Algonquin Provincial Park is a provincial park located between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River in central Ontario. It is the first provincial park in Canada having been established in 1893. It covers about 7630 square kilometers. Its size, combined with its proximity to the major urban centres of Toronto and Ottawa make it one of the most popular Provincial parks in the province and moreover the entire country. Highway 60 runs through the south of the park, while the Trans-Canada Highway bypasses it to the north. Over 2400 lakes and 1200 kilometres of streams and rivers are located within the park, including Canoe Lake and the Petawawa, Nipissing, Amable du Fond, Madawaska, and Tim rivers. These were formed by the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age.
Algonquin Park was named a national historic site in 1992 in recognition of several heritage values, including: its role in the development of park management; pioneering visitor interpretation programs later adopted by national and provincial parks across the country; its role in inspiring artists, which in turn gave Canadians a greater sense of their country; and historic structures such as lodges, hotels, cottages, camps, entrance gates, a railroad station, and administration and museum buildings.
The park is in an area of transition between northern coniferous forest and southern deciduous forest. This unique mixture of forest types, and the wide variety of environments in the park, allows the park to support an uncommonly wide variety of plant and animal species. It is also an important site for wildlife research.
In the 19th century, the logging industry harvested the large white pine and red pine trees, to produce lumber for domestic and American markets, as well as square timber for export to Great Britain. They were followed by small numbers of Homesteaders and farmers. But the area's beauty was also recognized by nature preservationists.
To manage these conflicting interests, the Ontario Government appointed a commission to inquire into and report on the matter. The act to establish Algonquin Park was drawn up in 1892 by this five member Royal Commission, made up of Alexander Kirkwood (the chairman and Commissioner of Crown Lands), James Dickson (Ontario Land Surveyor), Archibald Blue (director of mines), Robert Phipps (head of the Forestry Branch), and Aubrey White (Assistant Commissioner of Crown Lands). Their report recommended that the park should be established in the territory lying near and enclosing the headwaters of five major rivers, those being: the Muskoka, Madawaska (including Opeongo), Amable du Fond, Petawawa and South rivers.
The commissioners remarked in their report: "the experience of older countries had everywhere shown that the wholesale and indiscrimate slaughter of forests brings a host of evils in its train. Wide tracts are converted from fertile plains into arid desert, springs and streams are dried up, and the rainfall, instead of percolating gently through the forest floor and finding its way by easy stages by brook and river to the lower levels, now descends the valley in hurrying torrents, carrying before it tempestuous floods."
Although much of the area within Algonquin had been under licence for some time, it was intended to make the park an example of good forestry practices. Only licences to cut pine would be issued. The commissioners had recommended that when the hardwood was mature, it too should be cut.
An Act to establish "Algonquin National Park of Ontario" was passed by the Liberal government of Oliver Mowat in the Ontario Legislature, May 23, 1893(56 Vic.,c.8). Although called a "National park", Algonquin has always been under the jurisdiction of the provincial government. No provincial parks existed until Algonquin, but there was a new movement to create national parks since Banff's establishment in 1885. The name was changed to Algonquin Provincial Park in 1913.
The boundaries of the Park included 18 townships within the District of Nipissing, covering an area of 3797 km² (1,466 square miles) of which 10% was under water. The tract of land was to be set apart, as a public park, health resort and pleasure ground for the benefit, advantage and enjoyment of all the people of the province. The year following the park's creation saw portions of six new townships added to the existing park's boundaries (Paxton, McCroney, Finlayson, Butt, Ballantyne, and Boyd). The first four were put up for auction that same year. The production of the lumber companies operating in the park at the time increased from 680,000 m³ (288 million board feet) in 1886 to 809,000 m³ (343 million board feet) in 1896.
Peter Thomson, the first chief ranger of Algonquin Park, was responsible for establishing park boundaries, constructing buildings, and posting notices to warn hunters and trappers against trespass. He liaised with timber operators, oversaw the removal of settlers and their homes, and notified local Algonquin natives that they could no longer hunt or trap in the area.
Park rangers began patrolling the park, the game protected, and forest fires were suppressed. By 1910 wildlife numbers were increasing. Thousands of people had visited the great pleasure resort and it was said to be undeniably one of the most beautiful natural parks in the Dominion, if not on this continent." All this had entailed a large expenditure by the government, which was recovered chiefly through the maintenance of timber licences. There was no fee for camping permits, though a nominal charge was introduced for fishing and guides' licences when "An Act to establish the Algonquin National Park of Ontario" was again passed by the legislature, March 19, 1910. This new legislation included the original area as well as portions of ten townships annexed into the park since 1893, and allowed for further expansion by the addition of adjacent townships, should it become necessary.
Construction of the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway (O. A. & P. S.) through the park in 1896 provided the first easy access to the area. While the park’s purpose was to control settlement within its boundaries, the families of railway workers as well as those of the lumbermen took up residence in the park. The village of Mowat on the west side of Canoe Lake was first established in 1893 as a logging camp for the Gilmour Lumber Company. From there, logs were driven down the Oxtongue River towards Lake of Bays and eventually on to Trenton. In the same year the park headquarters was established near the logging camp. The arrival of the railway had provided easy access for the lumbermen as well. The Gilmour firm decided to put up a sawmill closer to their source of timber. By 1897 the village of Mowat had grown to 500 residents and there were eighteen km of railway siding.
The same year saw the official opening of the railway between Ottawa and Depot Harbour. Park headquarters were also relocated in 1897 from Mowat to a point of land on the north shore of Cache Lake, adjacent to the railway. The O. A. & P. S. put up a station there it named Algonquin Park. The railway, taken over by the Canada Atlantic Railway in 1899, was in turn sold to the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) in 1905.
In 1898 George W. Bartlett was appointed as the second superintendent of Algonquin Park, replacing the late Peter Thompson. Placed under the direction of the Premier of Ontario to make the park self-sufficient, Bartlett worked to make the park more attractive to tourists by encouraging short-term leases for cottages, lodges and camps. Changes came about in 1908, when Hotel Algonquin was opened at Joe Lake. The Grand Trunk Railway opened its first hotel, the Highland Inn, near Park Headquarters. Built on a hill behind Algonquin Park station, the two-storey year-round resort was an immediate success. Soon other guest lodges were established in the park. To the west side of Highland Inn, land was cleared and raised wooden platforms erected, on which tents (supplied by the hotel), were put up to meet the requirements the rapidly growing tourist trade.
At the village of Mowat, abandoned by Gilmour Lumber Co. in 1900, the mill’s former boarding house became Mowat Lodge in 1913. The Highland Inn was enlarged, and new camps were built. Nominigan Camp, consisting of a main lodge with six cabins of log construction, was established on Smoke Lake. Camp Minnesing on Burnt Island Lake was created as a wilderness lodge. Both, only open in July and August, were built by the GTR as affiliates of the Highland Inn.
A second railway, the Canadian Northern (CNoR), was built across the northern portion of the park, opening in 1915. Both lines later became part of Canadian National Railways. The beginning of the end of rail service in the park happened in 1933 when a flood damaged an old Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway trestle on Cache lake. The trestle was deemed too dangerous to use and too expensive to fix, ending through service on the southern line (old O.A. & P.S.). Service from the west ended in 1952, and from the east in 1959. Service on the old Canadian Northern (CNoR) line through the north end of the park ended in 1995. Many of the trails in the park still make use of portions of the old railway rights-of-way.
As recreational use of the park increased during the 1950’s and 60’s, it became clear that a long-term plan to manage the park was required. Six years of consultation with the various users of the park resulted in the 1974 publication of the Algonquin Master Plan, a management plan that sought to ensure that the park could continue indefinitely to serve all of the competing park interests. Three major changes came about as a result of the plan. One, the park was divided into zones with different specified purposes and uses: Nature Reserve and Historic (5.7% of land area), Wilderness (12%), Development (4.3%) and Recreation-Utilization (78%) zones. Logging in the park is limited to the Recreation-Utilization zones, but is separated as much as possible from users of the park interior in order to maintain the park's natural environment. Each year only a small percentage of the park is being actively logged. Two, all existing timber licenses were cancelled, and all logging in the park is now done by the Algonquin Logging Authority, which supplies timber to 10 private mills outside the park. Three, rules were put in place to limit the impact of recreational use of the park. Almost all cans and bottles are banned in the interior, and limits are placed on the number of people per campsite, and the number of people who can enter the park interior per day at each access point. Also the use of boat motors is limited, both in horsepower and to a few of the larger and more accessible lakes. The master plan has been reviewed and updated four times since 1974, with the latest version being published in 1998.
Because of the area's beauty, it became recognized by nature preservationists. It quickly became popular with anglers, though hunting was prohibited, except through the lens of a camera. The beauty of Algonquin Park attracted artists such as Tom Thomson along with members of the Group of Seven, who found the landscape inspiring. Thomson served as a guide in the park, often working from Mowat Lodge. He did much of his painting at Canoe Lake, a favorite campsite was behind Hayhurst Point, a peninsula overlooking the central portion of the lake. He died under mysterious circumstances at Canoe Lake in 1917. A plaque recognizing his national historic significance stands at the Visitor Center dock on Canoe Lake, erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. A cairn and totem pole memorial erected by friends of the painter, stands on Hayhurst Point, near the north end of the lake.
Algonquin is popular for year-round outdoor activities. There are over 1,200 campsites in 8 designated campgrounds along Highway 60 in the south end of the park, with almost 100 others in 3 other campgrounds across the northern and eastern edges. There is also the Whitefish Lake group campground with 18 sites of various sizes to accommodate groups of 20, 30, or 40 people. It is also possible to camp further inside the park in sites accessible only by canoe or on foot. Other activities include fishing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross country skiing. Algonquin is also home to a very popular Natural Heritage Education program, the most popular program being the weekly wolf howls on Thursdays in the month of August, and sometimes in the first week of September if there is a Thursday before Labour Day, weather and wolves permitting. Park staff attempt to locate a pack Wednesday evening and if successful, they announce a public wolf howl the next day. The park has 19 interpretive trails, ranging in length from 0.8 km to 13 km. Each trail comes with a trail guide and is meant to introduce you to a different aspect of the park's ecology or history. The park also publishes a visitor's newsletter, The Raven, 12 times a year between late April and early September.
Interior campsites can vary widely, and aside from the historic ranger cabins none have any permanent shelter. Sufficient bad-weather gear (tents, tarps, etc) should be brought so the trip can remain enjoyable in the face of less-than-perfect weather. All campsites have prepared firepits, which should be the only location used for campfires. Fires made in non-prepared sites can cause underground roots to burn, allowing the fire to slowly spread underground and making it very difficult to extinguish. Park rules and suggestions for gear can be found on the reverse of the official Algonquin Park map.
Interior camping can provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The eerie call of the common loon can be heard from every campground and loons can be seen on almost every lake. Moose, deer, and beaver can often be seen, especially along waterways, given sufficiently quiet campers. Black bears, although present in the park, are seldom seen, especially if appropriate precautions to avoid attracting them are taken. Wolves may be heard, but will likely remain distant from campers.
Algonquin Park has been an important arena for research since the 1930’s. Four research facilities exist: Harkness Laboratory of Fisheries Research, Wildlife Research Station, Timber Research Station, and the Visitor Center. Over 1800 scientific papers have been published on research done in the park, covering almost every aspect of the park: wildlife, geology, forestry, history, human impacts, etc.
Also, the remote location and reasonably easy access from the National Research Council's Ottawa base of operations made the Park a natural location for an eastern radio telescope, built in 1959 as the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO). Although radio astronomy is not as active a field of research as it was in the 1950s and 60s, the ARO continues operation today.
Camps are members of the Ontario Camping Association.
Common Shrew, Smoky Shrew, Water Shrew, Pigmy Shrew, Short-tailed Shrew, Hairy-tailed Mole, Star-nosed Mole, Little Brown Bat, Northern Long-eared Bat, Silver-haired Bat, Hoary Bat, Snowshoe Hare, Eastern Chipmunk, Least Chipmunk, Woodchuck, Grey Squirrel, American Red Squirrel, Northern Flying Squirrel, American Beaver, Deer Mouse, White-footed Mouse, Gapper’s Red-backed Vole, Southern Bog Lemming, Muskrat, Meadow Vole, Rock Vole, House Mouse, Meadow Jumping Mouse, Woodland Jumping Mouse, Porcupine, eastern Canadian wolf, Red Fox, American Black Bear, Raccoon, American Marten, Fisher, Ermine, Long-tailed Weasel, American Mink, Striped Skunk, Northern River Otter, Lynx, White-tailed Deer and Moose.
More information on the plants and animals of Algonquin Park is available from the The Friends of Algonquin Park