Canada’s landmass of 9.1 million square kilometers houses 48 national parks, nearly 38 million citizens, and 243,000+ kilometers of coastline. With geography ranging from coastal areas, mountain ranges, plains, and arctic tundras, there are many opportunities to visit Canada for both its stunning natural beauty and urban adventures.
Among these are various ways to practice ecotourism, which is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and creates knowledge and understanding through interpretation and education of all involved: visitors, staff and the visited” by the Global Ecotourism Network (GEN).
Protected land such as Banff National Park, Jasper National Park of Canada, and Waterton Lakes are popular to both international travelers and Canadians—the massive amounts of land in Canada make it a naturally great ecotourism destination.
Background of Ecotourism in Canada
Canada established its national park system under the name Dominion Parks Branch in 1911, making it the first country to do so. Now, it operates under the name Parks Canada, which protects parks that span an immense area of over 3% of the country’s landmass. And, with its countless islands and lakes, Canada also has, by far, the longest coastline globally.
As a country filled with natural scenery, the national park system plays a vital role in maintaining its natural heritage in a time of accelerated human environmental impact. In 1968, the system underwent a push to create more national parks throughout the entire country and develop a long-term mission for their organization.
Since the 1990’s, ecotourism has been a quickly growing segment of the overall tourism industry. The Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) published their first code of ethics regarding sustainable tourism in 1992 for both the industry actors and travelers. Throughout the past few decades, parks such as Banff have created individual policies to preserve their nature, culture, and history. There are many layers to these approaches, which depend on funding, ecosystem, and season.
While Canada’s creation of a national parks system was comparatively early, there’s been an ongoing effort since the 1970’s to remove exclusionary practices directed at Indigenous populations. At its beginning, the system did not consider Indigenous peoples; now, there is a dialogue with them before creating and maintaining a new national park. Keeping this cultural history in mind is relevant while planning a sustainable travel trip.
Canada’s Approach to Sustainable Travel
Different provinces of Canada have their own methods of measuring sustainability. Various certifications can indicate a certain level of sustainable practice instead of a nationalized approach. For example, some accommodations receive Green Key Global Ratings, which assesses environmental and social responsibilities, with 5 being the highest score. Green Key Global is an independent, international non-governmental organization recognized by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC).
If you’re looking to visit Canada for its quaint cities instead of rugged nature experiences, you can still lean into sustainable travel. For example, Hotel du Vieux-Québec, Quebec City is located in the heart of old Quebec’s historical center. It is the only carbon-neutral hotel in the region, and it has a 5 Green Key rating. A more nature-surrounded ecotourism destination is the family-owned Wickaninnish Inn, Tofino, on Vancouver Island. It has a 5 Green Key rating as well—they locally source furniture and provide skincare products and compost most waste from their restaurant.
Another third-party certification given to businesses in the country—some of which are included in this article—is Green Step Sustainable Tourism, the tourism branch of Canadian company GreenStep Solutions consulting firm. Together with TIAC in 2021, they announced the adoption of a Sustainable Tourism 2030 Pledge. This encourages Canadian tourism businesses to improve their sustainability each year until 2030 and rates their overall sustainability with Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum certifications.
This is in line with the UN Sustainable Tourism 2030 initiative and is also recognized by the GSTC. It is an excellent resource for travelers to browse a variety of ecotourism destinations. For example, Echo Valley Lodge is certified at a Gold level by Green Step Sustainable Tourism.
Canadian Ecotourism Services is one organization that works with Indigenous tourism groups, in particular, to promote grassroots tourism, making their focus cultural preservation and respect. You can also learn about ways to visit Canada and interact with the history of, and rich contemporary culture, of Indigenous people. One such organization that can inform your responsible and sustainable travel is Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO)—whose operations “will be guided by the positive impact on our people, the environment and the economy.” You can see cultural events, art galleries, and other ways to positively interact with their economies and cultures on their site.
Ecotours Unique to Canada
There are many ecotours unique to the country during your visit to Canada. Here are a few options among many:
Eagle Wing Tours is a family and locally-owned whale-watching tour company in Victoria, British Columbia, and has a mission surrounded by conservation values. Travelers can see local wildlife while riding on low-noise underwater engines and fuel-efficient boats—expect to possibly see various marine birds, orcas, baleen whales, seals, and sea lions. Eagle Wing Tours has been named Top Sustainable Tourism Business in Canada. They are also Canada’s only carbon-neutral whale watching company approved by a third party. It is certified by the above-mentioned Green Step Sustainable Tourism at the highest level of Platinum.
Another option is Maple Leaf Adventures. This locally-owned company offers a wide range of different excursions to various places where they partner with communities—travelers can go to areas in and around Vancouver Island on a wide variety of tours, including kayaking, small boat rides, and walking. Wildlife in the area includes black bears, bald eagles, orcas, and dolphins. They also offer village visits and cultural history tours given by locals of Vancouver Island. It is also certified at the Gold level by Green Step Sustainable Tourism.
With all that said, there are many more places to go and experiences to be had when finding ecotourism destinations in Canada. This guide can serve as a resource to plan your visit with sustainable travel in mind—with such a massive national park system especially, be sure to research Canada for your next eco friendly visit.
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