Canada’s wild places and us.

Female hiker in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Every time I find myself returning home to Canada, I am awed by the vast open spaces we have here. Every. Single. Time. The contrast with the high human density common in most other places around the world is stark, and this uniquely shapes both the land and all of us creatures who call Canada home.

Even today, in our modern world, the word Canada conjures up strong images in our minds of expansive landscapes. In this there is a shared national identity amongst diverse multiculturalism; we are proud of our wilderness in a world where it is becoming rarer.

July 1st marks 150 years since Canada’s founding, when people of diverse stripes and colors came together in union to form a country. While the timeline since then certainly hasn’t been without its fair share of bumps, it is still a milestone worth acknowledging and using as a point of union in a time where there is a lot of division both globally and nationally. In acknowledgement of this shared cultural identity around our wild places, the federal government has waived fees to all the protected national parks for this anniversary year so that all may get out to experience them. People have praised this decision, but I have held my breath.

I love our Canadian wilderness and truly wish everyone could experience it intimately. In fact, this was one of the reasons I originally picked up a camera – to show others beautiful corners of the country they never even knew existed and inspire them to explore it as well. The unspoken assumption that accompanies this wish is that anyone who chooses to venture to these protected pieces of nature do so responsibly. There is a reason these places are protected, and that is because they are fragile.

On a normal year, Canada’s national parks are already beyond their capacity during peak months; available campsites are rare, traffic jams around wildlife are common and often accompanying troublesome baiting or pursuit, and people leave much more than footprints with trash and even graffiti. With free access opening the park gates to higher numbers of tourists, who may or may not have the knowledge necessary to respectfully interact with our national treasures, I worry about the damage that may be inflicted on already fragile ecosystems for years to come.

We need to be in good relationship with the land and that needs to be rooted in reverence and respect. Whatever your experience level may be, never assume you know better because there is always room for better understanding. To respect nature is to abandon any acquisitional expectations we might have from it; animals are not there to perform with you and Mother Nature’s diverse moods will change quickly with no heed to your safety on the trail. Instead, enter a place as an open minded guest and accept whatever experience chance happens to deal you. Bear witness without exuding control or influence (pun intended).

The responsibility for our actions, in all our interactions, falls firmly on our own shoulders. The preserved wild places that exist are an inheritance from those who came before us, but they’re also what we will pass on to the next generation.