Na­ture to take your breath away

Vis­it­ing eight na­tional parks on a mis­sion to see all 46

StarMetro Toronto - - TRAVEL - John Hon­derich For Metro Canada

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.

CoN­TRIb­uTed; IN­SeT: ToRSTaR NewS SeR­vICe

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