Monday, April 30, 2007

A heretical idea

Do you ever look at maps that emphasize our national parks, with blobs of dark green? Did you notice how relatively few of these parks aren't anywhere near the reach of your average Canadian? (and I don't mean the relatively accessible ones like Banff, Jasper or Mauricie, I mean the ones in the middle of Northern Ontario or the middle of Nunavut, as remote as the Moon)

I think it's time Canada made some new national parks, particularly in Central Canada, on the 'shield country'. After all, it's the landscape that covers so much of our country, it's made us sort of famous through the Group of Seven paintings...and who hasn't gone canoeing, walking, spent a weekend at someone's cottage or at least went car-camping in this part of the land.

We could start right here, in our backyard. There are at least four or five major reasons why it would make sense. The Gatineau park is ideal, from a natural perspective, it contains all the right features and eco-zones that would qualify it from a naturalist's perspective. Canadian shield landscape, boreal forest, a totally unique lake (the Pink lake), and, of course, bears. You gotta have bears, it's Canada.

Administratively, the Gatineau park is part a Monty Pythonesque farce , part quagmire. It is both a Quebec provincial park (they call these creations 'national'in La Belle province, yeah, right, national my foot...) and a part of the NCR, thus partially managed by National Capital Commission (NCC). The NCC has about as much transparency and accountability as the Sopranos on a bad episode; consequently, it has been the favourite whipping boy of aspiring local politicians. No one would weep or lose a minute of sleep if the government just decided to yank the Gatineau park, all 361 square kilometers of it, from the NCC and unilaterally pronounce it Canada's newest national park. The hiking, skiing and snowshoeing would still go on, the trails would still be maintained, even the little ski hill within its bounds could remain (check out Banff, a national park with 3 massive ski resorts in it, plus a town). Imagine, you could actually get to stay in one of those chalets without playing in the "I have a better chance of flying the space shuttle" lottery the NCC runs for winter camping spots there....

Another reason why Gatineau should be made into a national park is the lack of other similar parks in Central Canada. Algonquin is nice, but it's only a provincially protected area. Ontario's only bona fide national park that contains the Canadian shield landscape and ecology is Pukaskwa park. Pu-what? I am willing to bet that at least 75% of Canadians have never heard of it...and there's a good reason. Pukaskwa is located in a remote corner of Lake Superior's north shore, an awesome stretch, naturally speaking, but that also means it's about as accessible to people as Greenland. I mean you have to get to either Thunder Bay or Sault Ste-Marie and even then it's still a long, long drive from those towns. The odds that most Canadian kids will never, ever set their feet there are overwhelming. (Yes, I know that national parks were intended for the wildlife but they had also been set up, ostensibly, as places for the public to access and explore pristine, or nearly pristine wilderness).

Last but not least among the reasons why Gatineau should have the national park status is simply that it is near the nation's capital. We are already known to have a penchant for large, arbitrary projects... Colonel By went into the middle of swampy nowhere to bring us the Rideau Canal, then the aptly named Bytown was bequeathed with the 'capital' title and built-up from a rough village into a magnificent city (yes, hyperbole, but I do like the Parliament buildings). So why not take the much easier step of designating a new national park on Ottawa's doorstep? It's not like the park isn't already there.


Anonymous said...

Tell Yasir!

joncormier said...

It's not a national park? I thought it was already - shows you how much I know.

Since the NCC is run on national money - from what I understand - Gatineau is for all intents and purposes a national park. It's maintained by national funds, so la de da. It just doesn't have that cool beaver in a triangle logo that other national parks have.

I do think our parks are meant to be kept in a certain pristine quality, hence making them less accessible to human. I agree the environmental damage to reach these havens of nature is horribly ironic, but I also think keeping the people out is sort of the point. You need to make the effort to get there, the less effort involved the more likely it becomes a simulacrum of nature.