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Getting to know Ontario’s parks

I used to think that if each province were a superhero, and their special power was how impressive the landscape is or how interesting and diverse its history was, that Ontario would wind up being another (much cooler) province’s sidekick. Boy, was I ever wrong.

I’ve just come back from spending my summer holidays with my co-trailblazer Stef in some of Ontario’s parks, and it’s made me realize that my limited experience exploring my home province has really set the bar low for my expectations of it. What a nice surprise it was to find out that not only was I wrong about Ontario being a “blah” province, but I was also wrong about it playing second fiddle in my imaginary superhero showdown.

The first stop on our trip was Bon Echo Provincial Park. It’s relatively close to Ottawa and though I’d visited briefly a few years ago, I never got the chance to stay there and really explore the place. If we had been able to stay longer here, I’ve no doubt we would have. The nights were cool and crisp, the forest abuzz with the twittering of birds in the morning and the park full of things to discover.

We spent an entire morning canoeing around Mazinaw Lake on one of the mornings we were there, which was, for me, the highlight of our stay at that park – not just because I love being out on the water, but also because it meant we got to paddle over to Mazinaw Rock to check out the ancient Ojibway pictographs (rock paintings) that are dispersed along the length of the exposed rock face. The site of these pictographs has long been a National Historic Site of Canada, and it was incredible to see the paintings and to think of a time, ages ago, when they were first painted.

From Bon Echo we headed further west, stopping for a night at Awenda Provincial Park (yet another beautiful, well-kept natural area) before reaching our ultimate destination at the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula on Georgian Bay, Bruce Peninsula National Park.

We hiked parts of the Bruce Trail, which wove in and out of the forest, led us along the clifftops of the Niagara Escarpment, and out onto the rocky shores of Georgian Bay. We even came across a cave or two, part of an entire network of caves that extend through the much of the region.

We went swimming in the crystal clear waters of Georgian Bay at a place called Indian Head Cove, which is one of the more well-known attractions at the park. I’ve been swimming in rivers, lakes, streams across the country and in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but never have I had such an enjoyable swim as at this magical place. We strapped on some snorkelling masks to see what treasures lay beneath the water – no pirate booty, unfortunately, but no shortage of things to discover. Dipping your head underwater, you could see so far down that you get the feeling you’re hanging in mid-air, looking down fifty feet at the ground and still seeing everything perfectly.

We were blown away by everything that we saw and the places we visited. Living in the city, you don’t get to see these places often, so when you do it tends to be an incredibly surreal experience. Knowing that these places we were exploring are under some form of protection certainly added to the experience. It also, however, made me think about the uncertain future for Canada’s parks, which has been top of mind at CPAWS lately.

What will ultimately happen to these places that are so special to so many people if there’s nobody around to care for them and make sure they’re protected? With these wonderful experiences so fresh in my mind, I can hardly imagine what my summer holidays would have been without these parks. There’s a lot to be said for the visitor experience that parks offer, and even more to be said for the level of protection offered by parks legislation.

I’m encouraging everyone to do two things this summer. First – get outside and experience parks. Get to know them a little! They’re there not only to protect the wildlife living within their borders, but also to provide Canadians opportunities to connect with their natural heritage and see firsthand why it deserves to be protected. Second, share these experiences with others. It’s one thing to read about a park on the internet or in the papers, but it’s another thing entirely to hear about someone’s personal experience connecting with the lands, waters and wildlife of our parks.


Do you have pictures of and stories about your favourite park? Share them with us on Facebook or on Twitter, and let the world know how lucky we are to call this place home.

Photos by Stef Geiger (except the one of him - that was me!)