Marlis Butcher is a member of the Explorers Club, a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and is on the board of directors for the Bruce Trail Conservancy. She’s a writer and photographer, and she has visited 47 national park in Canada. Her new book Park Bagger: Adventures in the Canadian National Parks comes out this April.
Marlis reached her last park in July 2019. Then, Parks Canada announced the creation of a new park—Thaidene Nëné in the Northwest Territories. Due to the travel restrictions of Covid-19, she has yet to make it to this park.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Marlis Butcher on Asulkan Trail in Glacier National Park, BCWhere did you first get this idea and why did you decide to document your journeys?
The first park I ever visited was as a child. My parents took us to Thousand Islands National Park along the Saint Lawrence River in Ontario. After that, I went with my Girl Guides troop to the Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island National Park. Throughout my career, I would use my vacations to explore the country and that also led me to the parks. About 15 years ago, somebody asked me how many parks I’d been to. When I counted them up, I realized I’d been to over half of them! Then it became an obsession. I just had to get to all of them.
When I returned from my trips, people would ask me about my stories, and I would tell them about these crazy adventures and how I got to some of these really remote parks. And more and more people asked me, “Are you writing this down? Are you documenting these stories?” So that’s how the book came to be.
Totems in Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, BC
Can you share with us a favourite memory or two of yours?
Oh gosh, there’s so many! One that comes to mind was when I was hiking at Wood Buffalo National Park two years ago. I had stopped to take a picture of this beautiful lake. And just as I’m taking the photograph, I hear this crack of a twig next to me. I looked over my shoulder and there was a full-sized buffalo standing right there. I looked at it, and it looked at me, and as I cautiously took a few steps back, this thing turned and went barreling through the forest at full speed running away from me, breaking every tree branch in its path. It was the sound of chaos!
Wow! So besides keeping a close eye out for wildlife, what advice do you have for people who want to see more of Canada and its national parks?
Depending on where you live in the country, there are lots of parks that are relatively easy to get to. The more remote ones take a lot of research—how to get there, how to be totally self-reliant and planning for emergencies. Any time you’re travelling in the backcountry, you should have your list of backup plans. If there’s ever any doubt, go with a licensed outfitter who can do this for you. There are more and more Indigenous outfitters now who can organize your trips and they are wonderful guides.
Marlis Butcher at Thule tent ring in Ukkusiksalik National Park, NU
And, you know I’m going to ask—when travel restrictions lift, what’s coming next for you?
Well, there’s the new Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve that I’ve got to get to, and any new parks that are created in the years to come. But I can always go back and visit parks that I’ve already been to, because there’s always something to see. Each of the parks have so many stories to tell.
If people are interested in learning more, where and when will they be able to find your book?
My new book, Park Bagger: Adventures in the Canadian National Parks, is being released with Canadian publisher Rocky Mountain Books. It’s already available for pre-order and will be shipped April 27.
Marlis Butcher Park Bagger book cover
Disclosure: Ellie Clin works for Adventure Canada, one of the operators that Marlis used on her journeys to remote parks around the country.