Sustainable tourism is gaining momentum. We can see this in many forms, from the rise of eco-lodges to more carbon-conscious travellers. UNESCO recognizes the importance of this trend, and has designated 140 Global Geoparks in 38 countries.
Three are in Canada.
What are UNESCO Global Geoparks?
According to UNESCO's website, Geoparks can be defined as "single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development." Since 2001, UNESCO has been identifying and labeling Geoparks around the world. Not only is it an honour to make the list, it's also a calling to treat our world better.
If you’re searching for an adventure destination that is not only fun and educational but also benefits the host environment, a visit to any of these Canadian Geoparks should be on your bucketlist.
Located on New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy, Stonehammer became Canada's first Geopark in 2010. However, the area's geological wonders were first discovered long before: this was one of the first places in Canada to be explored by geologists. Since 1857, the park’s unique features—created by the collision of continents and featuring Precambrian stromatolite fossils—have been inspiring curious geologists.
According to Gail Bremner, Stonehammer’s executive director, “we have built geologically themed experiences for visitors and locals that introduce them to all geological time periods except for one: Jurassic. We haven’t discovered evidence of that time period…yet. We are able to do this because we have great public access to landscapes that demonstrate earth processes such as subduction, plate tectonics, rifting and so on.”
The 2,500-sq-km park is a mix of urban and rural areas, with St. John at its centre. Visitors can learn about the park in interpretive centres, the New Brunswick Museum and on informative boat cruises. Kayakers can paddle an Ice-Age river, adventurers can soar on ziplines over the Reversing Rapids and rock climbers can scale 500-million-year-old lava rocks. Cap off your trip with a dining experience that includes a geologically themed menu. If you gravitate towards a mixture of indoor and active outdoor learning, this is the perfect Canadian Geopark for you.
In 2014, Tumbler Ridge was the second Canadian Geopark to be added to UNESCO's list. Located in the northern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Tumbler Ridge contains six provincial parks with a record of sedimentary deposits and mountain building events which span a geological time range from 600 to 60 million years ago.
For all you dinosaur lovers, this is the park for you. There has been an abundance of paleontological finds, like cretaceous dinosaur tracks and bone beds, some of which date back 100 million years. The park houses the world’s only known tyrannosaur trackway: three parallel sets of tracks, spurring the hypothesis that these giant creatures were pack hunters. These finds have resulted in an internationally recognized paleontology research centre.
“Our park is unique due to its vast wilderness," says Sarah Waters, manager of Tumbler Ridge. "It’s really hard to find an accessible, yet truly wild place any more, and that we have. We still find new caves and waterfalls every year. So far there are 40 waterfalls of which the volume and quality is remarkable. For example, Kinuseo Falls is higher than Niagara.”
There are many ways to explore the park: self-guided hikes, driving tours and backcountry hikes. Brochures and trail maps are available and some trails are marked with interpretive signs. Riverboat tours are also available. This Geopark is an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Canada's most recent Geopark, Percé, was added in 2018. Percé is located in the Appalachian Mountains on the eastern edge of the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec. This mountain range was formed by various magmatic and tectonic events and is linked to the opening of the Atlantic Ocean 150 million years ago. Sir William Logan, the first director of Geological Survey of Canada, started his geological mapping of Canada here.
The Percé Rock and Bonaventure Island are highlights of the park. Since 1919, they have been protected sanctuaries for migratory birds, including 280,000 nesting seabirds and 120,000 gannets.
The village of Percé, an important settlement in the cod fishing days, is a place with rich cultural heritage. In recent years, the area’s economic decline lead to the idea for the Geopark. It came to fruition when a co-op of 25 local businesses invested money to kick-start it.
Percé also has cultural significance as the traditional territory of the Mi'kmaq. At sunset every night through the summer months, the park offers a free outdoor short film about the Mi’kmaq history, called “Il est 21h à Percé” / “It’s 9pm in Percé."
The interpretive centre offers amazing 3-D special effects and displays, a unique and engaging way to learn about the park’s geological formations. “The interpretive centre was actually built before the building,” says Marie-Claude Costisella, park communications officer, “then we built the building around it. We will continue to add more interpretive stations as we grow in the future.”
Hiking and kayaking (self-guided or guided) are fun ways to experience the Percé trail network, islands and various cultural sites and activities. There is also a zipline and a glass-bottom viewing platform which provides pristine views of the village, Percé Rock, Bonaventure Island and the mighty St. Lawrence below. Percé is a bird-lover’s heaven and the ideal Geopark to experience a combination of nature, history, and culture.
Which Canadian Geopark are you going to visit first?