Nature to take your breath away
Visiting eight national parks on a mission to see all 46
It was the helicopter ride of a lifetime. Soaring through the snow-dappled peaks rising from the sea in Torngat Mountains National Park took my breath away.
This majestic, mysterious park, tucked into the northernmost wedge of Labrador between Quebec and the Atlantic, embodies the word “remote.”
“We are, for sure, the only ones here,” Nunavik Rotors pilot Jean-François Martin states matter-of-factly. “It’s a shame. So few ever get to see and experience this.”
And what an experience — the 16th in my 2017 odyssey to see all of Canada’s 46 national parks and reserves.
Torngat is Inuktitut, for “place of spirits,” or as some say, “evil spirits.” It is the highest mountain range on the Canadian Shield and its treeless peaks, emerging startlingly from the Atlantic, form dramatic fiords and vistas. Along the way, cari- Home to Inuit and their predecessors for thousands of years, the Torngat Mountains National Park comprises 9,700 sq. kilometres in Northern Labrador. Inset: From Rouge Park, you can see Toronto’s Scarborough Town Centre. bou and a black bear are spotted.
The highest peak, at 1,652 metres, is D’Iberville (Que.) or Caubvick (N.L.), depending from which side you view it. It sits four-square on the provincial border, often enshrouded in cloud. Torngat was named a national park in 2005 and joins the ranks of those difficult-to-reach parks across Canada’s North.
Two weeks before, I took another helicopter to crisscross the mostly inaccessible Wapusk National Park on the western shores of Hudson Bay.
Here the beauty of the ageless tundra stretched as far as the eye could see. Sadly, the polar bears were still out on Hudson Bay. We did see, however, some caribou, wild swans and seabirds.
The park is close to Churchill, Man., and an old military base, once home to thousands of U.S. servicemen. You can see the tracks from vehicles and explorers etched decades ago.
“Once you make a mark on the tundra, it simply never goes away,” says pilot Leo Vergnano.
I also visited the two national parks at either end of the St. Lawrence River — Thousand Islands at the western source and Mingan Archipelago at the very eastern end.
While the charming islands and magnificent estates of the Thousand Islands are a treat, the rock monoliths on the Mingan Archipelago along Quebec’s north shore are stunning.
Forged in the ice age, they rise like sculptures on the southern beaches of the islands. A local poet from Havre-Saint-Pierre took it upon himself to name the nearly 400 monoliths. My favourite is “Richard Nixon.” The stone nose is perfect.
The boat tour through the archipelago, with the occasional whale breaking water, is not to be missed.
Finally, my journeys have taken me to four of the five national parks on Canada’s Great Lakes. I am holding off on a visit to Point Pelee on Lake Erie until butterfly migration this fall.
Pukaskwa on the shores of Lake Superior is a preserve on the world’s largest freshwater lake (by surface area). It holds as much water as all the other Great Lakes combined with a few extra Lake Eries thrown in. The day I visited, it was calm under a blazing full sun.
A surprise came a few days later with the rushing brooks, mysterious trails, single-lane bridges and quaint cemetery all within Rouge Park, which is transitioning into a national park in northeast Scarborough. When expansion is completed, the Rouge National Urban Park will be one of the largest urban parks of its kind in the world.
Visiting it in the spring, I was surprised to turn a corner and catch a glimpse of Scarborough Town Centre off in the distance. It is very easy to drive through or hike — or even canoe.
So where will I be on Canada Day? In a national park, of course. this is one in a series of columns by John Honderich, chairman of the board of torstar, as he attempts to visit all of canada’s national parks during the country’s 150th birthday year.