the black cliffs lining the fjord a torrent of bubbling white water suddenly tumbles out of the mist, twists as if on a downhill ski track, and plunges to the sea, a finishing line that turns from blue-black, to milk, to brown the closer we get to the park. Gulls and other birds–gyrfalcons, we think–are circling the slopes in search of prey. At one point the clouds lift and we can see the front edge of a receding glacier in a mountain trough, but when we look up the river that twists beyond the head of the fjord we see no sign of the ‘glacier snout….about 200 feet high’ that was recorded here by an anthropologist in 1883.” (Auyuittuq National Park, Nunavut in “Of Limits Unknown,” Roaming the Big Land)

“St. Peters Bay is one of the loveliest areas in an island that is all about arresting scenery….At the mouth of the bay is the stunning Greenwich Park, which was added to the national park system in 1998. A boardwalk takes us across inland dunes, some of them spotted with reindeer moss, pale grey-green mats of lichen that look like clumps of old snow. False holly, rose hips, and goldlenrod provide flares of colour in the brilliant morning sunlight. As the boardwalk crosses Bowley Pond, glittering like a freshly burnished tiara, I am reminded again that it is not just the constant nearness of the sea that makes P.E.I. so lovely, but the shimmering bays, estuaries, rivers and ponds that appear magically whenever the ocean is not in view…. No wonder Jacques Cartier in 1534, declared the island ‘the fairest land ’tis possible to see.'” (Prince Edward Island National Park in “The Little Prince,” Roaming the Big Land

It is noon, and we are at the Citadel for the firing of the cannon, a tradition in the city that dates back to the mid-18oos. As we wait for the salute, we get talking to an English woman. She is amused by the casual bearing of the members of the Royal Artillery and the 78th Highlanders, who man the star-shaped fort, especially the soldier munching on a stick of gum as he checks off the seconds to firing. We, on the other hand, are rather embarrassed by the informality of our troops–until we discover that they are only actors, hired by the Halifax Regimental Society on behalf of Parks Canada. Now we have to spend an hour tracking down the English visitor to assure her that Canada has not allowed military standards to slip; it’s just that we don’t have the resources to station real soldiers at our forts.

“From the Citadel, you look down on a modern city full of high-rises and glass, but also on old monuments to the city’s important role in Canadian history. It is, however, the harbour and the adjacent Bedford Basin to the west that command attention, intertwined as they are with so much tragedy and trimph. The Mi’kmaq called this ‘the great harbour’  and every time I gaze down on it I feel a little numb.” (Halifax Citadel National Historic Site in “Cruising the Scotia Coast,” Roaming the Big Land)

For more information about Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada and other works by T.A. Keenleyside please click on “Books” at the top of this post.

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About t. a. keenleyside

author of travel/food books and popular fiction
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