May 24, 2011
Parks And Recollection
In 1985, my mom took us on a vacation – the family road trip, one repeated too many times to count in this country – to the Canadian Rockies. I was nine years old, had never seen the mountains. Although this experience was checked off my kiddie-size bucket list just south of the border in Montana, it was time spent in the five iconic Rocky Mountain national parks (Waterton Lakes, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho) that set in stone for myself a lifelong fascination with our national parks. An oversized, dog-eared coffee table book on Canada's national parks arrived for my birthday soon after this trip, a gift bought with cash sent from my grandparents. I was hooked.
Our family vacation, taken after Labour Day in place of my first two weeks of Grade 5 – on a shoestring budget outside of peak season (kids don't care, and... ooh! the Lake Louise hostel has a pool!) – opened my eyes to the size of the country. Previously, any personal real-life grasp of Canadian geography extended to Manitoban day-trips and visits to my dad in southern Ontario. To his great credit, he took me to Point Pelee to satisfy my rapidly-developing childhood birdwatching jones, and to Flowerpot Island, to witness incredible quirks of geology.
Some of my greatest stick-with-me moments have happened in these places. My Crayolas, melting on our car's dash while I day-hiked with my family in Waterton (I got in shit for that from mom). A four-hour bike ascent to the base of Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper (and 30-minute comfort cruise back down). Beachcombing with Kerry and my mom – and a few hundred migrating sandpipers – at Kejimkujik's seaside adjunct (after sneaking behind the lines of trail closure signs). Leaping to high heavens as a frightened moose crashed from the bushes metres away in Gros Morne. Watching Kerry on the dock at Riding Mountain's Kinosao Lake, the entire scene quiet as a mouse. Kerry and I dropping from exhaustion after our trek to Crypt Lake. Playing park rangers together on a backcountry hike last summer. We would have gotten engaged on Bruce Peninsula, had a thunderstorm not rolled in and delayed my requirement for the perfect moment (which happened the next day in the unholy sanctity of – gasp! – a provincial park).
I sometimes like to think, as well, that the parks even had a hand in my becoming a designer. I quickly became fascinated with the 1980s-era mini-brochures, that visitors would receive on entering any given park, themselves a take on the Unigrid-and-Helvetica materials of the U.S. Parks Service. I collected them, marveled in their continuity. I could draw the old beaver logo from memory, a symbol, in my mind, as much a part of Canadiana as the CN doodle or CBC burst. I'd wonder why the rest of the world couldn't adopt clean, common signage design like the brown-and-gold world inside a national park.
This year, the Canadian national parks service turns 100 years old. And I'm happy about it. There are not too many things that make me as openly patriotic. Gros Morne, Cape Breton Highlands, Kejimkujik, Fundy, Point Pelee, Georgian Bay Islands, Bruce Peninsula, Riding Mountain, Waterton Lakes, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho – that's my list. It should be greater, and it will be in time. There's too great a desire in me to watch waves crash in Pacific Rim, scan the expanse (and four trees, total) of Grasslands, or to somehow reach the high Arctic and truly get lost.