By Jack Newton
Canada, now celebrating its 150 anniversary, has been ‘my home and native land’ for 61 years. Indeed, I have fond memories of attending Canada’s 100th birthday celebrations at the Expo ’67 world fair in Montreal. Was that really 50 years ago?
Milestones provoke contemplation, and so I pause to reflect on the meaning of Canada. Laudable Canadian virtues include civility, responsibility and the rule of law. But I believe that our country is defined first and foremost by geography. And I have seen the glory.
I have sailed our west coast seas punctuated by mountainous islands, canoed wild rivers that traverse our Arctic barren lands, fished rockbound lakes of our Canadian Shield, hiked cliff trails of our eastern fiords and enjoyed cultural pursuits offered within our cities. Yet for me, the Canadian Rockies represent my Canada more than anywhere else.
Banff was established as Canada’s first national park in 1885, and despite many visits I am still drawn to the park’s birthplace exhibits, boardwalks and hot springs at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site. Canadians everywhere cherish their history and protected lands. Today our country boasts 38 national parks and 171 Parks Canada administered national heritage sites. This year you can see them all without paying an entrance fee.
Our fathers of confederation tabled a vision of Canada as a country spanning sea to sea. But it took the pledge of a transcontinental railway to secure the participation of our westernmost province, British Columbia. The conditions were ripe for Canadian Pacific Railway president William Cornelius Van Horne to lay the foundation our Canadian Rockies tourism industry.
Van Horne built grand hotels and alpinist lodges for well-heeled rail travellers assuming they would find luxury amenities combined with mountain adventure to be a compelling mix. The plan worked. Noting “If you can’t export the scenery, we’ll import the tourists,” Van Horne created the commercial model that drives the economies of our mountain towns even now.
Today there are hundreds of accommodation and restaurant options in our mountain parks. But when I want to impress visiting friends and family, the iconic railway hotels Banff Springs Hotel, Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Lodge (now operated by Fairmont) are top-of-mind.
But I will honour Canada 150 with more than passive appreciation. A hundred and fifty years ago indigenous residents and European adventures traversed up Canadian Rockies trails, peaks and waterways. So I will follow in their footsteps and recreate their paddle strokes. Hiking, horseback riding, climbing and river running are popular pursuits still, and they are as Canadian as maple syrup.
The fanfare associated with Canada 150 in the Canadian Rockies and elsewhere across the nation is an expression of patriotism, and a way to showcase our history, culture and achievements. More importantly for me, Canada 150 confirms my quiet satisfaction at being Canadian. Above all, I am grateful for the life this country allows me to live and the opportunities it provides for my children.
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