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Celebrating Canada’s Parks

For the last 100 years, Parks Canada has been the steward of the Canadian wilderness, protecting our pristine flora and fauna. Established in 1911 as the world’s first national parks service, Parks Canada now guards 167 National Historic Sites, 42 National Parks, and four National Marine Conservation areas. On July 16, Parks Day, the organization is celebrating its centennial. To commemorate the anniversary, we take you through a few National Parks, well known and not, via the memories of Canadians who have been touched by their stunning beauty.

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Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon

Kluane National Park and Reserve, Yukon

Karen Denomme of Windsor snapped this photo of stunning Lake Kluane while visiting Yukon’s Kluane National Park with her husband, Larry. “It is easy to see why so many people visit the Yukon and never leave.”

“To celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2006, my husband, Larry, and I drove across the country, from Windsor, Ont., to Kluane National Park in the Yukon to experience Canada’s Great White North and all the wonderful scenery in between. The trip took eight days, but we loved every minute of it.

When we finally made it to the Yukon, we were left speechless by the breathtaking scenery. I remember when we first came around a curve in the highway and saw Kluane Lake. It was unlike anything we had ever seen before; we could have stayed there on the shore for days just soaking in the beauty. The air was so sweet smelling, the sky a vivid blue that you never see in the south and the landscape the most verdant we have ever seen.

While the scenery was the most memorable part of Kluane, the park’s wildlife was equally as incredible. We even saw our first grizzly bears!

Larry and I took that trip in 2006 and have never forgotten it. We definitely left a part of our souls in the Yukon and cannot wait to go back. In fact, we are planning a return trip in 2013! To anyone who wants to see the beauty Canada has to offer, go to the Yukon. You won’t be disappointed.”

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Quittinirpaaq National Park, Nunavut

Quittinirpaaq National Park, Nunavut

During his trip to Quittinirpaaq National Park in Nunavut, Rolf Ehrat of Kettleby, Ont., found the prospect of a trip up McGill Mountain too alluring to pass up. At the peak, guide Sally Manning snapped this shot of Rolf with the expansive beauty of Canada’s north spreading out behind him.

“When I was young, reading about the northern explorers awakened in me, as in other boys, dreams of going to see the Great White North with my own eyes. Decades later, Nunavut’s Quittinirpaaq National Park was still beckoning.

It is not a place to visit on a long weekend, but Quittinirpaaq, sitting on the upper end of Ellesmere Island, deserves some effort to be visited. The northernmost National Park in Canada, merely getting there is in itself impressive enough, requiring passing the ice caps of Axel Heiberg Island. Touching down in the middle of summer beside the still frozen Lake Hazen, it is abundantly clear that one is in the North. We loaded up headed over to the camping spot right beside the still frozen lake, where one walks like a ballerina over the uneven ground. Interestingly, there is a strip of open water ringing the shoreline, ice candles, disintegrating chunks of sea ice, drifting about in the breeze, ringing gently when they collide.

Set hack from the north shore there is first a low sandstone ridge of Blister Hill, an area with fascinating geology. It is not uncommon to see nicely rounded rocks at the riverbank, but up on a steep hillside of the first ridge? How were the hundreds of grapefruit-sized rocks created? By ablation, of course!

The 1,097-foot McGill Mountain is too inviting to ignore for myself and another member of our group, so we head out to scale its peak. There are no trail, making traversing the lower reaches quite challenging, forcing us to leap from hummock to hummock, which appear like upside-down flower pots placed next to each other. The density of vegetation is astounding, all this just about 900km from the North Pole. Eventually the vegetation disappears and we reach the top, though we aren’t the only recent visitors. Footprints of Muskoxen can be seen in the sand. What were they doing up here? Sightseeing?

The view is spectacular. To the south are the steep cliffs down to the lake and the rolling hills beyond the lake; to the north, the icecaps and the deep valleys in between. What an experience!”

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Forillon National Park, Que.

Forillon National Park, Que.

“We sweat and cursed the whole way up, but we were just stunned by the view. Worth every pain,” writes Serena Leggo-Hall of Mount Albert, Ont., relaxing amidst the visual payoff atop the Mont St-Alban lookout point in her favourite place on Earth, Quebec’s Forillon National Park. The photo was taken by her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Robert Hall.

“Because I have family there, I’ve been visiting Forillon National Park every summer since I was a girl, a trip I look forward to each and every year. One activity my husband Robert and I try to do every year is whale watching in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence, just off the park’s coast.

One year, we set out on a nice looking day, but anyone who has had experience on the water knows how quickly things can change. It became grey and cold, and there was not a single whale to be seen during the three-hour trip. We started to head back in disappointment when a blue whale surfaced right before us. Knowing how rare it is to see the mighty and endangered species, it was just about the most amazing sight I’ve ever witnessed.

Their enormous size makes you feel so small and makes you appreciate the wonders of the natural world. I believe it’s something everybody should witness at least once in their lifetime. To hear the sheer strength in the breath the whale takes at the surface, to feel the echo as it goes through the whale’s body, to feel the spray from the water forced from the blowhole, there really are no words.

The whole park is like that for me. It never gets old, no matter how many times I’ve been.”

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Gros Morne National Park, N.L.

Gros Morne National Park, N.L.

For their wedding anniversary, Kelly-Ann Demers of Cocrane, Ont., and her new husband, Dan, packed up and headed to Newfoundland. Along the way, Kelly-Ann kept a journal of their trip, posting on Facebook each day so their families and friends could share in their journey. Their honeymoon took them to the province’s scenic Gros Morne National Park, where, on Day 8, they set out for the park’s grueling hiking trail of the same name. Here’s part of the newlyweds’ adventure.

“Woke up bright and early this morning excited (well, at least Dan was!) for our hike. We had a good breakfast, drove to Gros Morne Mountain and got all geared up for the steep, 6-8 hour hike. What did I get myself into?

We’re not seasoned hikers, so we made the mistake of walking quickly the first 15 minutes of trail before looking at each other, panting, and deciding to slow down. We got to the first lookout and met another couple from Southern Ontario, Caroline and Patrick, who seemed to be a little more accustomed to hiking as, unlike me and Dan, they each had walking sticks. We continued our hike through the forest following them and talking as we walked. We finally make it to the bottom of the mountain, roughly an hour from the parking lot, where there was a sign explaining the trek up the mountain and the “grueling” descent afterwards. We took a quick break to have a snack then started heading up the mountain.

Another sign tells us the danger of the mountain. Should we turn back? Of course not, we’ve made it this far! We start our trek going up steep mountainside on what looks to be a rockslide. It’s not a path anymore, but rocks-many, many rocks. We climb and climb and take many breaks because my legs are about ready to give out and we’re not even halfway up yet. Oh boy! Can’t turn back now; it’s probably more dangerous going down then up.

After three hours, we finally get to the summit, which was more like a flat land of rocks. After a quick lunch and a picture with the summit marker, we start our trek down. Let’s just say “grueling” was a great description of the trails on the way back down.

The trip down was hell for our feet from the rocks pushing through the soles of our shoes, but eventually, five hours after our trek began, we finally reached the salvation of our truck. Exhausted, we got ourselves some takeout, and had a relaxing time after our very long day.”

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Riding Mountain National Park, Man.

Riding Mountain National Park, Man.

Proving nature’s beauty has no expiration date, Dagmar Wirch of Brandon, Man., submitted this picture of her then-10-year-old son Howard paddling on Lake Katherine in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park. The photo was snapped in 1978 by her husband, Arthur.

“For my husband, Arthur, our four children, Ramona, Cameron, Howard and Theresa, and myself, our 1978 trip to Lake Katherine in Riding Mountain National Park was an unforgettable holiday. Once inside the campground, we found a lovely, shaded spot for our camper and set off on a long trail hike with the music of songbirds, chattering squirrels and croaking frogs accompanying our steps. Along the way, we encountered a bear cub a few feet ahead of us on the trail, with the mother surely close behind. With pounding hearts, we slowly retreated and headed back to our camper to devour lunch by the sparkling lake.

Water activities filled our afternoons as our children splashed in the cool waters or poled an abandoned raft. What fun they had pushing each other off! One day, we paddled our canoe to Loon’s Island where, among protective reeds, a pair of loons had built their nest. We had drifted fairly close to the parents who were sheltering their baby between them when, suddenly, the father raised a shrill warning cry when we came too close. After we had returned to the shore, we were thrilled to hear the haunting cries of the loons, echoing from across the lake.

Evening campfire circles led by a naturalist became a highlight for us. As the crimson sunset faded and twinkling stars appeared, we heard fascinating tales of old Indian lore and stories about Grey Owl. As the last notes of campfire songs drifted into the night, we crept along the dark trail. Our children loved to run ahead and the jump out of the bushes to frighten me.

Many years later, memories of Lake Katherine are still vivid. Sadly, that campground is no longer in operation, but our experiences in Riding Mountain National Park were some of the best of our lives.”

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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, B.C.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, B.C.

Kathy DeBruin of Saanitchton, B.C., captured this photo of her son, Clayton, and his friend, Sara, soaking up the final rays of the setting sun in B.C.’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

“British Columbia’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has always been a special place for my family. It just gets into your soul. The force of nature there is overpowering, causing you to forget everything except what is right in front of you. It makes you live in the moment as you bask in nature’s force.

As islanders, we have taken many trips to the area. When I was growing up, every time we had company from other parts of Canada, my dad would pack up the car and we would take a road trip to “Long Beach,” the largest and longest beach in the park. Although my family has all grow up, and as children do, moved away and have lives of their own, we will always have great memories of the freedom and beauty that are so abundant at Pacific Rim. I know we will all be together there once again.”

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Elk Island National Park, Alta.

Elk Island National Park, Alta.

Edmonton’s Lee Manning sent along this photo, captured by his wife, Kathryn, of a completely at-ease coyote out for a stroll during the family’s vacation in Alberta’s Elk Island National Park.

“‘You should take a swing through the buffalo loop,’ the gatekeeper suggested as we paid for our national park pass, the years of service clearly having not diminished this man’s enthusiasm for the job. “There were reports of over 300 buffalo in there this morning.”

After a quick thank you, my wife, Kathryn, daughter Kelsey, sons Brendan and Ewan and I headed up the road in our motor home and turned into the loop. We were not disappointed; hundreds of buffalo were milling about, rolling in the sand and carrying on as buffalo do.

After leaving the loop, we spotted a coyote trotting down the road toward us. Usually if you come across a coyote you’d better look fast because they won’t be hanging around for long, but to our amazement, this one trotted along the ditch completely oblivious to our presence. We also saw a pair of pileated woodpeckers foraging under a spruce tree, carrying on contentedly while we looked on.

Interpreters were stationed on the boardwalk, and they soon had my kids engaged in the art of pond dipping. The northwestern toads transforming from tadpole to fully grown toads were easily captured paddling through the shallows of the lake or resting on a weed while they learned to breathe with their lungs instead of absorbing oxygen through their skin.

The next morning, the group set out on a short nature hike, where the interpreter kept everyone laughing as he darted under a tree to find elk droppings, or traded calls with the local bird life.

There are two things I will always remember about this trip. One is the opportunity we had to observe nature in an environment where the animals have no reason to fear human kind. It is an experience that is really good for your spirit. The second is the outstanding park staff, who, in this age of dying customer service, meets and exceeds all expectations.”