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Ontario Parks is the branch of the Ministry of Natural Resources that administers the provincial parks in Ontario. The Ontario Parks system covers over 78,000 km2 (30,460sq mi), about 10% of the province’s surface area or the equivalent of an area approximately equal to Nova Scotia. The Ontario Parks system is often used as the model for other parks systems in North America. This can be attributed to its delicate balance of recreation, preservation, and conservation. Many parks in Ontario also offer a Natural Heritage Education program.

Ontario Parks’ mandate is to protect significant natural and cultural resources in a system of parks and protected areas that is sustainable and provides opportunities for inspiration, enjoyment and education: now and for future generations.


Parks administered by Parks Canada:

  • Bruce Peninsula National Park
  • Fathom Five National Marine Park
  • Georgian Bay Islands National Park
  • Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area
  • Point Pelee National Park
  • Pukaskwa National Park
  • St. Lawrence Islands National Park


Ontario Parks system uses a classification system to divide the provincial parks into the following categories:

  • Recreational parks “typically have good beaches, many campgrounds and lots of outdoor recreation opportunities. Most recreation parks provide services that may include toilets and showers, laundromats, interpretive programs, playgrounds, boat launch facilities, hiking trails and picnic tables.”
  • Historical Class Parks “emphasize the protection of historical and cultural resources, in an outdoor setting.”
  • Natural environment parks “protect the landscapes and special features of the natural region in which they are located, while providing ample opportunities for activities such as swimming and camping.”
  • Nature reserve parks “are established to represent and protect the distinctive natural habitats and landforms of the province. These areas are protected for educational and research purposes. Due to the fragility of many of these natural features, only a few nature reserves are accessible to the public.”
  • Waterway parks “are river corridors that provide canoeists with high-quality recreation and historical river travel.”
  • Wilderness parks “are large areas left to nature where visitors may travel on foot or by canoe. Offering little if any facilities for visitors, these areas provide the solitude of an undisturbed, natural setting.”


As of 2010, Ontario Parks system manages:

  • 65 recreational class parks (394.8km2)
  • 6 cultural heritage class parks (67.4km2)
  • 80 natural environment class parks (14,675.3km2)
  • 109 nature reserve class parks (1,152km2)
  • 62 waterway class parks (14,446.2km2)
  • 8 wilderness class parks (48,237.5km2).

Quick Facts:

  • Total area in hectares – 7,897,171
  • Visitors – 9,541,366
  • Developed Campsites – 19,409
  • Campers – 1,265,978
  • Camper Nights – 4,796,631
  • Average Length of Stay – 3.5


The Ontario Parks system began its long and rough history in 1893 with the creation of Algonquin Park, originally designed to protect loggers’ interests from settlement. The management and creation of provincial parks came under the Department of Lands and Forests in 1954 and led to a period of accelerated park creation: a nine fold increase in the number of parks over the next six years. In the 1970s the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources’ (MNR) was formed. Currently, Ontario Parks does not have full agency status, but is a branch of the Natural Resource Management Division of the MNR.

The history of Ontario’s provincial parks stretches for over 100 years. Here are some of the milestones from the past century plus:

  • 1893 – Algonquin Park is created as a public park and forest reservation, fish and game preserve, health resort and pleasure ground.
  • 1894 – Rondeau becomes Ontario’s second provincial park.
  • 1913 – The Parks Act sets aside land not suitable for agriculture or settlement.
  • 1954 – Ontario still has only 8 provincial parks: Algonquin, Quetico, Long Point, Rondeau, Presqu’le, Ipperwash, Lake Superior and Sibley (now known as Sleeping Giant).
  • A Division of Parks is created within the Department of Lands and Forests. This heralds a new and aggressive program to create more parks, primarily on the Great Lake and northern tourism highways.
  • 1960 – There are now 72 provincial parks in Ontario, hosting over 5 million visitors annually.
  • 1967 – Ontario introduces a new policy that divides parks into specific categories, or classes, with compatible sets of uses.
  • 1970 – Polar Bear, Ontario’s largest provincial park at 24,000km2 is created.
  • 1978 – Ontario Provincial Parks: Planning and Management Policies are approved by Cabinet giving Ontario one of the world’s leading parks planning systems.
  • 1983 – The new land use planning system leads to the announcement of 155 new parks to be designated.
  • 1985 – There are now 220 parks in Ontario encompassing over 5.5 millions hectares of land.
  • 1993 – Ontario celebrates the centennial of the provincial parks system and Algonquin’s 100th anniversary.
  • 1996 – The provincial parks system adopts a new entrepreneurial operating model where revenue generated by parks can be reinvested in the parks system. This is symbolized by a new name, Ontario Parks, and a new visual identity.
  • 1996 – Ontario Parks partners with the Natural Conservancy of Canada to create Legacy 2000, a program to protect significant natural areas. Under this agreement more than 11,000 hectares are secured.
  • 1999 – Ontario’s Living Legacy is announced. This land use strategy identifies 378 new protected areas, including 61 new parks and 45 parks additions. Ontario’s Living Legacy will protect over 2.4 million hectares of land, including additions to the provincial parks system of over 900,000 hectares.
  • 2001 – Ontario now has a total of 280 provincial parks encompassing 7.1 million hectares or almost 9 percent of the province’s area. Over 9 million visitors annually enjoy Ontario Parks.
  • 2007 – Introduction of new legislation: “Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act” with 329 provincial parks and 292 conservation reserves.


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