Education the Ontario Parks Way!

School’s out but the fun is just beginning with education – Ontario Parks’ style! Since 1944, more than 70 million visitors have learned about the natural and cultural resources of their favourite provincial park though the Natural Heritage Education (NHE) program.

Professor J.R. Dymond, Head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto, had been working and holidaying in Algonquin Provincial Park for several years, when in 1942, he was asked to take a group of Boy Scouts on a hike along some nearby trails. Along the way he made use of the opportunity to tell the Scouts about the trees, wild flowers, birds, and anything else of interest that he found during their ramble. The outing was such a success, that the Smoke Lake nature hikes became a regular feature.

By 1955, full naturalist programs had been introduced in only two provincial parks; Algonquin and Rondeau. At the time, no other Canadian provincial park system had an interpretive program.

Interpretive programming offered challenges in the early years. During the 1962 and 1963 camping season at Lake Superior Provincial Park, interpretive programs were presented on the beach at the Agawa Bay Campground. The benches were driftwood logs, lugged from along the beach. The screen was a large sheet affair, laced between upright wooden poles. Power for the projector came from the Park Office via a series of extension cords, tied overhead in the trees. Campers seemed to enjoy this rustic, unique and picturesque setting.

Today, we have 43 parks that offer interpretive programs for our visitors. Last year, 2.8 million people took part in children’s programs, campfires, history plays, musical events, hiked trails and enjoyed visitor centres. Quite an accomplishment since 1944!