Story and Photography by Mike Grandmaison
Mention the name “Algonquin Provincial Park” and most people will surely recognize it. Mist rising from the calm waters of a northern lake, a lone moose feeding in a marsh by the roadside and dazzling autumn colours reflected in a quiet pond are all iconic images of the park many of us have entrenched in our memories. Established in 1893 to provide a wildlife sanctuary and to protect the headwaters of the five major rivers that flow from the park, Algonquin is Ontario’s oldest provincial park and one of the largest in the Ontario Parks system.
Back in the 19th century the massive, old-growth white and red pine trees were harvested to yield lumber for domestic use as well as to export to America and Great Britain. Later, homesteaders and farmers settled in the area up until a large portion of it was converted into a park. Even though Algonquin Park enjoys protection status, logging continues in its interior to this day. The park was initially promoted for its “restorative air” in a unique and exceptional location where patients suffering from tuberculosis and other serious ailments could recuperate. From 1896 to 1959, various rail companies operated within the park, which ultimately opened it up to the tourism industry. In 1908, the University of Toronto established its forestry research station in the park, about three years before the installation of telephone lines. Today, more than 800,000 people visit the park each year. While Algonquin Park was originally accessible only by train from Toronto, most visitors now see the park by way of the 56-km corridor of Hwy. 60. Numerous surveys repeatedly list Algonquin Park second as Canada’s Most Priceless National Park, behind Banff National Park.