Ontario's First Provincial Park, Algonquin, Turns 125 This Year

April 30, 2018 | Pam

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Each year, after the end of March Break, our family usually turned its thoughts to planning summer activities. This often involved researching various provincial parks, looking at the special features of each one and the different activities on offer.  

2018 marks the 125th anniversary of Ontario's provincial parks system. In 1893, an Ontario Royal Commission [PDF] proposed the establishment of a Park and recommended the name "Algonquin" to honour the Algonquin people. The name of Canada's first provincial park, Algonquin Park, is given as "the place of spearing fish from the bow of the canoe," however the word may be of Micmac origin.

An 1886 letter laying out the formation of the park is contained in a book Algonkin Forest and Park, written to the Commissioner of Crown Lands for Ontario.  

Algonkin Forest and Park  

  Letter from Algonkin Forest and Park

Algonquin Park is often referred to as the gem of the Ontario parks system. There are approximately 3,500 square miles of forests, lakes and rivers atop the rugged Canadian Shield. This beautiful haven from urban life features 1,500 lakes, and is a natural destination for visitors looking to spend quiet time away from the city.

Wildlife is abundant, and includes moose, wolves and black bears. Many smaller mammals such as river otters, foxes, chipmunks and a wide variety of waterfowl including osprey, herons, and loons are often seen.

The Algonquin Park Visitor Centre has exhibits on the Park's natural and human history, a restaurant and an excellent bookstore. A theater presentation sums up the park story and then takes you out to the viewing deck from which you can see a breathtaking panorama of wild Algonquin landscape.



A Range-finder helps
Forest fire spotter marking the location of smoke in Algonquin Park

Forest fires used to be a constant hazard caused by campfires, sparks from the early wood and coal burning railroad locomotives and the debris left by loggers which dried out.

In the early 1920s, the use of fire towers to spot forest fires became the norm. Most were made of wood and were about 10-60 feet high.

Highland Inn
1910. The Highland Inn, Algonquin National Park of Ontario. Grand Trunk Railway System Winter Hotel

The early postcard pictured above depicts The Highland Inn (1908-1957),  a year round resort located on the northern end of Cache Lake built and operated by the Grand Trunk Railway. The Inn was purchased by the Ontario Government in 1957 with the intention of returning the park to its natural condition.

Canoeists prepare forf
1973. Canoeists prepare for an Algonquin Park journey.

Canoeing is the best way to navigate the park, with over 1500 kilometers of canoe routes.

Canoe camping continues to be one of the most popular activities in the park. Although there are numerous drive-in campgrounds in Algonquin, the park is better known for its interior camping at sites that are only accessible by canoe or hiking in the summer.

The friends of Algonquin Park provides an official canoe route map.

Explore more images of early Algonquin Park in the Virtual Reference Library. The Virtual Reference Library includes rare historical items from the Toronto Public Library's Digital Archive as well as Librarian posts for Ontarians.