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Join The Celebrations

What memories do you have of Canada’s national parks? Is it strolling along the shores of Clear Lake, or swimming in the lake’s cold, clear water? Relaxing beside a campfire and your tent while you watch a beautiful sunset over Lake Audy and listen to the mournful wail of a loon? Or perhaps you’ve travelled across Canada to other national parks. Maybe you’ve hiked or canoed at Lake Louise, or taken the boat ride in Newfoundland’s Gros Morne National Park. Whatever your national park memories are, you might want to renew some of them this summer during Parks Canada’s Centennial Celebrations.

Last year marked the 125th anniversary of Banff National Park, the first national park established in Canada. This summer new celebrations will mark the 100th year of Parks Canada, the world’s very first national parks service. Throughout the year, and throughout Canada, there will be special activities to commemorate this event.

May 19, 1911 was the exact date of the creation of the Dominion Parks Branch, now called Parks Canada. This system, started 100 years ago, now protects 42 national parks, 167 national historic sites and four national marine conservation areas. May 19, 2011 will be the kickoff for centennial activities across Canada. Check the Parks Canada website below for monthly themes and to find out what activities are being planned. (More are being added all the time.)

Activities already planned include free entry across the country on July 1 to celebrate Canada Day and free entry on Parks Day ( July 16). Plans are also underway for “Famous Forts Weekend” on August 20 and 21. There are also plans for a concert series at various locations.

In Manitoba, Riding Mountain National Park averages more than 200,000 visitors a year, with the Clear Lake area being particularly popular. Those who like a quieter experience can choose to camp at Lake Audy, Moon Lake, Whirlpool Lake or Deep Lake. Or for a full wilderness experience they can hike or bike into small backcountry campsites. Wildlife encounters are frequent. When I drive along the park roads, I often see elk, deer and moose, and occasionally a bear or coyote. While canoeing, I watch loons and beavers, and one time a family of otters playing in the water. Near Lake Audy is a herd of bison and once, in the bison enclosure, I watched the elusive fisher chase and catch a rabbit!

Events planned for Clear Lake this summer include: National Aboriginal Day on June 21; music and cake on July 1; entertainment at the main beach bandstand on July 16; a wagon tour to the site of the prisoner-of-war camp at Whitewater Lake on July 16; and Wasagaming Weekend on August 5 to 7. Regular fees at Riding Mountain are $7.80 a day for adults, $6.55 for seniors and $19.60 for a family. Yearly passes are $39.20, $34.30 and $98.10 respectively.

Manitoba has other sites under Parks Canada, too. There are a total of 56 designated National Historic Sites in the province, with nine of those administered by Parks Canada. Well-known ones are Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site near Selkirk and The Forks National Historic Site in downtown Winnipeg. Others include Riel House at 330 River Road in St. Vital– Riel’s family home – and St. Andrew’s Rectory, a fine example of mid-19th century architecture.

Lower Fort Garry is the oldest stone fur-trading post still intact in North America. If you visit there this summer, you’ll see costumed interpreters re-enacting the mid-1800s at this Hudson’s Bay Company post. August 1 will be a special day, with the commemoration of Treaty 1 through Aboriginal dancing, songs and crafts. Other events include four tea parties: on July 11 and 25, and August 8 and 22 when tea, bannock and jam will be served by Parks Canada volunteers. Regular fees at Lower Fort Garry are $7.80 a day for adults, $6.55 for seniors.

Northern Manitoba also has several National Historic Sites, such as the Prince of Wales Site near Churchill and the York Factory Historic Site. Manitoba’s second national park, established in 1996, is also in the North: Wapusk National Park, 11,475 square kilometres of tundra and muskeg along the western shore of Hudson Bay. So far I haven’t visited any of these northern ones, but they’re on my list.

With a variety of Parks Canada’s centennial celebrations to be enjoyed, this summer would be a fine time to experience some of our own national treasures. Why not join the celebrations?

Go to the Parks Canada website at: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/progs/celebrations/index.aspx for a list of events.

– Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba

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