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On Canada's Water: Parks Canada Celebrates New Beginnings

This month, come celebrate Parks Canada's centennial by visiting four national marine conservation areas (NMCA):  Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, and Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site. These areas represent a new chapter in the Parks Canada network of national parks and national historic sites, and they encompass both vast natural features as well as unique cultural heritage.  The Canadian Register of Historic Places celebrates Parks Canada's centennial by looking back at Canada's marine heritage associated with these NMCAs.

A century ago, tourists travelling by passenger ship experienced vast waterways, recording their impressions of seas and lakes in their diaries.  Just imagine yourself travelling then... Springtime in 1911 and you are a well-to-do English woman who wants to travel across Canada. You hear that Canadian Pacific Railway is promoting travel by rail and steamship. You read the catchy slogans: Spans the World!  World's Greatest Travel System! The New Highway to the Orient! You see colourful posters, and the romance of travel excites you.  You contact your local CPR passenger agent to book your trip.

You receive a ticket and the following letter: Ronald Inness, LAC e004665747

You board your ship on May 7, 1911, and during the four days at sea, you purchase a leather bound travel diary. You start taking notes towards the end of the passage. The diary has the following embossed title:

My Cruise Round the World with Empress of Ireland and Other CPR Steamships, 1911-1912

May 11, 12pm ...After uneventful passage across Atlantic, now sailing down St. Lawrence River... As the vessel rounds the Gaspé Peninsula I glimpse a pod of white whales known as "belugas"... Continued on past Rimouski, Trois Pistoles, and the lighthouses on Ile Rouge and Ile Verte, the first lighthouse built along the St. Lawrence. Ille Rouge Lighthouse / Phare de l'île Rouge (LAC/BAC 164480)

May 11, 2pm...Nearing the confluence of the St. Lawrence and Saguenay Rivers, vessel slowed considerably and I noticed shipping traffic had significantly increased...I approached a gentleman to inquire about the sudden maritime activity. ..He informed me the most likely reason for the traffic would be the booming lumber industry along the Saguenay and Chicoutimi Rivers...Pulp and paper mills in the area are dependent on water for power and for shipping goods...The recently opened Chicoutimi Pulp Mill is thriving and quickly becoming the largest producer of pulp in the country...At these words the man chuckled and added that he hoped his new mills in the Beauce Region and in Maine would give the Compaginie de pulpe de Chicoutimi a run for its money.

At the mouth of the Saguenay River we pass a stunning village, which my CPR Guidebook says is Tadoussac, the site of a 17th-century French trading post and the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Canada…the stark contrast between the vivid, green landscape, the deep, blue waters, and the small, red and white chapel is absolutely stunning…I hope these vistas are preserved for many years to come.

Took in this beautiful scenery length of the trip...arrived in bustling Quebec City.

You receive another letter about the rest of your journey, which you place in your travel diary: Canadian Pacific Archives BR 109

May 15, 2 pm...Whirlwind days in Quebec and Toronto now over...though enjoyable, delighted to be on the fast train to Owen Sound...

May 15, 4pm...Everything has worked like clockwork... Owen Sound has been CPR's steamship headquarters since service began on May 11, 1884.  This was once the only Canadian link between the two finished sections of the railway at that time...S.S. Assiniboia is one of five CPR steamships providing service five days a week to "The Lakehead" on the western shores of Lake Superior...

May 15, 6 pm...Wandering around ship...lovely staterooms on two decks, a flower lounge two decks high with stained glass skylight!  Lots of potted plants, dining saloon with seating for over a 100 people...a ballroom lounge... There are apparently 300 people on board, mostly immigrants heading west to settle on the Prairies...CPR guidebook tells me that journey by rail along the north shore of Lake Superior takes 100 hours from Toronto to The Lakehead, compared to less than 48 scenic hours on the water...what speed!

May 15, 7 pm...Have sailed past numerous other passenger and packet freighters and am told there are over 100 of these ships sailing these waters...what a busy place!  We pass several lighthouses at edge of Georgian Bay and Lake Huron...Griffith Island, Big Tub, Flowerpot Island, Cove Island names... built by Canadian government between 1855 and 1885 to guide ships through fog and past dangerous shoals...numerous schooners still wrecked...scenic islands dot the spectacular blue-green waters here...water very shallow, CPR guidebook says, only five fathoms...here is a postcard  of the Flower Pot lighthouse:

... I notice a young man on board who stands on the main deck with his paints, brush and easel who seems very inspired by the scenery...he is at my dinner table later and is introduced to us as Mr. Lawren Harris.   Overnight, ship heads northwest, passing Manitoulin Island...guided by lighthouses and mournful fog horn in Mississagi Straight...sails through Sault Saint Marie Canal (built 1894) which links Lake Huron with Lake Superior. .. Here is a photo of the canal:Sault Canal / Canal Sault (1911)

May 16, 10 am...Lake Superior: A vast inland sea...huge!...though lots of other ships plying these waters, feels like we're the only boat  here...a clear calm morning, apparently a rarity in these parts...

...see the north shore on the horizon...friendly CPR crew member reminds me that on this date in 1885 - that's just twenty six years ago! he says - the last spike of the Ontario portion of the railway was driven down near the small town of Schreiber ...my CPR guidebook says this  ended a number of extremely difficult years for the CPR... tracks and other supplies  shipped in to small ports such as Rossport, Nipigon, and Terrace Bay, construction involved blasting away sheer rock faces, building tunnels, and spanning rivers with long trestle bridges... lighthouses then built...such achievements make one happy to be part of this new, more modern age...railway finally linked isolated communities across Canada helping to open up this relatively inaccessible region to logging, fishing, and mining interests....

May 16, 5pm...the painter Harris seems inspired by landscape and is painting vigorously; hear him exclaim that we'll soon pass the wild forested peninsula called the "Sleeping Giant."

...my CPR guidebook says there was silver mining here in the 1870s...also says we might see some aboriginals in their canoes...haven't seen any yet...how have all these changes affected these people?  Such stark beauty! How could anyone apart from the birds and fish live in this wild watery place?

May 17, 8 am...Finally, arrive in Port Arthur....After comparative solitude of the lake, this bustling travel hub and commercial gateway comes as a surprise!  While leaving my ship, am intrigued by an octagonal Asian-inspired pagoda with a carved beaver! Canadian Pacific Archives A6399

I am sitting in my launching point for the West: cosmopolitan Union Station, which my CPR guidebook says was built only last year in 1910...it has a lovely garden out front filled with pansies beginning to bloom in the May sunshine...

May 20, 8pm...Uneventful trip across the Prairies to Vancouver with brief stop at bustling Winnipeg Railway Station ...stayed overnight at the "Europe Hotel" in Gastown, a neighbourhood in booming Vancouver...boarding the Princess Charlotte this afternoon for three day journey to Prince Rupert...Now aboard  the ship and following lush British Columbia coastline, advancing north via famed "Inside Passage" towards Prince Rupert.

May 23, 10am...Was gazing out across Hecate Strait and suddenly became mesmerized by larger group of islands off in distance...As I looked out over the water, a peculiar young woman appeared by my side...she proceeded to tell me the most wonderful stories about her visits to northern aboriginal villages and showed me sketches and paintings of her travels...she was on her way to the Queen Charlotte Islands, known as Haida Gwaii, to document the life and culture of the Haida people who had inhabited the islands for over 10,000 years...she hoped to visit the remaining traditional villages and longhouses and learn more about Haida culture, a way of life endlessly connected to the water, trees, and mountains.Princess Charlotte (Simplon Postcards)

May 23, 4pm...Vessel approaching Prince Rupert Harbour, near here is the fish cannery known as the North Pacific Canning Company; and we pass by a lighthouse on Triple Island ...As this leg of the journey comes to a close, I wonder if future travellers will experience the beauty and grandeur of this great marine adventure?

And today, you too can follow the voyage of our 1911 tourist.

On the St. Lawrence River near the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park, you would still see some of the same wild-looking landscape, reverting back to a more natural state after many years of intensive resource extraction.  You might want to stop at the museum near the wreck of the Empress of Ireland.  The ship is now a national historic site, and is a wreck below water due to a July 1914 collision with another ship in thick fog.

On the Great Lakes, you would still see some of the same lighthouses, and in Fathom Five National Marine Park, you might go diving below the NMCA's famed blue-green waters to see shipwrecks.   Though a century of mining, logging, and fishing have occurred on Lake Superior, it is still a relatively unspoiled and quiet place.  Near Rossport, the August 1911 shipwreck of the Gunilda is now preserved within the boundaries of Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and heritage lighthouses -  including Battle Island Light Station - are on islands in the NMCA.  Drive the Trans-Canada highway along the lake's edge or hike along the nearby Voyageur Trail, and you will see railway stations preserved in places like Schreiber, aboriginal activities commemorated near Pic River and see the inspiring CPR engineering work of the trestle rail bridge over Nipigon River near Nipigon.  The bustling city of Thunder Bay still welcomes weary travellers, and is now one of the official Parks Canada gateways to the marine conservation area.

On the coast of British Columbia, you can take a ship - either a giant cruise liner or smaller provincial ferry or state ferry - north through the "inside passage" to Prince Rupert and then on to Alaska.   Despite numerous gold rushes and tourist ships passing by over the past century, the coastal waters and islands are still relatively untouched.  The recently established Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, off the Queen Charlotte Islands, protects land, water and aboriginal heritage.  This unique and all-encompassing protective status may be a step towards how future NMCA's in Canada are established.  The near future belongs to the designation and protection of new NMCA's, where new experiences await our discovery!