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Riding the buses » Bucket list for kids, Canada, Family travel, Memorable moments, Must reads » Bucket List for Kids: Stargazing in a dark-sky place

Bucket List for Kids: Stargazing in a dark-sky place

When was the last time you saw a starry sky? If you can’t recall it could be that you, like most Canadians, live in an urban area where artificial lights glow all night long causing the night sky to disappear so that you can hardly make out the stars. These lights also harm the ecosystem of nocturnal animals and the path of migrating birds.

A child's dream of a star. Charles Dickens, Wikimedia Commons

A child’s dream of a star. Charles Dickens, Wikimedia Commons

In Canada there are 17 authentic dark-sky places (called preserves) that can be your window to the stars, where the Milky Way stands out (see the list below). All are officially recognized by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and all have been added to our Bucket List for Kids. Most are in national parks, not so surprising since Parks Canada protects more dark skies than any other jurisdiction in the world.

My cottage happens to be close to the North Frontenac County preserve. When my kids were young they use to lie down on the cottage deck after the sun went down and have a contest to see who could spot the Big Dipper first, something that was hard to do at home in Ottawa though not at the cottage because of the dark night sky.

Torrance Barrens Conservation preserve was the first dark-sky preserve in the country. It’s in Muskoka cottage country, a two-hour drive north of Toronto. Not too far away are two other preserves, one at Point Pelee National Park that many know as a birding mecca and the other at Bruce Peninsula National Park where “dramatic cliffs rise from the turquoise waters of Georgian Bay”.

The McDonald Park preserve in British Columbia lies in the Fraser Valley between Abbotsford and Chilliwack. It depends on the Sumas Mountain to block the lights of the cities.

The second largest dark-sky preserve in the world is Jasper National Park in Alberta. Not so long ago it was the largest until the honour was taken over by its neighbour Wood Buffalo National Park. Wood Buffalo is big and it’s also remote, a place where bison roam freely.

Southern Saskatchewan has two preserves, one in Grasslands National Park where aside from the incredible night skies you’ll also find dinosaur fossils and endangered black-footed ferrets. On the eastern side of the province is Cypress Hills (shared with Alberta), a  preserve that many consider to be an astronomy mecca and from where you can sometimes see the northern lights.

It’s hard to beat an astronomy park on the ocean where the water temperature is not too cold (they call it ‘warm’) and that’s how they describe Kouchibouguac National Park preserve in New Brunswick. Nearby is  Fundy National Park preserve, famous for its tides.

Nova Scotia’s Dark Sky weekend is held at its Kejimkujik National Park preserve in August with special events offered in partnership with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Beyond the glow of the city lights a universe awaits. Neal Herbert, Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the glow of the city lights a universe awaits. Neal Herbert, Wikimedia Commons

Do your research before heading out to any of the preserves. You’ll most likely need to arrange accommodation. Have a look at the preserve’s planned events. Some have dark-sky festivals, some are open for extended hours on special viewing days, others are open only when there is an event. Sometimes astronomy experts are available, perhaps with a telescope. Some sites are large with several observation sites while others have a designated observatory or pad. It’s probably a good idea to check clear sky forecasts too!

Here is the list of designated Dark Sky Preserves in Canada:

British Columbia
McDonald Park Dark-Sky Park

Alberta
Beaver Hills Dark-Sky Preserve
Jasper National Park Dark-Sky Preserve
Wood Buffalo National Park

Saskatchewan
Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park Dark-Sky Preserve
Grasslands National Park

Ontario
Torrance Barrens Dark-Sky Preserve
Point Pelee National Park
Gordon’s Park
Bruce Peninsula National Park
Bluewater
North Frontenac Township

Quebec
Mont-Mégantic International Dark-Sky Preserve

New Brunswick
Kouchibouguac National Park
Mount Carleton Provincial Park
Fundy National Park

Nova Scotia
Kejimkujik National Park

By Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses™ 2016

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