For most of Algonquin's history, human settlement was not a very important element. Scattered family groups of aboriginal peoples came to fish, hunt and pick berries, but their numbers were never large. It was not until the 1800s that big changes came to the rugged Algonquin highlands.
Pioneer loggers pushing up from the Ottawa Valley reached Algonquin in search of the great White Pine trees whose prime wood was increasingly in demand by an expanding British economy.
Living in remote, primitive camps, they felled and squared the giant pine, and when spring came, drove them down swollen rivers to the Ottawa River and the outside world. The story of that colourful era and subsequent logging in the Park is told at one of Algonquin's two museums, the Algonquin Logging Museum, located near the East Gate.
Algonquin was established in 1893, not to stop logging but to establish a wildlife sanctuary, and by excluding agriculture, to protect the headwaters of the five major rivers which flow from the Park. Soon it was "discovered", at first by adventurous fishermen, then by Tom Thomson and The Group of Seven, and a host of other visitors who came by train and stayed at one of Algonquin's several hotels.
Over the years the Park has earned unconditional devotion and worldwide fame. Hundreds of letters of inquiry arrive at the Park every month, more than 40 books have been inspired by the Park, and the list keeps growing. There is an Algonquin Symphony, paintings of Park landscapes hang in the National Gallery and hundreds of studies done on its protected flora and fauna have established Algonquin as the most important place in Canada for biological and environmental research. Clearly, Algonquin Provincial Park is a very important place for all those who cherish our natural and cultural heritage.
Algonquin, the first provincial park in Ontario, protects a variety of natural, cultural, and recreational features and values. As one of the largest provincial parks, Algonquin is biologically diverse with more than 1,000 vascular plant species and more than 200 vertebrates that breed within its boundaries. The Park contains numerous historical and archaeological resources and has inspired more than 40 books, 1,800 scientific papers, a dozen films, a symphony, and the art of Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven. It also provides many opportunities for visitors to appreciate the Park’s natural setting while enjoying numerous recreational activities. Accessible from large urban centres and convenient to most tourism travel routes across Ontario, Algonquin Park attracts over half a million visitors yearly who participate in day use activities, camping, or back-country travel. It occupies 7,630 square kilometres of land and water, with water making up approximately 12% of the area and contributing an extensive network of canoe routes.
Algonquin Park was established in 1893 when the Ontario government of the day acted upon a recommendation of the Royal Commission on Forest Reservation and National Parks in "reserving a portion of the ungranted Crown domain to be set apart as a Forest Reservation and National Park."
The commissioners envisioned the Park to serve a variety of roles including:
- maintenance of water supply in a half dozen major water systems,
- preservation of a primeval forest,
- protection of birds and animals,
- a field for experiments in forestry,
- a place of health resort, and
- beneficial effects on climate.
Algonquin Park continues to perform these original functions, and since then has expanded to twice its initial size. The original Park area, consisting of 18 townships (approximately 3797 square kilometres), was designated in 1893 as Algonquin National Park under the Algonquin National Park Act. The Park’s name was subsequently changed in 1913 to Algonquin Provincial Park, and since 1893 the Park has had its boundaries amended eight times to include 15 additional parcels of land.