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Ontario Parks

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Background Information

Ontario Parks is the largest provider of outdoor recreation experiences in Ontario, Canada.

  • over 10 million visits from around the world to:
    • camp
    • stay in a yurt, cabin, or other roofed accommodation
    • swim
    • picnic
    • hike
    • bike/fatbike
    • trail-ride
    • overnight hike
    • backcountry paddle
    • relax on a long sandy beach or beside a scenic river
    • Canoe/kayak/stand up paddle board/sail/boat
    • birdwatch
    • fish
    • cross-country ski
    • snowshoe
    • skate
    • view/photograph wildlife
  • 8% of Ontario’s landmass, over 82,000 km2 - an area larger than the Province of Nova Scotia and PEI combined.
  • Over 330 Ontario Parks, more than 100 with camping and facilities for visitors.
  • Over 19,000 car accessible campsites and over 8,000 backcountry/wilderness campsites.

Signature Programs

Healthy Parks Healthy People - Ontario Parks is looking to increase awareness of the health benefits people experience when they spend time in nature. On every third Friday in July, parks across the province offer free events and activities to encourage people to spend time in nature.

Learn to Camp - More than 20,000 people have experienced the fun of learning to camp in comfort and safety through our award winning Learn to Camp Program. Equipped camping programs are offered at 7 provincial parks all summer. Transportation to select program locations and dates is provided by Parkbus.

Learn to Fish Program - Learn everything you need to know to get started with our Learn to Fish program. Offered 5 times per week in July and August at 7 provincial parks, equipment, bait and temporary fishing licences are provided.

PFD Lending - Water activities are an integral part of summer fun at Ontario Parks. We want all visitors to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Campers can visit one of 67 participating parks and borrow a lifejacket free of charge.

TackleShare – The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters sponsored by Ontario Power Generation brings us the Tackleshare program which allows visitors to borrow fishing equipment for free at over 55 parks.

Summer Visitation Top 10 Prov. Parks (2017 stats)
  1. Wasaga Beach
  2. Algonquin
  3. Sandbanks
  4. Pinery
  5. Killbear
  6. Bronte Creek
  7. Sibbald Point
  8. Bon Echo
  9. Arrowhead
  10. Presqu'ile
Winter Visitation Top 10 Prov. Parks (2017 stats)
  1. Arrowhead
  2. Bronte Creek
  3. Algonquin
  4. Pinery
  5. MacGregor Point
  6. Rondeau
  7. Kakabeka Falls
  8. Presqu'ile
  9. Sibbald Point
  10. Wasaga Beach

Our Organization

Our Vision:

An exceptional system of provincial parks that inspires people to discover, enjoy, value, and protect forever.

Our Mission:

To protect provincially significant elements of Ontario’s natural and cultural landscape and maintain biodiversity while offering opportunities for inspiration, education, health, and recreational enjoyment; this is with the intention that these areas are/be managed to maintain their ecological integrity and preserved for future generations.

Ecological Integrity

An important component of Ontario Parks operating mandate is to maintain Ecological Integrity of the park’s system. Find out more at www.ontarioparks.com/ecologicalintegrity.

Objectives:

  • Protection: To permanently protect representative ecosystems, biodiversity, and provincially significant elements of Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage and to manage these areas to ensure that ecological integrity is maintained.
  • Recreation: To provide opportunities for ecologically-sustainable outdoor recreation and encourage associated economic benefits.
  • Education: To provide opportunities for residents of Ontario and visitors to increase their knowledge and appreciation of Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage.
  • Science: To facilitate scientific research and provide points of reference to support the monitoring of ecological change on the broader landscape.

Our History

The Ontario Parks system began its long and varied history in 1893 with the creation of Algonquin Provincial Park, originally designed to protect loggers’ interests from settlement and to protect the headwaters of several rivers. The management and creation of provincial parks came under the Department of Lands and Forests in 1954 and led to a period of accelerated park creation: a nine-fold increase in the number of parks over the next six years.

The history of Ontario's provincial parks stretches for over 125 years. Here are some of the important milestones.

  • 1893 - Algonquin created as a public park and forest reservation, fish and game preserve, health resort and pleasure ground.
  • 1894 - Rondeau becomes Ontario's second provincial park.
  • 1913 - The Parks Act sets aside land not suitable for agriculture or settlement.
  • 1954 - Ontario still has only 7 provincial parks: Algonquin, Quetico, Long Point, Rondeau, Presqu'ile, Lake Superior and Sibley (now known as Sleeping Giant). A Division of Parks is created within the Department of Lands and Forests. This heralds a new and aggressive program to create more parks, primarily on the Great Lakes and along northern tourism highways.
  • 1960 - There are now 45 provincial parks in Ontario, hosting over 5 million visitors annually.
  • 1967 - Ontario introduces a new policy that divides parks into specific categories, or classes, with compatible sets of uses.
  • 1970 - Polar Bear, Ontario's largest provincial park at 24,000 square kilometres, is created.
  • 1978 - Ontario Provincial Parks: Planning and Management Policies are approved by Cabinet. These policies are the basis for the first park system planning model in the world.
  • 1983 - The new land use planning system leads to the announcement of 155 new parks to be designated.
  • 1985 - There are now 212 parks in Ontario encompassing over 5.5 millions hectares.
  • 1993 - Ontario celebrates the centenary of the provincial parks system and Algonquin's 100th anniversary.
  • 1996- The provincial parks system adopts a new entrepreneurial operating model where revenue generated by parks can be reinvested in the parks system. This is symbolized by a new name, Ontario Parks, and a new visual identity.
  • 1996 - Ontario Parks partners with the Natural Conservancy of Canada to create Legacy 2000, a program to protect significant natural areas. Under this agreement more than 11,000 hectares are secured.
  • 1999 - Ontario's Living Legacy (OLL) is announced. This land use strategy identifies 378 new protected areas, including 61 new parks and 45 parks additions. OLL will protect over 2.4 million hectares of land, including additions to the provincial parks system of over 900,000 hectares.
  • 2007 - The new Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act was proclaimed. This is the first update of parks legislation since 1954 and marks a significant strengthening of the legislative framework for the management of the protected areas system in Ontario.
  • 2009 - Ontario now has a total of 328 provincial parks encompassing 7.9 million hectares – over 9 percent of the province's area.
  • 2011 – Six new protected areas were regulated in northwestern Ontario under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act. Five were identified as part of the approved land use strategy for the Whitefeather Forest (Keeping the Land 2006) . Management planning is ongoing in partnership with Pikangikum First Nation.
  • 2011 – The Learn to Camp program is launched and now operates in 9 provincial parks across Ontario. It has inspired and taught thousands to enjoy camping in Ontario Parks and beyond.
  • 2012 – New Welcome Centre was established at Wasaga Beach Provincial Park to celebrate the Bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the sinking of the HMS Nancy.
  • 2014 - Five New Parks were added to the Ontario parks system including on Manitoulin Island and in southeastern and southwestern Ontario.
  • 2014 - 50th Anniversary for Killarney and Pinery Provincial Parks.
  • 2015 – Ontario Parks launches “Healthy Parks Healthy People” initiative, working with many health-related organizations to support a worldwide movement working to promote and understand the link between a healthy environment and healthy society.
  • 2018 - 125th Anniversary of the Ontario Parks system.
  • 2019 – Ontario Parks celebrates the75th year of nature education in provincial parks.

Provincial Park Classes

Ontario Parks uses a classification system to divide the provincial parks into the following categories:

  1. Recreation class parks - typically have good beaches, many campgrounds and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. Most recreation parks provide services that may include toilets and showers, laundromats, discovery programs, playgrounds, boat launch facilities, hiking trails and picnic tables (e.g., Wasaga Beach, Sibbald Point).
  2. Cultural Heritage class parks - protect elements of Ontario’s distinctive cultural heritage in open space settings, for their intrinsic value and to support interpretation, education and research (e.g., Petroglyphs).
  3. Natural Environment class parks - protect outstanding recreational landscapes, representative ecosystems and provincially-significant elements of Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage and provide high-quality recreational and educational experiences (e.g., Algonquin, Lake Superior, Frontenac, Sandbanks).
  4. Nature Reserve class parks - protect representative ecosystems and provincially significant elements of Ontario’s natural heritage – including distinctive natural habitats and landforms – for their intrinsic value, to support scientific research and to maintain biodiversity.
  5. Waterway class parks - protect recreational water routes, representative land and water-based ecosystems, and associated natural and cultural features, to provide high-quality recreational and educational experiences (e.g., Missinaibi, French River).
  6. Wilderness class parks - are large areas that are left just as nature created them. Generally, motorized travel is not allowed in these parks (unless permitted by regulation). Here, visitors engage in low-impact recreation to experience personal challenge, solitude, and feel at one with nature (e.g., Polar Bear, Quetico, Killarney).