Reflecting on Camping and the Parks System

Group of women carrying a canoe overhead

Unidentified group of women carrying a canoe, Winnipeg, 1940s. Library and Archives Canada. MIKAN 4328425

I’ve went camping twice this summer and stayed at three Provincial Parks in Ontario as part of that experience.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the complicated nature behind the parks system, the dispossession of Indigenous people from parks and the lack of acknowledgement of the traditional usage of the land by Parks.  None of the parks I visited this year had signage about the history of the park or about the park’s relationship to the local Indigenous communities.

Last year I visited Pukaskwa Nation Park.  It is the only Park I’ve visited to date that is actively working with the local First Nation community to reinterpret the site and to include a discussion of the community’s history on the land. Pukaskwa’s staff included an Indigenous Cultural Interpreter – who was from Pic River First Nation, the local First Nation community that was impacted by the creation of Pukaskwa.  The were also in the process of creating an Anishinaabe Camp for cultural programming and the “Bimose Kinoomagewanan” trail signage was created by local elders and youth from Pic River.

Pukaskwa serves as one example of parks addressing their problematic past.  I would be interested in knowing of any other examples out there.  As visitors what can settlers do to encourage more critical interpretation? As a first step speaking with the folks staffing the visitors centre and interpreters to ask them about what they know about the park’s history can help.  If they don’t mention the traditional Indigenous territory of the land ask why. Ask them why there is no discussion of the land prior to the park being established and if there is any plans to change that.  Talk with the people you are camping with – have those important conversations about land and history – even if it makes you or them uncomfortable.

For additional context I would suggest reading Anne Janhunen’s The Holiday Spirit Will Prevail’: Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Erasure in Ontario’s ‘Cottage Country‘ presentation and Robert Jago’s “Canada’s National Parks are Colonial Crime Scenes.”

French River Visitor’s Centre

Despite having driven by the French River rest stop and Visitor’s Centre on Hwy 69 dozens of time, I hadn’t been inside the facility until this past week. I was thoroughly surprised by Centre’s content — it has more interactive displays than most small museum curators dream of –one of the benefits of Provincial funding I suppose.

The current exhibits showcase the history of the French River area, the natural heritage of the area, and the stories of First Nations, French, and English explorers who came to French River.  The displays highlight the unique architecture style of the building and features like the section of glass floor showcase the natural landscape of the area. 

In addition to the centre, the rest stop includes great walking trails that follow the French River.  There is also a walking bridge that crosses the river and provides and excellent view of the surrounding landscape.   The French River Provincial Park also includes 290 campsites, canoeing routes, and fishing areas.

Finding Wonder in Natural Heritage

The fourth #reverb10 prompt is:

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

In the past year I have renewed my appreciation for Canada’s natural heritage and beauty. In the past I have often over looked natural heritage for more man made history. A few of the natural heritage sites which filled me with wonder this year include the Agawa Canyon, Aubrey Falls, and Lake Superior.

The hours spent on a train to get to the Agawa Canyon were more than worth the trip. The canyon park includes numerous striking waterfalls, a river, and the canyon itself is a great display of natural heritage. The canyon was created by faulting in the Canadian shield and the remote nature of the canyon has resulted in the majority of the natural beauty of the site being maintained.

My visit to Aubrey Falls inspired further appreciation of natural beauty in Canada. However, that site is directly impacted by a hydro plant next to it. The amount of water which flows over the falls is actually controlled based on how much power is being generated. The stark contrast of nature and development at Aubrey Falls reminded me of the importance of preserving our natural heritage for future generations.

The drive up to Thunder Bay allowed me to take in the vastness of Lake Superior. The changing temperament of the water, the quietness of the North, and the sea like waves were some of my favourite parts of that drive.