Free Park-ing

 Canoes docked on Lake Louise at Banff National Park via  flickr

Canoes docked on Lake Louise at Banff National Park via flickr

If you’ve found yourself in Paris, Rome or New York City, you’ve probably gravitated to The Eiffel Tower, The Coliseum, Time Square. And then there’s good old Canada. The great white north. The vast expanse. Even with our world class museums and incredible urban multiculturalism, to an outsider, our signature features still include moose, mountains and Mounties.  Our iconic symbol is less of a landmark, and more just … land.  

Right now, 82% of our country’s population is living in some kind of urban area, the great outdoors is not only how the world romanticizes Canada, but how we now romanticize ourselves. Only a fraction of Canadians can say they’ve ever seen a moose because we’re busy commuting between suburbs, and if we’re lucky, we might spot a patch of trees or a rare breed of cow.  

Now it’s 2017, and word on the Canadian street is that parks are free for Canada’s 150th birthday.  But before you pack up the car and cry “road trip!”, here are three important things you should know about Canada’s big gift to itself and the world so that you can make the most of the year ahead and help your friends and family do the same.

  1. “Free Parks” = Free Entry.  You don’t pay cover at-the-door to Parks Canada places as long as you have your free discovery pass.  All other fees, like camping reservation and rental fees, still apply so this year, so planning = winning.

    Pro tip: Book in advance if you hope to camp and remember to order your free pass before showing up.

  2. National Historic Sites are ALSO free! There are over 170 world class National Historic Sites that tell Canada’s most culturally rich and nationally influential stories. These aren’t dusty old relics; Canada’s National Historic Sites are internationally renowned, living, breathing places where you can sit around fires with master story tellers or taste heritage recipes in the form of rum and chocolate.

    Pro tip: Many of our National Historic Sites offer hiking and even rustic accommodation that rival our Nationals Parks.

  3. Think of Canada in 2017 like a big cinema. With over 200 nationally protected places on the map of our nation, there will still be a few blockbusters that people will be lined up out the door to see. Banff, Jasper, Pacific Rim, Bruce Peninsula … these will be the places that will be crowded more than anywhere. They are the Titanics and Avatars of 2017.

    Pro tip: Save the blockbusters for another year and use your free pass to discover equally magical and lesser known National Treasures that many might never have heard of. These protected places are all natural masterpieces. They all need our help just the same and you can help by exploring your options beyond the “pop parks”.

Where you might make the biggest difference this year is in sharing what you now know about “free parks” and that it’s a time to explore and care, not consume.

Canada 150 is the chance for us to prove to the world and ourselves that we’ve come a long way from confederation, with a unified desire to go further.  We’re incredibly fortunate to have so many sacred places protected in this country. Parks Canada staff are here to help us understand why they were protected in the first place. These places are for us, and we are for them. A good friend of mine once described parks as a place where people can meet as equals and connect to the nature around and within. 2017 is an invitation to do exactly that, like never before.  

When in doubt, remember step one: go outside.