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The Government of Ontario recognized the importance of protecting wilderness and scenic places for reasons of conservation and tourism.  As early as the 1880s it passed legislation to establish parks.  

Not surprisingly, Niagara Falls was first to catch the government’s attention. In 1885 the Niagara Falls Park Act for the “Preservation of the Natural Scenery” was passed to create the Niagara Falls Park Commission and Queen Victoria Park was established shortly afterwards with gardens, walkways, and facilities. And it has been a favourite tourist destination ever since.



Click to see a larger image (111K)
Tourists in front of the falls, Niagara Falls, 1959
Department of Travel and Publicity, Publicity Branch
Transparency
Reference Code: RG 65-35-3, 11764-X3494-1
Archives of Ontario, I0005638

Photo: Tourists in front of the falls, Niagara Falls, 1959

Photo: Niagara Falls, Ontario, [ca. 1890]
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Niagara Falls, Ontario, [ca. 1890]
Josiah Bruce
Black and white print
Reference Code: F 1125-1-0-0-115
Archives of Ontario, I0001877

The first provincial parks were set up in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Algonquin Park was created in 1893 as "a public park and forest reservation, fish and game preserve, health resort and pleasure ground."  

Tom Thomson, a close associate of the artists who would form the Group of Seven, was one of many to be possessed by the rugged landscape of its rocky ridges, tall pines, and numerous lakes and rivers. The artist, Paraskeva Clark, also found Algonquin Park captivating.

Oil on canvas: Algonquin Morning, 1954
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Algonquin Morning, 1954
Paraskeva Clark (1898-1986)
Oil on canvas
Government of Ontario Art Collection, 619709

Photo: Tom Thomson on Canoe Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park, [ca. 1916]
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Tom Thomson on Canoe Lake, Algonquin
Provincial Park, [ca. 1916]
Photographer unknown
William Colgate Collection
Reference Code: F 1066-6
Archives of Ontario, I0010309

Map of Algonquin National Park of Ontario
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Map of Algonquin National Park of Ontario
"Prepared to accompany Report of Park Commissioners
to the Honourable A. S. Hardy, Commissioner
of Crown Lands, 1893." 1893
Department of Crown Lands and Resources Records
Reference Code: RG 1, B-43-06
Archives of Ontario, AO2903

The video clip below from the 1952 film, Sprit of Algonquin, introduces the setting of the park.
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For Windows Media Player 610K 1.31Mb 4.17Mb
For Quicktime Player 1.72Mb 4.86Mb 12.13Mb

Spirit of Algonquin, 1962
Ontario Department of Travel & Publicity
16mm colour film
Reference Code : RG 5-2-0-18
Archives of Ontario

sprockets
Video Clip: Spirit of Algonquin, 1962
sprockets
Other parks soon followed: Rondeau on Lake Erie (1894) excellent for camping, hunting and picnics; Quetico Provincial Park west of Lake Superior (1913), a remote and primeval wilderness; Long Point Provincial Park in Lake Erie, now a refuge and stopping place for migrating birds.

Photo: Beach at Rondeau Park, [ca. 1925]
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Beach at Rondeau Park, [ca. 1925]
Ministry of Education
Black and white print
Reference Code: RG 2-71, COR-15
Archives of Ontario, I0012480

Video Clip: Ontario Sun Parlour [1959?]
Click below to view this clip.
For Windows Media Player 268K 585K 1.87Mb
For Quicktime Player 776K 2.18Mb 5.43Mb

Ontario Sun Parlour [1959?]
Ontario Department of Travel & Publicity
16mm colour film
Reference Code : RG 5-2-0-13
Archives of Ontario

Aerial view of the lakes and forests of Quetico Provincial Park, 1958
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Aerial view of the lakes and forests of Quetico
Provincial Park, 1958
Department of Travel and Publicity, Publicity Branch
Transparency
Reference Code: RG 65-35-3, 11764-3318-1
Archives of Ontario, I0005609

The idea of a parks system was formalized in the Ontario Parks Act of 1913.  By the 1950s there were 8 provincial parks: Algonquin, Quetico, Long Point, Rondeau, Presqu’ile, Ipperwash, Lake Superior and Sibley (Sleeping Giant).

Photo: A camp scene at Quetico Park, [ca. 1920]
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A camp scene at Quetico Park, [ca. 1920]
Ministry of Education
Black and white print
Reference Code: RG 2-71-C0Q-4
Archives of Ontario, I0004156

Photo: Silver Falls, Quetico Provincial Park, 1958
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Silver Falls, Quetico Provincial Park, 1958
Department of Travel and Publicity, Publicity Branch
Reference Code: RG 65-35-3, 11764-3316
Archives of Ontario, I0005608

Photo: Picnickers at Aubrey Falls, Aubrey Falls Provincial Park in Algoma, 1952
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Picnickers at Aubrey Falls, Aubrey Falls
Provincial Park in Algoma, 1952
Department of Travel and Publicity, Publicity Branch
Reference Code: RG 65-35-3, 11764-X2562
Archives of Ontario, I0005525

In 1954, in response to a heightened demand for more recreational areas, Ontario set up the Parks Branch.

The next 20 years saw the creation of nearly 100 new parks for recreation and conservation.

Click to see a larger image (120K)
View of Sauble Falls, Sauble Beach Provincial Park, Bruce Peninsula, 1960
Department of Travel and Publicity, Publicity Branch
Transparency
Reference Code: RG 65-35-3, 11764-X4418
Archives of Ontario, I0005758

Photo: View of Sauble Falls, Sauble Beach Provincial Park, Bruce Peninsula, 1960