Parks Canada

Canada 150

Five ways to celebrate with Parks Canada

by Gail Johnson

Surfers at Long Beach, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, Photo courtesy of Parks Canada/Scott Munn

The official 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation may have passed, but the nation’s sesquicentennial is being celebrated all year long. In honour of Canada 150, Parks Canada is offering free admission to all of its national parks, national historic sites and national marine conservation areas right through to the end of 2017.

Here are five ideas for how to make the most of the country’s milestone anniversary at national attractions throughout coastal B.C.

Catch a wave in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Don a wet suit (you’ll need one!) and go surfing off Long Beach, 16 kilometres south of Tofino.  Set amid the lush rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, this iconic sandy stretch is known and loved for its expansive, open-ocean views and its enticing mix of waves—suitable for all levels of surfers, from beginner to expert.

Take a lesson from any of the area’s surf schools and you’ll find yourself practising the “pop up”—a surfer’s most crucial move, involving a swift jump from prone position to a standing lunge—right on the picture-perfect beach before plying the brisk Pacific.

Fisgard Lighthouse and Fort Rodd Hill, Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

Step back in time at Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites

Reading about history is perfectly fine, but the past is far more intriguing when you can get up close and personal with it. Fort Rodd Hill is the West Coast’s best-preserved artillery fort, complete with steel-and-concrete gun batteries, underground magazines and barracks. It was here, from 1895 to 1956, that the British Empire and Canada mounted a defence strategy against potential invaders. Today, costumed interpreters play the roles of 19th-century soldiers, giving tours by lantern and, on summer weekends, shooting rifles in a firepower demonstration that will leave your ears ringing.

On the same site is Fisgard Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse on the West Coast. Built in 1860 and overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait, the bright-white tower is still in operation, although it hasn’t been manned since 1929. If you visit, you can try your hand at steering a late-19th century sailing ship via an interactive exhibit that features video-animated lighthouses as your only guiding signals.

Mortuary poles at SGang Gwaay World Heritage site, Photo courtesy of Parks Canada/Brady Yu

Walk on sacred ground in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site

Meaning “Islands of Beauty” in the Haida language, Gwaii Haanas consists of 138 of the approximately 150 islands that make up Haida Gwaii, the ancestral territory of the Haida people. The most remote archipelago in Canada is frequently described as being at the “edge of the world,” but in many ways it feels almost otherworldly—home to rare plants like sea bluebell and animal subspecies such as woodland caribou.

When you visit this area, you’ll find remnants of millennia-old Haida culture, such as abandoned villages and burial caves, everywhere. Wander the sacred village of SG̱ang Gwaay Llnagaay (formerly Ninstints) on SG̱ang Gwaay (Anthony Island), a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has the structural remains of 10 longhouses and the largest number of totem poles in their original place in the world—weathered, salt-sprayed, evocative reminders of Indigenous history and tradition.

Belle Chain Islets, Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, Photo courtesy of Parks Canada/Christian J. Stewart

Watch wildlife in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve

There are 15 islands—as well 30-plus islets and numerous reefs teeming with periwinkle, plumose anemones and sea cucumbers—that make up the idyllic Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Here, you can bask in the Mediterranean-type microclimate while taking in the area’s remarkable diversity of rare plant, bird and marine life.

Spend extra time on Saturna Island, the quietest and least-developed of the Gulf Islands. From East Point Park, you may not even need binoculars to see the orca whales, harbour seals, Steller sea lions and porpoises that populate the Salish Sea. With a sandstone shoreline that has been sculpted by wind and waves over centuries, East Point is a prime place to view those and other magnificent marine animals that make this area their home.

Swim by the sea at Stanley Park National Historic Site

An urban oasis bordered by Burrard Inlet, English Bay, First Narrows and Vancouver’s West End and Coal Harbour neighbourhoods, Stanley Park, once a First Nations ceremonial site, is best known for its serpentine seawall, old-growth forest and totem poles carved out of Western red cedar. But it’s also home to the awesome Second Beach Pool, a heated, 80-metre swimming and splashing spot that hugs the ocean.

Enjoy a swim amid views of enormous container ships anchored at sea in the foreground and the Vancouver Island Ranges in the distance. The pool, which is open until September 17 this year (later than usual), also has a large roped-off shallow area for youngsters to play in, while slides attract kids of all sizes—even grown ones.