Ontario Parks
Murphys Point Provincial Park - Silver Queen Mine

Learning in Ontario Parks

Are you curious about the world around you; always keen to learn more? We take education seriously at Ontario Parks - it's one of our core mandates - but we also have lots of fun. Whether you're six or sixty-six; like to learn on your own or be part of a group, we have a suggestion for you. Here's a small sampling of what Ontario Parks has to offer.

Amazing Landscapes

Why does Sandbanks have one of the greatest beaches on Lake Ontario? Join one of the park's regularly scheduled guided walks to hear how the baymouth bar and dunes of Sandbanks were formed. Learn what plants and animals make their home on the dunes and what impacts man has had on the area.

Did you know that over 350 million years ago the area where Rock Point sits was once a coral reef? Join education staff at the park to hunt for fossils of the creatures that once inhabited this tropical environment.

First-time visitors to Killarney are struck by the contrast between the white quartzite LaCloche Mountains and the surrounding pink granite hills. Curious about how they were formed or what impact glaciers had on this landscape? Why not attend an evening amphitheatre program to learn more.

Creature Feature

A visit to an Ontario park is often a chance to see animals that we don't get to see in our normal daily life. Interpreters can teach you more about these park residents; many of whom are threatened.

Killbear is home to Ontario's only poisonous snake, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake. But these shy creatures are often misunderstood and feared. Join a snake talk to learn more about this threatened species and other reptiles at risk.

If you prefer feathers to scales, Presqu'ile offers guided bird hikes every week throughout the summer and on weekends in the spring. This park is a birding hotspot and is known for its spring and fall migrations. Check out the Bird Sightings Board for the latest news.

In August, Algonquin hosts its world famous Wolf Howl. Visitors come from far and wide not to see the animals but to hear them. After learning about the Algonquin wolf, its ecology and man's changing view of wolves, visitors are lead by park naturalists to a location in the park. When the crowd quiets, the naturalist will howl and wait for the wolf pack to answer back. The haunting howl of the adult wolves and yips of the pups are one of the park's signature experiences.

Many parks are busy after dark! Explore the nocturnal realm at Pinery on a naturalist-led night hike. See secretive southern flying squirrels, hoot with the owls and discover the mysteries of fireflies.

For the History Buff...

historical characters

Is history your thing? When many people think of provincial parks they think of beautiful natural landscapes, but Ontario Parks is responsible for protecting and educating about the cultural history of these locations. The stories of First Nations, European explorers, the fur trade, logging and pioneering are all represented at Ontario Parks.

Samuel de Champlain is located on the Mattawa, a Canadian Heritage River that once formed a vital link in the trade route between Lachine (Montreal) and Lake Superior. Visitors to the park can attend spirit nights where Samuel de Champlain, Étienne Brûlé, Frances Hopkins and other historical figures reappear to tell their stories. The Visitor Centre explores the role of early European contact and the French fur trade.

Wasaga Beach is home to the Welcome Centre and Nancy Island Historic Site which houses the charred hull of the HMS Nancy. The Nancy was part of a pivotal moment during the War of 1812 which helped to define the borders of Canada as we know them today. Join park staff as they bring the story of the HMS Nancy and her crew to life! Watch an award-winning video presentation, tour the site, participate in a musket or cannon demonstration, and interact with historical characters from Wasaga's past.

It's hard to imagine the campsites at Neys surrounded by barbed wire and under heavy guard but that was the case during WWII when it was home to Prisoner of War Camp 100. The park's visitor centre sheds light on this chapter of the park's history.

murphy point mine

One hundred years ago, the Silver Queen Mine at Murphys Point was one of many small workings in the area that supplied mica for insulation and heat resistant windows. Today park visitors can don a hard hat and take a trip down the mine, visit the miners' bunkhouse and see an original ore wagon.

Look Up

Although night skies are not technically "in a park", the absence of city light allows us to appreciate the sky in a completely new way when we visit a park. Stars seem brighter and more plentiful.

At Killarney, visitors can go to the park observatory for an evening learning program. The Astronomer in Residence Program provides campers with an introduction to amateur astronomy, importance of dark skies, and the use of telescopes.

Many other parks offer astronomy nights during the summer. These will often be hosted by members of Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Telescopes are usually available for visitors to share.

Hike and Learn

Many of the trails at Ontario Parks have been designed with education in mind. Some have trail guides available or interpretive panel trailside.

Travel the McNaughton Trail at Bonnechere and explore Footprints in Time. Start your journey by navigating the Turtle Island Time Machine and then navigate from one post to the next learning about the natural and cultural heritage of the Little Bonnechere River; learn a traditional First Nations teaching, visit an ancient beach and see a beaver house.

The Nature Trail at Pancake Bay begins along the dramatic Lake Superior shoreline, over forested ancient beach ridges, through a wetland, ending along a shallow meandering creek. Along the way you will encounter a billion year old conglomerate boulder. Don't know what that is? Interpretive trail signs help to explain the natural features along the trail.

Colourful interpretive panels at Potholes take you back 10,000 years to when fast-moving, glacial meltwater carried along huge pieces of rock debris. With enormous power, the boulder-laden water drilled potholes into the bedrock and sculpted the landscape. These panels also highlight the provincially significant vegetation associated with these landforms.

Awenda's Wendat Trail begins at Kettle's Lake, thought to be formed by the gradual melting of a large buried piece of ice left by retreating glaciers. Today, this area is a favoured nesting spot for the red-winged blackbird and the great blue heron is often seen in the swamps around the lake. The trail passes the foundations of the Brabant farmstead house and barn. Attempts to farm this area in the 1930s and 40s failed due to the poor, sandy soil.

Skills

learn to camp logo

As well as learning about the environment around you, there are opportunities at Ontario Parks to pick up new outdoors skills. For first time campers, the Learn to Camp program teaches the basics to turn you into a confident camper. For those who want to acquire more advanced skills, Frontenac offers a range of workshops and certification programs to teach the skills for safe backcountry travel.

Want more information...

  • Use the park locator to find parks that have organized Natural Heritage Education programs or visitor centres,
  • Check out the park events page for festivals and some of our signature education programs,
  • When you're at a park, check out a bulletin board for a schedule of upcoming education programs.

Visitor Centres

Many of the larger Ontario parks have visitor centres; dedicated buildings with displays that provide and in-depth understanding of the park and its natural and cultural history.

The Sleeping Giant Visitor Centre features interactive exhibits that explore the natural and cultural history of the Sibley Peninsula including a model of the Silver Islet Mine.

petroglyphs

The Learning Place at Petroglyphs communicates the spiritual significance of "the Teaching Rocks" to First Nations and the site's relevance to all people in Ontario. The exhibits at the Learning Place were developed by Ontario Parks in close partnership with the Curve Lake First Nation.

The Visitor Centre at Algonquin traces the natural and human history of the park. The Algonquin Logging Museum brings to life the story of logging from the early square timber days to the last of the great river drives.

French River Visitor Centre

The French River Visitor Centre tells the stories of this historic waterway in the "Voices of the River" exhibit hall. Interactive exhibits take the visitor along the length of the river and through time exploring the relationship between the river and First Peoples, explorers, fur traders and missionaries. This building has won a number of awards for its design.

To find all parks with visitor centres, search using the parks locator.