The Ontario Parks Discovery Program: 75 years in the making

In 1944, Algonquin Provincial Park decided to try something new.

They hired Professor J.R. Dymond, Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology, to deliver guided hikes for park visitors. Those first interpretive programs were a success and what would become the Ontario Parks Discovery Program was born.

Seventy-five years later, roughly 300 Discovery staff in over 70 parks continue to engage visitors with stories of Ontario’s natural and cultural heritage and encourage them to explore further.

New discoveries

It sounds cliché to say that a lot has changed since Dymond offered his first guided hike, but it’s true.

For example, in the past 75 years, technology has completely changed the way that we learn about and interact with the world – both physically and socially.

1953 – Doug Roseborough talking to group. Photo: Algonquin Park Museum

Before portable devices like cellphones and laptops, Discovery staff were often the only sources of information about a park’s natural and cultural heritage features. Now visitors bring Google in their pockets and can find the answers to their curiosities almost instantly.

So does the Discovery Program still have something to offer you?

Here are a few reasons why you might want to check out a program this summer:

  • to improve your connection to the park – Discovery staff often go to great lengths to plan and present interactive programs that connect you in meaningful ways to the special features protected in parks
  • to improve your overall experience – Discovery programs aim to offer fun, social, and unique experiences that can enhance your trip
  • to empower you to contribute to and protect these special places by participating in citizen science initiatives

Enhanced Discovery Program

Over 20 parks (see list below) offer an enhanced range of programs and services, including:

  • staff-led guided hikes
  • children’s programs
  • theatrical evening programs
  • canoe hikes
  • bioblitzes
  • self-use products like trail guides and signs
  • Visitor Centre exhibits
  • and much, much more.
canoe
Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park Visitor Centre (an example of a self-use products at one of our enhanced Discovery Program parks)

These parks have a full team of Discovery staff, lead by experienced naturalists and interpreters. They have expertise in various areas from birds and amphibians to history and are ready to answer your questions in person or through #AskanOPnaturalist.

Discovery Drop-in Program

Other parks (see list below) have one or two student Discovery staff that specifically offer Discovery Drop-ins for families with children.

staff leading Discovery Program

These drop-ins offer a flexible time frame for families to stop by, pick up tools and tips for exploring the topic of the day (such as Amazing Amphibians!), and explore alongside our Discovery Guides.

Programs are usually concentrated in the summer months of July and August. However, some of our enhanced Discovery Program parks offer additional programs in the spring and fall.

The best way to find out about programs in advance of visiting a park is to check the park’s social media platforms for program posters, visit the Ontario Parks events page, or simply call the park.

Behind the scenes… introducing our new blog series

Over the coming weeks and months, our dedicated Discovery Program staff will be taking you behind the scenes of some of their favourite interpretive programs.

2018 – A Discovery Guide and visitor observing an insect during a Discovery Drop-in at Silent Lake Provincial Park

Other blogs will feature personal stories and unique experiences that highlight the passion, dedication and expertise of these interpretive naturalists.

Enhanced Discovery Program Parks:

Discovery Drop-in Program Parks:

Happy exploring and discovering this summer!