Canada’s beloved national parks will partially reopen on June 1, 2020. The parks are offering limited access and services as they focus on maintaining physical distancing measures. To celebrate this reopening, we share some interesting facts about some of the country’s most cherished outdoor spaces.

1. There are 48 national parks and national park reserves across the country

Ontario and British Columbia have the most national parks and reserves in the country. Ontario has six parks, while B.C. has four parks and three reserves. Alberta’s Banff National Park holds the title of the country’s first national park—it was founded in November 1885 and led to the creation of Canada’s national park system. This system, along with the completion of the transcontinental railway, helped to spark tourism across the country. Shortly after, three more mountain areas were set aside, leading to the founding of Yoho, Glacier and Waterton Lakes national parks.

2. Canada has the world’s first national park system

Formed in 1911, the administration was known as the Dominion Parks Branch, now Parks Canada. The U.S.’s National Park Service was created five years later in August 1916. James B. Harkin was Canada’s first park commissioner, serving from 1911 to 1936. During that time, nine national parks were established across the country, including Ontario’s Point Pelee (1918), Saskatchewan’s Prince Albert National Park (1927) and Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Highlands (1936). In what was likely his most significant achievement, Harkin oversaw the creation of the National Parks Act. This document, which is still followed today, was approved by Parliament in 1930 and laid out the guiding principles for managing and protecting the national parks.

3. The biggest national park is nearly 45,000 square kilometres

At 44,741 square kilometres, Wood Buffalo National Park, which straddles the Alberta/Northwest Territories border is Canada’s biggest national park. For comparison, it’s about the same size as Switzerland. This park was established in 1922 to protect the last herd of wood bison. Today, these animals still wander freely through the park’s forests and plains. Wood Buffalo is also home to bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines and beavers. Aside from animal viewing, there are plenty of activities to keep visitors busy, including beaching, camping, mountain biking and boating.

4. The smallest national park is just 13.5 square kilometres

Established in 1929, Georgian Bay Island National Park holds the title of Canada’s smallest national park. Made up of 59 islands located off the coast of Georgian Bay in Ontario, this park is part of the Canadian Shield, an area famous for inspiring many of the works by the renowned Group of Seven painters. Given its location, water sports of all types abound here, including boat tours and sailing.

5. Many of the parks are geological wonders

Located on Newfoundland’s wild West Coast, Gros Morne National Park is a mind-boggling mix of boreal forest, soaring peaks, towering waterfalls, sandy beaches and even a freshwater fjord. But possibly its most fascinating feature is the Tablelands. Here the earth’s mantle is exposed, an astoundingly clear example of continental drift and where the theory of plate tectonics was confirmed. Meanwhile, Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon is home to 17 of Canada’s 20 tallest mountains, including the country’s highest peak, Mount Logan, which towers over the territory at 19,551 feet. Kluane also has the country’s largest ice field and one of North America’s most genetically diverse grizzly bear populations.

6. Plans for more national parks and reserves are in the works

Canada is always looking at ways to grow its already diverse network of national parks and reserves. Formal steps have been taken (including signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the federal government, British Columbia government and the Syilx/Okanagan Nation) to establish a national park reserve in the South Okanagan-Similkameen area of B.C. This diverse region known for its rolling hills and sweeping valleys is also known for its shrub-steppe ecosystem, an endangered natural system that is made up of pockets of semi-arid desert, the only known occurrence of this type of ecosystem in Canada.

7. Canada even has an urban national park

National parks aren’t just limited to mountainous or rural areas. Located just outside Toronto in the Rouge Valley area, Rouge National Urban Park was established in 2015. The area is ecologically diverse and is known for its marshes, forests, meadows, farmlands and nearly 2,000 species of plants and birds. This nearly 50-square-kilometre park is also home to the Greater Toronto Area’s only campground, a beach on the shore of Lake Ontario, numerous hiking trails and one of Canada’s oldest known Indigenous sites.

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