10 fascinating facts about Canada’s national parks

Wood Buffalo National Park

You may be planning to take advantage of a free Discovery Pass this year in honour of Canada’s 150th, but how much do you actually know about the national parks you’ll be exploring?

It turns out the parks are a fascinating subject, and our forests and plains are full of remarkable facts. We’ve rounded up ten of them to help get you excited for a full year of park activities. Check them out, then grab your Discovery Pass and get trekking!

1. There are currently 46 of them

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Well, technically, there are 38 national parks and 8 national park reserves—areas that will become national parks when First Nations claims are settled. In the meantime, they are managed under the National Parks Act and function as parks.

2. The smallest one is under 14 square kilometres

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That would be Georgian Bay Islands National Park, which is located on some of a group of islands making up the world’s largest freshwater archipelago. The park’s beautiful landscape, made up of a broad expanse of water dotted with tiny islands, was an inspiration to the Group of Seven.

3. The largest is 45,000

Photo by Ansgar Walk/Wikimedia Commons

At nearly 45,000 square kilometres, Wood Buffalo Park is not just the largest in Canada—it’s also the second-largest national park in the world. The park was established in 1922, and its purpose was to preserve the largest free-roaming bison herd in the world. It’s also the home to one of only two natural whooping crane nests in the world (whooping cranes are extremely endangered, and most live in captivity).

4. There is a proposed urban National Park in Toronto

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Currently, all of the national parks are outside of cities, but that might change if the proposal to turn Rouge Park into an official park is approved. The park is located along the Rouge River, and it is proposed to span 79 square kilometres from Toronto to Uxbridge. Despite its urban locale, Rouge Park is home to 1,700 plant and animal species, a campground, ancient indigenous sites, and even working farms!

5. Banff National Park just reintroduced wild bison after a century of their absence

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Millions of wild bison used to live and roam in the area that is now Banff National Park, but they disappeared from the region when they were hunted nearly to extinction in the 1800s. Now, a small group of wild bison has been transported from Elk Island Park to Banff National Park, where they will be observed before being let loose into the park to re-establish their place in the ecosystem.

6. There’s a bison “calving camera” in Grasslands National Park

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Can’t make it out to Saskatchewan to see the bison and their calves roaming the vast plains? You can always check in with their live cam online.

7. The highest tides in the world are at Fundy National Park

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The waters rise up to fifteen metres during high tide at Fundy National Park in the Bay of Fundy, and when they fall again, they reveal an inter-tidal zone teeming with life. In most places, tides rise from one to four metres, so Fundy’s tidal change is way above average, and definitely worth checking out.

8. Sable Island National Park is a haven for wild horses

Photo by Paul Gierszewski/Wikimedia Commons

This tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia is populated by 500 wild horses (and five humans). It’s a wild space that Parks Canada is dedicated to preserving, so all visitors must register in advance. It can also only be accessed by plane or boat. Can’t manage the trip? You can take a virtual stroll on Sable Island using Google Street View.

9. Canada’s National Parks Service was the first in the world

Canada’s first national park (Banff National Park) opened in 1885, but it took until 1911 to create the Dominion Parks Branch, now known as Parks Canada. But even with the lag, Canada was the first country in the world to create a national parks service. America’s NPS was created five years later, in 1916.

10. There’s a short film about one national park from each province or territory

Photo by Ansgar Walk/Wikimedia Commons

The National Parks Project was a film and music series that paired directors and musicians and asked them to create a scored short film about one of Canada’s national parks. Zacharias Kunuk’s segment about Nunavut’s Sirmilik National Park won a Genie Award in 2012.