Take a Hike – In Canada’s National Parks

Posted on 12 January 2017 by Vanessa DeMelo (meds2017)

Hello everyone! I hope that the holiday season had been restful and delicious for everyone. Today I’m going to write about something fun, outdoorsy, and provide information that may be more applicable for warmer weather. However, it’s fun and temperatures that I for one am looking forward to.

For now, we celebrate a brand new year. As a member of the class of 2017, one thing I had not anticipated is how much I identify with the date every time I see it written. After three and a half years of calling myself a 2017, it’s extra exciting that “The” year is finally here! First and second years, prepare yourselves for an onslaught of humans in MSB whom you have never seen before, as we walk around the VERC and lounge with an eerie poise of familiarity. I am really looking forward to being back and all the socialness that it entails, so feel free to say hello (we’re not that scary).

Now for my topic au jour – Canada’s National Parks! What are these national parks, specifically? Webster’s Dictionary (just kidding, the Canadian government website) describes them as “a country-wide system of representative natural areas of Canadian significance”, or in other language, bits of land that together represent the various natural regions of Canada. These regions include boreal forests, temperate rainforests, prairie grasslands, and more words that I bet you didn’t think that you would hear post-Grade 9 Geography. These parks are protected for public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment, and are maintained for future generations to likewise enjoy.

The park system’s origins date back to November 1885 (the year that the first appendectomy was thought to be performed), when the Canadian government designated 26 km2 of Alberta’s Sulfur Mountain to be preserved for the benefit of all Canadians. This area today is part of Banff National Park and is the Cave and Basin Hot Springs.

Pictured: A postcard by Harmon Byron showing the Government Pool at Cave and Basin, Banff National Park (produced before 1942).

The pool shown in the postcard closed in 1992 and the location has since received a multimillion dollar renovation. Interestingly, these hot springs were regarded as having healing properties and were used for thousands of years by the First Nations peoples. In 1883, they were “re-discovered” by three railway employees who were working on the construction of the first transcontinental railway through the Rocky Mountains. I highly doubt that spelunking was part of that original job description.

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Pictured: Interior pool post-renovation

Following the government’s designation in 1885, it was found that the area surrounding the original reservation was even more admirable and this led to The Rocky Mountains Park Act being passed in the House of Commons in June 1887 to establish what is now the Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada.

The history of the following development of the park system is (in my opinion) very interesting, detailed, and less fitting for a short, nothing-to-do-with-medicine blog. I found a lot of information on The Canadian Encyclopedia website and would direct you there if you are looking for more procrastination-worthy fodder!

Now, I’ve chosen (with difficulty) three National Parks to give as examples of places that you can and should visit. Many of Canada’s National Parks are also UNESCO world heritage site, which are locations listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as something of special cultural or physical significance. If the UN thinks they’re important, you should too!

  1. Bruce Peninsula National Park, located between Lion’s Head and Tobermory, Ontario: phenomenal camping and hiking, and only three hours away. Easily weekend-able!

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(Disclaimer: I did not take this picture)

  1. Cape Breton Highlands National Park on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia: it contains one-third of the world famous Cabot Trail. I was lucky enough to take a short trip here during my emergency medicine elective this fall in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Even though it was a wet day and the weather changed between drizzle, rain and snow every 500 m, the vistas were incredible and I will definitely be visiting again.

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(Disclaimer: I did take this picture)

On a less rainy day, courtesy of the internet:

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  1. Elk Island National Park, 35 km west of Edmonton, Alberta: this park hosts the densest population of ungulates (hoofed mammals) in Canada, and it is high on my list to visit this summer with my handy national park pass (what is this? Keep reading, my friends).

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I will hike, canoe and make friends with bison (interestingly, both the singular and plural form of the word. How many bison will I make friends with? It’s a mystery).

Now for the final, exciting news that you hopefully already know: To celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial (your twenty-five cent word of the day, meaning 150th anniversary) in 2017, admission will be free to all of Canada’s National Parks, Historic Sites and Marine Conservation Areas. I feel this is all the more reason to pick somewhere where you haven’t been before, or even somewhere where you have been and would love to revisit, and make a trip of it. I’ve conveniently included a link below so that you can order your free season’s park pass!

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Happy exploring!!

http://www.commandesparcs-parksorders.ca/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/en/parksb2c

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