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Paddle today, Ipad tomorrow


By Shona Bewley

As Canadians get ready to pack up the family vehicle this summer and head up to the great, vast backyard, or as many know it, Canadian wilderness, there is something extra they could be bringing along with the sleeping bags, tents, and insect repellent: mobile devices.

Parks Canada has recently announced that they will be experimenting with WiFi hotspots in select national parks to attract a younger generation of campers. The prevalence of a connected society causes more people to stay indoors and avoid extracurriculars such as weekend camping trips, among other outdoor activities. Whereas a camping trip used to be a common part of a Canadian’s summer vacation in years past, camping trips have significantly decreased among the Canadian population. Andrew Campbell, Director of Visitor Experience at Parks Canada, claims that “approximately 20 million people visit Parks Canada’s parks every year, but that number has been steadily decreasing over the years.”

The WiFi zones are the agency’s latest attempts to fight for Canadians’ attention. While the initiative to connect via Wifi could potentially cause an increase in numbers among the younger demographic of visitors, it managed to create a stir among purists who visit the parks to enjoy the quaint nature of the Canadian north. For those opposed to implementing Wifi zones in Canadian parks, the idea of camping does not include teenagers playing Candy Crush and posting ‘selfies’ with trees. To further complicate matters, taking a camping trip is no longer an excuse not to respond to an e-mail from your boss.

Although the initial rollout of the Wifi hotspots is limited to 50 locations, that number is set to triple to 150 internet access points. Canada is home to 43 national parks under the direction of Parks Canada and hundreds of provincial parks under the jurisdiction of each province. Some of the provinces have been experimenting with WiFi zones since as early as 2010, in the case of Ontario. Manitoba began installing hotspots in its parks last year. Mr. Campbell notes, “There is a lot of wilderness in Canada that will never be a WiFi zone.” This may not be enough for the true nature lover who is seeking immunity from pings, pokes, e-mails and personal messages.

While it might be inevitable to avoid the rapid growth of technology in the more heavily utilized campgrounds with other amenities such as electricity and running water, those that are willing to trek into the backcountry will be unable to send a tweet or post a status update to their Facebook page. Seasoned campers will tell you, if you even require luxuries such as inflatable mattresses or washrooms, you are already not truly experiencing all that being one with nature has to offer.

The untouched beauty of Canada’s lakes, rivers and rugged terrain may be safe for the time being, but only time will tell whether these areas too will succumb to the on-demand culture which has gripped our wireless society.

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