Free park-ing in Canada
In 1885, Canada was still a teenager but the young government was wise enough to recognize the importance of protecting the land. Canada’s first National Park (and only the third in the world) was created that year – 26 square miles of land around a bubbling spring – Banff National Park.
Today there are 46 National Parks, four national marine conservation areas and one urban park covering more than 300,000 square kilometres of Canada. Also under the National Parks umbrella are 171 of Canada’s National Historic Sites. From urban and rural locales, to wilderness environments, these may be sacred spaces, battlefi elds, archaeological sites, buildings or streetscapes.
And in 2017, in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday, you can explore all these for free! Parks Canada is waiving entrance fees to all the parks and historic sites in the country. And boat owners won’t have to pay lockage fees on Canada’s historic canals.
“I invite Canadians to experience and learn more about our environment and our history,” Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna stated in a release. “Whether at a national park or historic site, or along a heritage canal, these treasured sites allow Canadians to experience history and nature in a special way, and they will play a big part in the celebration of our country.”
Special experiences certainly await at Canada’s parks. Have you ever bedded down in a yurt, tried camping in an oTENTik (a cross between a tent and a rustic cabin), or slept in a teepee?
A weekend in a comfortable oTENTik at Thousand Islands National Park could include sea kayaking on the St. Lawrence. At nearby Fort Wellington, built during the War of 1812, you might taste historic treats, try on authentic dress, and fi re a cannon.
There are even whiskey tastings in June and August. At Georgian Bay National Park, the whole family can share a cabin at Cedar Springs or two can get cosy at Christian Beach. Head out on the hiking trails or just relax on the beach. Rentals include the boat ride to beautiful Beausoleil Island, part of the cultural landscape of the Anishinaabeg of the southern Georgian Bay region.
“This is the year to explore Canada,” says Eric Magnan with Parks Canada “There are lots of little treasures across this country.” He has some suggestions for some unique experiences at Canada’s parks:
At Rocky Mountain National Park, an oftforgotten gem between Jasper and Banff in Alberta, you try a heritage camping experience in a real teepee. Head to Ottawa during Canada’s birthday celebrations, where Laurie House, in cooperation with the Cordon Bleu School, offers historic dining and teas. Or ride a voyageur canoe down the Rideau Canal. At Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, you can swim with salmon for science. Or would you like to canoe and hike to Grey Owl’s cabin in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan?
Many of Canada’s parks are Dark Sky Preserves. At national parks like Elk Island in Alberta, or Point Pelee or Bruce Peninsula parks in Ontario, or Kejimkujik in Nova Scotia, you can see the night sky in all its starry glory, without city lights obstructing the view. Nine parks are members of the Royal Astronomical Society’s Dark Sky Preserve and offer special events for enthusiastic astronomer wannabes.
Toronto is home to the Rouge National Urban Park, the only urban park in the system. On their doorsteps, Torontonians can fi nd amazing biodiversity, some of the last remaining working farms in the Greater Toronto Area, Carolinian ecosystems, Toronto’s only campground, one of the region’s largest marshes, unspoiled beaches, great hiking opportunities, and human history dating back more than 10,000 years, including some of Canada’s oldest known Indigenous sites.
The first step is to send for your free pass. Visit http://www.pc.gc.ca to order yours. Be sure to allow plenty of time (it can take more than two weeks) for your pass to be sent.
Eric Mangan has several suggestions for getting the most from your free passes:
Whether you want accommodation or just to visit for the day, book well in advance. Some parks, like Bruce Peninsula, are so popular, the line-ups can be frustrating.
Shoulder seasons in spring and fall are typically less busy, so plan to visit then.
Check the Parks Canada website – www. pc.gc.ca – for interesting and unusual things to see and do to maximize your experience Don’t forget Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites where you can revisit old battles, learn about important figures from the past and get a real taste of history.
For more inside tips and ideas, look for National Geographic’s Guide to the National Parks of Canada and Guide to the National Historic Sites of Canada.