Time to Say Thanks for Canada’s Great Parks

After a wonderful summer and autumn in most of Canada in the same year that we are celebrating the hundredth anniversary of our national parks, it seems appropriate to give thanks for our great system of national and provincial parks. Here’s a glimpse of a few of them from the many that are mentioned in Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada:

“Totem poles (are) 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….Rather, it is for the feel of the wilds, of isolation, of emptiness that you take this trip, for the sense that the world is after all flat, and that you have journeyed to its very edge. Altogether, the land mass of Haida Gwaii is about half that of the Hawaiian Islands. It has been the home of the Haida First Nation for eight thousand years, yet today their population is less than six thousand.”  (Gwaii Haanas National Park, British Columbia in “Looking for Utopia.”)

“This is Dinosaur Provincial Park, one of the most important dinosaur fossil beds in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“As we pick our way carefully along the Badlands Trail looking for fragments of dinosaurs, I’m nervous about the reptiles and insects lurking in the sage and among the rocks. I wish that Dot and I were already in the Rockies, where we could leave it to our mounts to worry about the threats on the ground. It looks, after all, like the sort of place where we should be on horseback–straight out of an old-time western starring John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart. I’m sure some notorious bad guy is camped behind the hoodoo in front of me, his horse tethered to a rock and his six-shooter drawn, ready to blast us back to Ontario.” (Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta in “Rocky Ride”).

“Here’s a slice of wilderness that is perhaps the most beautiful place in Ontario….Killarney Provincial Park, that gem that’s snuggled against the northeastern shore of Georgian Bay….

“The first night, as we watch the sun slipping below the Cloche Mountains, and the still, empty shoreline flaming and then turning black, I understand once again why the priests of old Quebec feared that young habitants catching sight of the Bay would be lost to church and duty forever. So it was that an edict was issued that those who dared dip a paddle in these waters for pleasure rather than faith and commerce would be flogged in the central square of old Quebec, and on a second offence they would be banished to serve as virtual slaves in the galleys of Toulon.” (Killarney Provincial Park in “After the Last Portage”).

“Bad weather. The prospect of it briefly crosses my mind, because the highlight of our trip to Nunavut is to be a hike along the Akshayuk Pass, on Baffin Island, a lonely 97-kilometre trough through the mountains between Cumberland Sound and Davis Strait traditionally used by the Inuit to move from one hunting ground to another. Today, Auyuittuq, “land that never melts,” is a park that covers 19,000 kilometres of glacier-carved terrain….But it is no mere walk in the park. On the Internet I have been reading up on what awaits us, using Parks Canada’s extensive pre-trip planning booklet as my principal source of information.

“When it is warm and wet in the park there is increased glacial melt and the rivers rise, making crosses where there are no bridges hazardous. They are, the booklet tells us, ‘the greatest cause of death in the National Parks in Nunavut.’ The greatest? So what ranks second? What’s third?” (Auyuittuq National Park, Nunavut in “Of Limits Unknown”).

“The next day we hike from Bauline East along the coastal trail to La Manche. The stony path takes us through woods of balsam and elderberry until at last it reaches the coast again, and spectacular views unfold to the sea far below us. We descend the wrinkled slope by wooden steps to a suspension bridge over the La Manche River, where, at last, much to our surprise, we arrive in a deserted outport. In January 1966, huge waves destroyed the suspension bridge that linked the village to Bauline East, and all the residents were resettled….It’s an eerie site, and for us a moving glimpse of the isolation and hardhip of outport life in days gone by. In 1999, the East Coast Trail Association built a new suspension bridge to link La Manche once more with the villages to the north. Beside it is a plaque with a simple quotation from the Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark: ‘There are things we will never see, unless we walk to them.’ True of Newfoundland. True of all of Canada.” (La Manche Provincial Park, Newfound and Labrador in “Salty People.”)

To read lots more about Canada, why not pick up a copy of Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada at your favourite bookstore? It’s a collection of entertaining and informative tales that probe in a personal way the essential character of every province and territory in the country. 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: michael@penumbrapress.com).

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About t. a. keenleyside

author of travel/food books and popular fiction
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